Technology and new employee expectations are fast bringing new ways of working to the forefront. Virtual working is catching on, with high-speed internet, work applications and remote workflows fast catching on at the workplace. The trend of agile working is falling in line with employee expectations- as the tech-savvy workforce is demanding a similar experience as they experience in their digitally-enhanced personal lives. Agile working provides a semblance of “balance” for employees who are expected to be “always on” in a hyperconnected world, by providing the convenience and comfort of anytime-anywhere working. But companies must plan and prepare well to deliver a smooth and seamless agile working experience. This requires significant investments and efforts in building the right infrastructure, processes and organizational culture.
The status quo
The advent of agile working is not just a transitional trend, research proves that there is a strong ask from the employee community as well. Some 80% of employees around the world say that they prefer agile working as it allows them to maintain a good work-life balance, according to research by Randstad Workmonitor.
Globally, about 82% of respondents to Randstad’s Workmonitor survey expressed that they appreciated how flexible working arrangements enabled a more balanced lifestyle. While the above global statistics speak volumes about the demand for agile working, country-specific findings vary slightly in Asia. Hong Kong leads the way in flexi working demands, with a whopping 90% of workers, regardless of gender believing that agile working can help them lead a healthier lifestyle. China and Malaysia are no further behind, with 90% of the employee populations expressing a preference for agile working. Singapore seems to be fourth in line- a significant 85% of employees preferring flexible work arrangements. All of these inferences were arrived at based on their responses to the question, “I like agile working as it allows me to maintain a good work-life balance.” Other significant reasons for preferring agile working seem to be increased productivity, creativity and job satisfaction, with employees agreeing that they had more autonomy in how they could work. Positive responses stood at 92% for China and Malaysia each, 89% for Hong Kong and 87% for Singapore.
The need for flexible working differs for diverse employee groups. Interestingly, mature workers were more likely to prefer agile working as they believed that it could improve their overall job satisfaction.
A reality check against employee expectations indicates that Singapore workers are found to have the most freedom to decide for themselves- where, when and how they wanted to work. Three in four employees in Singapore have the flexibility to work from home and outside of stipulated business hours. Also, coming to gender preferences, women workers in Singapore were less likely to feel that agile working interfered with their personal life as compared to men.
What to avoid?
Despite all the advantages that agile working provides, many workers also realize the downsides of technology-enabled agile working. Being continuously connected through smart devices leads to a blurring of lines between personal life and professional life. Employees reported a distinct pressure and expectation to be “always on” and working, responding to emails and calls, under the garb of “agile working”. Respondents were questioned as to whether they felt that agile working caused a lot of pressure on their private life as they never seemed to be ‘disconnected’ from work, and some interesting perspectives came up. In fact, across all the four Asian markets, employees in Malaysia were the most likely to feel that agile working would interfere with their personal lives as they never seemed to be able to disconnect from work (63%).
Hong Kong employees expressed the least concern with a mere 48% feeling the pressure of agile working. Singaporeans and Chinese stood at 56% and 51% respectively when it came to feeling pressurized. In a surprising revelation, it was found that millennials (68% positive responses) felt more pressured to be “always-on” as compared to mature workers aged between 55 and 67 (39%). In fact, mature employees were the least likely to feel pressured, with 59% of them choosing not to work outside of business hours so that they can focus more on their personal lives.
The mindset change
Clearly, going effectively agile is not a cakewalk. It is not merely about having the right infrastructure, processes and workflows in place, but more so about bringing about a mindset change at every level of the organization, and managing the derailers. It is two-way street, not only should the organization build a culture of trust to stave off any undue pressure, but employees themselves should exhibit a clear sense of responsibility and ownership in lieu with the freedom they get. For example, in Singapore, we see an inherent risk of presenteeism, wherein being present for extended hours is mistakenly accepted as having a commendable work attitude. This is a de-railer for effective agile working. It is the organization’s responsibility to address these perceptions and make agile working an ingrained way of life. The top leadership must “walk the talk”, sending the right messages to encourage the right behaviors and correct such misleading behaviors. This is a crucial input to make agile working work well for employees, and not just do a lip-service to this latest trend. This must be supported by designing and deploying the right process workflows, systems and technologies, infrastructure, HR policies and checks and balances (compliance).
Done right, agile working can prove to be a great upper hand for talent acquisition and talent management. Organizations who effectively employ agile ways of working can showcase it as an attractive benefit through the employer branding and employee wellness initiatives. It indicates a progressive organization- a major pull-factor for the digital natives. Appealing to such an employee base can provide the upper hand in building a digital-savvy employer and organizational brand.
Organizations no longer have a choice, they must go agile to some extent in their work ways. To what extent, is determined by various factors such as employee base, organizational readiness, industry readiness, etc. It is a given that the mobile, global and tech-savvy employee population is demanding an agile working experience. The question is, are organizations doing their best to deliver this great employee experience? It is high time that top leadership takes up agile working as a core talent agenda in line with the future of work. A strong will and way, supported by the right processes and policies will go a long way in enabling employees to outperform.