Risk dice

The importance of Business Impact Analysis – why scenario based Business Continuity Plans are wrong

We have reviewed a number of Business Continuity Plans recently that have fallen at the first hurdle because they are based on imagined scenarios and lack the rigour of a systematic Business Impact Analysis. Scenario based Business Continuity Plans assume that planning can be built around the activities required to manage a specific event. No matter how many scenarios are envisaged (and the number can become quite large, particularly when a combination of scenarios is considered), real life events have an annoying habit of not following carefully prepared scripts. Developing scenarios for Business Continuity Plans is time consuming and can be a distraction the real purpose of the plan. However, scenario development does have a useful role in developing exercises to test Business Continuity Plans. Testing is vital to ensure that the Business Continuity Plans are robust and those with BC responsibilities have the opportunity practice their roles. But an exercise becomes futile if the participants are merely following a script set out in the Business Continuity Plan with none of the stresses and strains that an actual event will generate. So what is the right approach?

No short cuts

There are no shortcuts to developing effective Business Continuity Plans. Where the initial driver is satisfy the demands of organisation’s customers or insurers for a plan, there may be a temptation to use a template as a quick and cheap way to get a Business Continuity Plan written. However this tick box approach likely to prove to be a false economy and will not result in developing a truly resilient organisation. As many as one in three companies fail after suffering a catastrophic event, and the reputational damage of failing to recover from a major incident is often a painful and expensive experience for all types of organisations. Business Continuity requires an appropriate level of commitment and resources.

Business Continuity is not usually a mainstream skill in many organisations and involving Business Continuity specialist can prove to be an invaluable. An experienced specialist is able to challenge the business units of the organisation – including the executive level staff – on their requirements and to ensure that each business function considers the rest of the business when making decisions on the criticality of the systems, applications and other resources they require. A specialist can also ensure the plans are developed in a robust way so that they are ready for accreditation for ISO 22301 if, or when, that is required.

True Business Continuity Plans should focus on impacts, not causes. Organisations should develop a Business Continuity Management System to document the strategies and procedures that will be activated in response to a disruptive incident, as well as how to operate in recovery mode until the organisation is able return to normal operations. The documentation of a Business Continuity Management System includes a Business Continuity Strategy, Policy, Incident Management Plan and departmental Business Continuity and Recovery plans.

 

Business Impact Analysis and Business Continuity

Components of a Business Continuity Management System

 Business Impact Analysis

The foundation of a Business Continuity Management System is Business Impact Analysis. Good Business continuity plans are the result of rigorous analysis. Most Business Continuity specialists will employ software tools to conduct Business Impact Analysis consultations efficiently and systematically. One of the prime goals of Business Impact Analysis is to identify the most important products and/or services of an organisation and identifying the critically important assets: processes (and their Maximum Tolerable Period of Disruption), systems (including Recovery Time Objectives), the people with essential skills, and dependencies between departments and on key suppliers and service providers, to maintain business continuity.

However Business Impact Analysis is only a means to an end i.e. an organisation is sufficiently prepared to continue in business. A Business Impact Analysis report has no value if it is not used to inform the organisations Business Continuity Management System. Some are now advocating an Adaptive Business Continuity that does away with with Business Impact Analysis. This may be appealing to organisations that are becoming more agile (for reasons other than Business Continuity) but the jury is still out. The serious consequences of not dealing effectively with catastrophic events demands firm evidence that this new approach will provide robust Business Continuity as so much is at stake.

Business Impact ofCatastrophic events

Catastrophic events

Risk assessment, the likelihood of the loss of key operational facilities and the impact of their loss, is a key part of Business Impact Analysis and is a mandatory component of ISO 22301:2012. While they share the common goals of identifying, assessing, and managing risks, Business Impact Analysis is not the same as corporate Risk Management.

  • Risk Management enhances an organisation’s ability to make risk-informed decisions so that the organisation can achieve its strategic goals.
  • Business Continuity Management’s mission is to enhance enterprise resiliency by identifying and responding to potentially catastrophic events that could overwhelm the organisation’s operational resilience.

To give practical examples of how the measures are different: the threat of a merger of competitors, or changes in legislation, would be considered as part of a Risk Management plan while the consequences of a major fire would be addressed in a Business Continuity Plan.

In summary, Business Continuity Planning should be based on the loss or unavailability of key resources, regardless of the circumstances to develop business continuity capabilities. By focusing plans on recovery/restoration of critical assets, it is possible to create plans based on impacts, not causes. Mapping the dependencies of the organisation’s most important products and services (those on which your customers rely) in the planning phase provides the intelligence needed to create plans for the impacts on critical assets. When the options for reacting to the loss of an asset are known, it no longer matters why it is unavailable, and there is no longer need to think about planning for scenarios.

Agile Working consultantJohn Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services has a strong track record in advising organisations on Business Continuity, new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively.

 

 

Julie Goddard cr rJulie Goddard has many years experience of implementing BC in a variety of organisations in the private and public sectors. She also has significant practical experience in managing live incidents.

 

 

Read more
Challenges of Digital Working

Digital Working – a Reality Check | Why Working Digitally is Challenging for Many Employees

Digital is in danger of becoming the most overused word of this decade. Digital Working is a less common, a term more accepted in France, but aptly sums up the new way of working. Most organisations are declaring they are going digital. But are these organisations taking employees with them on this digital journey?

There is no shortage of digital tools to support Digital Working: Microsoft Skype for Business, Google’s with Hangouts, Cisco with Jabber and others all compete to offer affordable conferencing, collaboration and communication tools, offering the ability to hold virtual meetings, to manage electronic documents, instant messaging and presence technology -to track the availability of colleagues. In short, these digital tools enable people to be readily connected to data and people and systems. So what’s the problem?

Paper Based Working

Only a small number of employees can currently be called digital natives and while these tools are relatively easy to use, much of the workforce remains committed to its non-digital ways of working. Custom and practice has a lot to do with this.

For instance, many people still prefer to print out paper copies to review documents, claiming reading paper is easier on their eyes – although the soaring sales of eReaders and tablets perhaps contradicts this argument.

Although an increasing number of people are working away from their office base many still prefer to take paper documents with them. However not only is carrying heavy paper documents, compared to a lightweight laptop or tablet, uncomfortable, their movement also introduces security risks. We still regularly hear of incidents where important documents have been left on trains or have been snapped by the press. Then there is the question of storage. Filing cabinets take up floor space, and space costs money especially if it is occupying offices in a prime office location.

No meetings of minds

shutterstock_Virtual Meeting

Digital Working has made a limited impact on meetings. Meetings are a necessary work activity in that they ensure decisions are informed and achieve consensus. While collaborative technologies have made inroads into project status and update meetings, many people feel more comfortable ‘pressing the flesh, reading facial expressions at a face-to-face meeting rather than through a conference call. There is potential for a much greater use for conferencing technologies which will be the subject of a later blog. Even with the wide deployment of tablets and lightweight laptops many will still attend meetings with paper notepad to take notes.

So why does this matter? It boils down to personal and corporate efficiency. If you take notes on paper they need to be transcribed into electronic documents before they accessible to other people. In the past they may have been photocopied for distribution but at least this has become an environmental no-no.

Encouraging Digital Working

For an organisation to achieve digitalisation it is as much to do with changing culture than it is about training employees to use new digital tools. Culture change will come from a combination of leadership, employees’ self-interest and practical measures.

While managers need to set the example by showing how their teams can work digitally they also need to promote Digital Working’s benefits. People need to recognise that working digitally improves their own efficiency as well as their organisation’s efficiency. E.g. transcribing notes from paper to a computer takes time which can be saved by typing them directly into a tablet or laptop.

There are practical carrot and stick approaches such as the tried and tested method of reducing the number of printers so employees have the inconvenience of finding an available printer to retrieve printouts while ensuring employees have access to a sufficiently large screen so they don’t have to squint to read documents.

Paper trails

People need confidence and competence to work digitally and the opportunity to develop their digital skills. The UK Government Skills Strategy has recently been launched with the aim of “Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need”. Most people are not starting from ground zero. Many can draw on their experience of online shopping and banking and use Twitter and Skype for their personal and family activities.

However it should also be recognised that the proliferation of digital tools can be confusing and people will be reluctant to learn to use one tool if they feel it is likely to be replaced by another in a short period of time. Furthermore, companies frequently see digital tools as infallible and “user-ready.” Unlike the employees that use them the procurers of these tools do not experience the breakdowns, glitches and other compatibility problems caused by updates.

According to Citrix “Individuals will access corporate applications, data, and services from an average of six different computing devices a day “. In reality many employers would be happy for their employees to use one device effectively during their working day.

 

Agile Working consultantWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

Read more

When Agile Working projects go wrong – the pitfalls to avoid

The business case is signed off, the Agile Working project has the backing of senior management, what could possibly go wrong? …well plenty, unfortunately.

Agile Working (or Smart Working if you still use that term) has been with us for a number of years now and almost all the press coverage has invariably been positive and there have been a number of significant success stories. But to assume an Agile Working will always be successfully implemented and easily sustained is unrealistic. So what are the problems? These are some of the problem areas that I have encountered as an Agile Working consultant.

Not getting the governance right. Too often an Agile Working project is made the responsibility of just one department in an organisation, such as property, HR or IT. A single department will not have the knowledge or resources to address all the people, technology and workplace factors that need to be addressed in a successful implementation of Agile Working. The head of a single department may also lack the ‘clout’ to get the cooperation of the other enabling departments. A further error is not to consult the operational managers of the business functions and service departments when the Agile Working strategy is being formulated.

Technology can be a critical to the success or failure of an Agile Working initiative. IT may not perform well when accessed remotely, the infrastructure, both data and voice, may not provide reliable connections in all areas that people choose or need to work. Agile workers may not be confident when using collaborative tools when away from an office environment, where colleagues are not on hand to help or when working outside the normal working hours when the IT helpdesk is closed. People are becoming increasingly sensitive to the equipment they are required to use when out and about. A one-size-fits-all approach for the issue of devices to staff may prove unpopular, e.g. common complaints are that laptops are too heavy or their screens are too small for practical use for the job role.

Agile working project tools

Agile workers may not be confident when using collaborative tools

Agile Working in the office can also be problematic. Office worksettings may be inappropriate. In some organisations an organisation’s Agile Working initiative is not much more than setting up a hotdesk area with little thought as to how it will be used. For example where there are no protocols on how to take phone calls without distracting colleagues, the resulting noisy environment will be a cause of exasperation.

The additional facilities needed to support the range of work activities – creative, collaborative, and contemplative – may not have been considered or the numbers of these facilities not correctly estimated. The use of cheap, inappropriate furniture will only exacerbate the situation.

Attitudes to Agile Working projects

However the most common problems relate to employees’ attitudes to Agile Working. People may not feel engaged if they have not been consulted when the implementation is planned, and regard Agile Working as merely a cost cutting exercise and feel exploited, as they see no benefits for themselves. Even when people have enthusiastically bought into the Agile Working initiative with high expectations, if there is a lack of continuing communication and/or slow progress, their initial excitement may subside and turn into disenchantment. Regardless of their attitude to the initiative staff may have anxieties. Many staff can become uneasy when they realise that they are no longer sharing an office with team members they are used to seeing every day. In the light of these situations the promised improvements in productivity in the Agile Working business case may prove elusive.

depressed Agile Working project worker

Initial excitement may subside and turn into disenchantment.

The group of employees most likely to push back on Agile Working projects is middle management. Operational middle managers often feel they are the ‘meat in sandwich’. They are urged to embrace new ways of working by senior management while dealing with high expectations of improved work-life balance of the people they manage. Worse still they are expected to continue to meet their targets while managing staff, who are no longer visible to them, in ways that are alien to them. To be fair, managing by results, i.e. assessing outputs in terms of the quality of work done, is a great deal more challenging than using input measures such as hours worked in the office. This group of managers may find that, for them, the glib slogan, ‘work smarter not harder’, is reversed.

Rescue Service

So what is the remedy? Well there are likely to be two scenarios to recover from. If the Agile Working project has not gone much beyond a pilot phase, lessons learned from the pilot trials can be addressed making sure the organisation and all its employees are properly prepared for the full roll out of Agile Working through effective communication and training. If the implementation is already underway then it should still be possible to adopt a number rescue measures to get the initiative back on track but it is a much greater challenge. We have recently initiated an Agile Working Rescue Service that starts by undertaking a ‘healthcheck’ to analyse challenging areas to determine the most appropriate remedies, this can involve rethinking the use of technology, redefining the workstyles assigned to job roles, addressing shortfalls in communication and training and many more factors.

Perhaps most important is the realisation that Agile Working is not about doing the same process at different times and locations but setting reasonable limits so empowering staff are empowered to deliver required outcomes in the most effective way. Sorry middle management but same old, same old won’t cut it.

 

Agile Working consultant

Written by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

Read more
readiness

Five indicators of Agile Working readiness

Embarking on a new way of working such as Agile Working, or Smart Working, is a major undertaking for an organisation and can be a daunting prospect. An organisation’s Agile Working readiness is critical to the successful implementation of Agile Working.  Many organisations, especially multinational companies and larger public sector organisations, have already embarked on their Agile Working journey, middle sized organisations have been slower to recognise the benefits. I have found very few examples in the Third Sector.

In working with a range of clients we have identified five factors that are key indicators of Agile Working readiness of your organisation. (For a definition of Agile Working see my earlier blog Agile Working Made Simple.)

1. Proven Business Case

Business Case for Agile Working readinessThe first step is to establish a Business Case for adopting Agile Working; each organisation will have different business aims and priorities and therefore will need to develop their own Business Case. Organisations that would have surplus property that they can dispose of by sale, or renting out, as a consequence of adopting Agile Working, can readily identify significant bottom line benefits. Alternatively some organisations have the opportunity to expand their operations without incurring further property costs. There are likely to be other cash benefits from reduced travel and recruitment costs. There is also likely to be a range of non-cashable benefits related to improved customer service, enhanced productivity, employee wellbeing and environmental benefits.

 

2. Flexible workspaces

workspace fro Agile Working readinessTraditional office accommodation with desks assigned to individual employees and inflexible meeting rooms will constrain Agile Working. All work positions in an Agile Working environment should be shared unless there are compelling business or health reasons. A space audit will establish how well the existing facilities are used and will provide a baseline for planned improvements in workspace utilisation. Space should be allocated for activities rather than individuals, examples are: workspaces for quiet and concentrated working; touchdown spaces for people working on the move; breakout areas and well equipped, flexible meeting rooms.

Not all the workspaces need to be owned by the organisation, they could be commercially provided workhubs or the use, by arrangement, of suitably equipped premises of partner organisations. Employees homes may also be regarded as workspaces as long as they are suitable. It should be remembered that employers have the same duty of care to their employees wherever they are working.

 

3. Accessible and reliable infrastructure

Technology for Agile Working readinessThe technology requirements of Agile Working readiness are about much more than determining the appropriate devices employees should use in relation to their workstyle. The infrastructure, data and voice, will need to provide reliable, accessible, and secure connections at a suitable speed that are vital to ensure employee confidence in being able to work wherever they need to.

Also important is that the performance of key line of business systems is not significantly impacted when used remotely. To encourage team working in virtual teams, collaboration and communication tools should be selected that are both effective and appealing to use. IT support will need to be in place for agile workers working outside traditional weekday hours.

 

 

4. Imaginative realism

Work practices for Agile Working readinessNew ways of working can enable the services of the organisation to be delivered more efficiently and effectively. However there may be legal and operational constraints. These will need to be thought through to determine which are true ‘blockers‘ to the implementation of Agile Working and which can be overcome with new, perhaps more imaginative, approaches. For example one of the major limitations to the adoption of new ways of working are real, and perceived, data security and privacy threats as more people will work at home and at other locations remote from a secure office. The increased risks will need to be identified together with mitigation measures.

 

 

 

5. A culture of trust

Agile Working readiness CulturePreparing for a change in culture is often the the biggest challenge for organisations considering the adoption of Agile Working. It will require changes in management and employee attitudes and a shared vision of new ways of working. Managers will need to recognise that the value of work is about measuring outputs and outcomes rather than time spent on a task. Where managing by results is not the norm then both managers and employees will need to be educated to understand the new management culture. Trust is key to Agile Working.   Managers  will need to be confident that by giving greater autonomy to their staff they will be responsible and responsive in meeting their work commitments.

 

 

When these factors of Agile Working readiness are in place you will have a good chance of implementing Agile Working successfully.

Free consultancy offer for Not-for-Profit organisations

Agile Working consultant

Written by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

 

Read more
Agile Workers

How Agile Workers perform best

Most analyses of agile workers’ requirements are based on workstyles related to job roles e.g. office-based working, homeworking, mobile working etc. However the successful introduction of new ways of working relies on the willingness of the people occupying the job roles to embrace new ways of working – Agile Working needs to accommodate their personalities. However until now there has been little investigation of the needs of Agile Workers with different personality types beyond looking at the needs of extroverts and introverts.

We recently undertook research that looked at the links between Agile Working, personality and performance to see if different people are more suited to different ways of working and if organisations should use different approaches to Agile Working employees to increase their productivity. The research was commissioned by the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei) with sponsorship from DWF (a major law firm) and Santander. Employees and managers from Birmingham City Council, the
Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice and the
 NHS also participated in the survey, 584 in total. The research examined four main personality types based on the DiSC® profiling technique summarised in the figure.

 

Personality Profiles

The DiSC personality types

Attitudes to Agile Working

We found differences, as well as commonalities, in both performance and attitudes to Agile Working. Those with an Influential personality profile appeared to have the most challenges, particularly with team working although this was also an issue across a number of personality types. Team working was the only example of Agile Working having a negative impact on performance. Overall, less than a third of Agile Workers felt their way of working had a positive effect on team working with some believing it had a negative effect. Furthermore 20% of employees with a Conscientious personality felt Agile Working had a negative impact on teamworking, more than those with a positive view. A third of respondents with an Influential personality held a negative view, but this was matched with those who had a positive view.

While all participants valued reliable technology there was little interest in more sophisticated technology tools and surprisingly only a small proportion rated a good workplace as very important. In general there were no significant differences between respondents based on age, gender, job role, length in job role or employment status. Team working is clearly an important factor in performance but is difficult to get right. From the survey responses it appears that the implementation of Agile Working in a number of the participating organisations has not effectively addressed teamworking. Furthermore our survey suggests that social events and social media, or the way they were being used, were not regarded as relevant by the survey respondents.

Agile Working Teamworking

Agile Workers views’ on Teamworking

Managing Agile Workers

We concluded that employees need to be managed in different ways:

  • Dominant employees are most likely to enjoy the control available by Agile Working, and will be focussed, needing minimal supervision or interaction.
  • Influential employees will require strong management through direction, expectation setting and opportunities to communicate with the wider team and may need more regular communication than others.
  • Steadfast employees may find Agile Working harder to adapt to and be more likely to work 9-5 anyway.
  • Conscientious employees are likely to thrive in an Agile Working environment without distractions, but require supervision to ensure that they do not work excessive hours and burn out.

Performance and Agile Working

Organisations also need to focus on of the factors that contribute to effective performance for Agile Working for all employees, specifically communication, effective teamwork and diary management to overcome the lack of face-to-face interaction between agile workers, their colleagues and their line managers. The provision of appropriate reliable technology was important to enable fast reliable networks, good remote access to data and application systems that work well when used remotely.

Our research showed that there are clear business benefits from organisations adopting Agile Working and the performance benefits are likely to be greater when staff are involved in its implementation. The lack of face to face interaction between agile workers, their colleagues and their line managers can be overcome through the use of effective communications and conferencing facilities, and through manager training. The research found that if managers are not good role models or fail to be ambassadors for Agile Working its implementation has less chance of sustained success.

Clearly a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to succeed. The conclusion is that the key to obtaining good performance from adopting Agile Working is to recognise the needs of staff with different personality profiles.

A paper in Work and Place journal provides more results from this research.

Agile Working consultantWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

Read more
Digital Working

Why Digital Working comes before Agile Working and Smart Working

Digital by Default has become the mantra for a large number of organisations, especially those in the public sector. You can register to vote online, submit your self-assessment tax return, and pay your Council tax. The UK Government aims that 90% of all transactions are completed digitally by the middle of 2016. aims to have 90% of the UK’s online population using digital public services by 2020. Most retailers now offer a web site to purchase all manner of items. Banks have added mobile banking to their on-line offerings items. Most firms encourage their customers to deal with them digitally rather than by phone. This channel shift is commonly called a ‘digital by default’ strategy. Organisations are encouraging people to interact online as this is substantially cheaper way of conducting business than by phone or letter. In many case this strategy offers improved services to the customer. All this is fine but it is about the external operations of the organisation.

What about the internal operations , sometimes called the ‘back office’? Of course the use of external digital services with the automatic updating of customer databases can lead to internal efficiencies in eliminating the need for rekeying information, with its attendant risks of introducing errors. But these are transactional activities. Within every organisation there are many activities that are non-transactional and here progress has been patchy. Many digital technologies have emerged but are they being exploited as effectively when they offered to employees rather than customers?

Why Digital Working comes first

How can a digital ways of working, or Digital Working for short, provide further efficiencies and improvements? Hang on you say why do we need yet another term in the Flexible Working lexicon? We already have Home working, Mobile Working, Remote Working, Smart Working and Agile Working. Aren’t you just talking about Agile Working? Not necessarily. The essential component of Agile Working is autonomy, employees are able to choose how they perform their tasks, within agreed limits as well as where and when. Arguably Agile Working could be paper based, with employees dragging around briefcases stuffed with paper forms and manuals. But, modern successful implementation of Agile Working, certainly relies on the effective use of digital technologies, so Digital Working is an essential precursor for modern day Agile Working. Digital Working also enables employees to work smarter.

Efficiencies from Digital Working

Digital Working physIcal meeting

Let’s take a simple example of internal meetings. We can all agree there are too many meetings but in reality many are necessary where decisions are made on a consensus basis, such as in local government, so some meetings are a necessity. Physical meetings are inefficient in a number of ways. As offices shrink and people work in different locations finding a time when everyone can be in the same location can often incur delays before a meeting can be held. Attending meetings often requires travel adding time and incurring costs. Physical meetings can often be longer than necessary – people arrive late, or engage in conversations that are social or off the subject of the meeting. Not everyone attending is involved in every agenda item. If you use your laptop during a physical meeting, for example to respond to emails or write a report, this is at best distracting to the other attendees and is often regarded as bad manners.

Conference_call 2The digital equivalent of a physical is a conference call. It involves no travel, not even walking down the corridor. As there is no travel conference calls can be held at quite short notice as it just depends on the availability of the participants. Participants can continue to work on emails and reports when they are not involved in the agenda item without disturbing anyone. In my experience virtual meetings keep to the point and are invariably shorter than their physical equivalent.

Another opportunity for efficiencies from Digital Working is documentation. Most organisations have reduced their stashes of paper documents by converting them to electronic files and forms. However this is not Digital Working in my book. Many of these electronic documents are stored on shared drives, where the file structure is opaque and inconsistent making document retrieval difficult. Even worse I still come across examples of documents held on personal drives that only the PC owner can access, and when thy choose to share them ads them as email attachments. A digital way of working is to place these files in an Electronic Document Management And Records System (EDRMS) that provides ready access for everyone authorised to access the documents while providing secure storage of the documents. There is an added benefit that the number and size of emails with files attached is reduced.

A recent blog post UK Central Government through the Government Digital Service has recognised the need to address with digital initiatives associated induction and training courses, performance management reviews,  and expenses claims take up much more time of Civil Servants than they should.

Digital Working for all

There is another reason why Digital Working comes before Agile Working. In reality Agile Working is not available to everyone. Because of the nature of many jobs, or where individuals lack the skills or experience, many employees will not be granted the essential dimension of Agile Working, autonomy. However all employees can make use of Digital Working. So there can be more efficiency savings from Digital Working than can be achieved by Agile Working alone.

Agile Working consultantWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

Read more

Can you workwrap? Workwrapping is the future of Work-Life Balance

shutterstock_laptop on beach

Work-life balance is out of kilter. According to a poll recently commissioned GFI Software, 41% of employees check work emails at least once a day in their personal time and according to Regus, 39% of employees will be working up to three hours each day while on holiday. These are phenomena of today’s working practices. Could workwrapping restore a new dynamic type of work-life balance?

Work-Life Balance

First, a short history of work-life balance. For employees in traditional 9-5 office working and shift workers, there was a clear separation between time spent working and not working. With the advent of flexible working time boundaries for work became moveable. The location of work also became flexible. What had been an obvious division between time spent ‘at work’ and time away from work now needed defining. The term work-life balance was coined, setting boundaries between ‘worktime’ i.e. activities undertaken for your employer and ‘non-worktime’ for personal and social activities. Work-life balance has been around for 15 years and is now a commonly understood concept. For employees work-life balance was perceived as an employment benefit and provided an assurance that work requirements would not encroach on their personal time.

However people’s behaviour has changed with the advent of new technologies. Personal devices, such as tablets and smart phones, have become an intrinsic part of our personal lives. For many it is natural to take these devices into the work environment. Regardless of whether or not their employer has a ‘bring your own device policy’ they are now commonly used for work activities as well as for personal use. As a consequence we have ready access to business, as well as personal, information and systems.

As well as mixing personal and business information on the same device many people are now mixing their business and personal time – It is quite feasible to undertake personal/social activities in ‘worktime’ and working activities in ‘non-worktime’ the work-life balance boundary has become porous. Within the space of a few minutes we can check our business and personal emails, check the weather forecast, book business travel or a restaurant for a family meal. The term ‘work-life integration’ was coined to describe this aspect of a connected lifestyle. However the concept of work-life integration has encountered strong resistance from some employees who regard it as an intrusion of work responsibilities into their personal life, some claiming they feel, like their devices, that they are ‘always on’, receiving emails and other communications, in the evening and at weekends with an obligation to respond to them immediately, In essence they feel work-life integration tilts the balance in favour of work.

Workwrapping

Workwrap

Workwrapping is an extension of work-life integration that redresses the work-life balance but in a more subtle and dynamic way. It exploits the opportunities provided by agile working practices that are being increasingly adopted by employing organisations. With agile working, performance is explicitly based on objective measures of output, and provided they fulfill the business requirements, workers can choose how as well as when and where they carry out their work activities.This increased autonomy in the way employees can work means that, in many cases, employees can prioritise their time.

What if you prioritised your personal activities and wrapped work activities around them? As a simple example if you have a report to write by the end of the week, and the sun is shining you could decide to have an impromptu family picnic. Alternatively if you find you are spending a lot of time queuing in a theme park waiting to get on the rides you could decide to clear some outstanding emails while you are waiting.

It could be argued that this is quite common practice already, but workwrapping takes this a step further by dynamically allocating all available time between work and non-work activities. In reality many employed senior professionals and managers already enjoy considerable discretion in when and where they work and are measured on outcomes and the quality of their work. Outside of the employed world, consultants, and other self-employed professionals have adopted this concept, if not the name workwrapping, They often choose to work at evenings and weekends and substitute some weekday time for social activities. They have also recognised the benefits of addressing issues as and when they occur, even when they had not planned to be working, as “nipping them in the bud” can prevent problems escalating.

Opportunities for Workwrapping

But what of those jobs that have a time presence requirement, such as classroom teachers? In reality a number of professions will have output based elements where there is choice of when these tasks can be done. In the case of teaching, lesson preparation and marking of students’ work. More generally many professions have output based activities such as report writing. The physical presence of operational roles is also being rethought. Take the role of a receptionist as an example. Many small business use telephone based entry systems, eliminating the need for a receptionist to be sat at a front desk. Looking to the future within the next ten years – intelligent software agents will reduce the time presence required for monitoring and control while robots will increasingly be used for activities that currently require a physical presence. The opportunities for work wrapping can only increase.

Workwrapping is a challenge for employers and employees. For employees the trade-off for more flexibility in working time is accepting greater responsibility in meeting work commitments. For employers the trade-off for staff becoming more responsible and responsive is adopting a relaxed attitude to their employees’ working practices, particularly to when staff choose to work. However workwrapping can be a win-win situation: employees can prioritise their time for social and family priorities and with the focus on clearly defined outputs employees can become more productive.

Agile Working consultantWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

Read more

Agile Working made simple – defining Agile Working and how it is different from Flexible Working

While interviewing employees of large public and private sector organisations for a major survey on Agile Working it became clear to me that many staff didn’t really ‘get’ what Agile Working was about. With an increasing number of organisations introducing Agile Working initiatives surely they will stand a greater chance of success if their employees have grasped the concept of Agile Working. My interviews provided evidence that most employees are familiar with Flexible Working, hardly surprising as this term has been around for 15 years now. However Agile Working was coined around five 5 years ago and has not yet permeated nearly as far. Sometimes Agile Working is taken as synonym for Flexible Working. For instance if you enter ‘Agile Working’ into a search engine it will display web pages relating to Flexible Working. The purpose of this blog is to attempt to define Agile Working in a simple and understandable way.

Defining Agile Working

Flexible Working is used as a general term to describe working at times and places away from the traditional full time 9-5 office based employment. Flexible Working has two dimensions of flexibility:

  • Time  i.e. when employees choose to work. There are many examples of this dimension: employees can work at different times of day (e.g. flexitime), different days of the week, (as part-time or compressed hours, job share), or certain weeks of the year (term-time working, annualised hours etc.)
  • Location i.e. where employees choose to work. Again there are many examples of this dimension: – in addition to the office, employees can choose to work at, or from, home, at workhubs, cafes, while travelling.

Agile Working introduces a third dimension of flexibility, autonomy i.e. how people choose to work. In an organisation adopting Agile Working employees are empowered to choose how they work they work in order to meet the goals set for them to the standards required. There may be some limitations on agile workers such working within their limits of authority or competence and observing legal and regulatory requirements but they are generally not overly dependent on formal processes and procedures. So by this definition a way of working that uses the same processes and practices outside of normal working hours and/or at different locations is not Agile Working as it lacks this third dimension of autonomy.

Defining Agile working by 3 dimensions

3 dimensions of Agile Working

Clearly some job roles will more easily accommodate this freedom e.g. sales roles traditionally have a large degree of autonomy they are set targets and are typically lightly supervised. Whereas operational roles can be more challenging as they are often prescribed by detailed processes. It is more challenging, but not impossible, to introduce agile working into operational roles.

Further differences between Agile Working and Flexible Working

Flexible Working is generally regarded as largely a benefit to employees. Indeed the definition on the Gov.uk site is skewed in favour of employees “Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs”. However, when implemented well Agile Working should provide benefits for both employers and employees.This is another way of defining Agile Working.

The goals of organisations in adopting agile working are to create a more responsive, efficient and effective organisation, which improves business performance and increases customer satisfaction. By empowering their employees to work how, where and when they choose there is evidence that they increase their productivity and provide service improvements by working in a way that suits them best. There is the very real prospect of a win-win situation. Organisations become more responsive and effective and their employees gain more control over the way they work.

Still confused by the word Agile? Let’s try defining Agile Working by defining agility. My dictionary defines agility as the ability to move nimbly with speed and ease. This is a definition of physical agility that could also be applied to an organisation that adopts Agile Working.  While a definition of mental agility as flexibility of mind, a tendency to anticipate or adapt to uncertain or changing situations could be applied to employees engaged in Agile Working.

DEfing Agile Working through agility

Physical agility

In his paper for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Paul Winter defines organisational agility as the ability to change routines without resistance. With this definition, the term Agile Working could be applied to any new office-based of ways working but most uses of the term imply that some form of flexible working is taking place, at least some of the time, outside the traditional office environment.So Agile Working could be regarded as a combination of Flexible Working and Business Transformation.

Another critical difference between other Agile Working and other forms of flexible working is commitment. While flexible working can be readily implemented with today’s technology Agile Working requires far more commitment from management and staff. However the potential gains are much greater. Many flexible working initiatives have been quite small scale with one-off savings but Agile Working promises transformational benefits of service improvements as well as continuing cost savings.

Work-Life Integration

Work-life balance is also a commonly understood concept linked with flexible working and has also been around for 15 years and is frequently mentioned in the media. Work-Life Balance is about setting boundaries between ‘worktime’ i.e. activities undertaken for your employer and ‘non-worktime’ for personal and social activities

Work-Life Integration is a new and much less understood, and sometimes resisted term. Work-Life Integration is a concept linked to agile working.

Rather than being imposed by employers, it is being adopted by employees and is partly the consequence of technological developments. As lighter weight ‘BYOD’ personal devices, such as tablets and powerful smart phones, are easy to carry, they are nearly always to hand and have become an essential part of our modern lives. As a consequence we have ready access to business, as well as personal, information and systems. So within the space of a few minutes we can check our business and personal emails, check the weather forecast, book business travel or find a good restaurant. This ready access to information offers greater choice in the way we work. We no longer restrict working activities to worktime’ and personal/social activities to ‘non-worktime’ the boundary between the two has become porous. So as well as mixing personal and business information on the same device many people are now mixing their business and personal time. In this new way of working, sometimes also called a connected lifestyle, work-life balance is replaced by work-life integration.

In reality many employed senior professionals and managers already enjoy considerable discretion in when and where they work and are measured on outcomes and the quality of their work. Outside of the employed world, consultants, and other self-employed professionals have adopted this concept of Work-Life Integration, although they may not use the term. They often choose to work at evenings and weekends and substituting some weekday time for social activities. They have recognised the Agile Working benefits of more easily meeting deadlines and being able to address issues as and when they occur. In some cases, depending on their situation, some people are able to ‘wrap’ their work activities around high priority social and personal activities.

Managing this trade-off is a challenge for employers and employees.  For employees the trade-off for more flexibility in working time is accepting greater responsibility in meeting work commitments. For employers the trade-off for staff becoming more responsible and responsive is adopting a relaxed attitude to their staff’ working practices, particularly to when staff choose to work. With the fuzzy boundaries of Work-Life Integration this new way of working cuts across established HR practices such as defined working hours and annual leave entitlement.

Even if the above has successfully explained the concepts of Agile Working understanding is only the first step in the introduction of Agile Working. The successful implementation of Agile Working requires a change in culture as well as changes in established practices and procedures.
Agile Working consultantWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively. My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

Read more

A Glimpse at the World of Work in 2025

Slide2

As I write this blog on New Year’s Day 2025 I thought I would look back rather than forward at the many changes in the world of work in past ten years. At long last we have at last got rid of 20th century working practices.

Nearly all my work activities are home based now. My only business travel is a once a week trip to my local workhub, if you call a brisk walk, travel. It’s a good opportunity to get out of the house and meet up with colleagues, and people I have got to know from other organisations, and exchange ideas, very stimulating!

It’s been months since I needed to visit the company HQ and it’s a much smaller building than it used to be. It’s more like a hotel these days with comfy chairs and all sorts of rooms for different activities. They got rid of the last desks a few years ago. Remember all that fuss at the beginning of the century about ‘hotdesking’  and how people were reluctant to share their desks. Why would you need a desk? If I want to look at anything I can project it on to a wall or pop on my virtual reality glasses. Keyboards became redundant when artificial intelligence made speech recognition so accurate. Even the mouse has been discarded now we can control our devices by gestures and voice commands.

Too many offices

Not many offices are needed now

There was that property crash a few years back when it was realised that we had far more office accommodation than office workers. A lot of offices have already been converted into housing or combined live/work dwellings. I can see offices disappearing altogether before too long. These Immersive collaboration technologies, such as 3D video conferencing and life-size holograms, are brilliant. It’s like being in the same room with people who might actually be hundreds or thousands of miles away. We used talk about the importance of a physical face–to-face meeting to meet people for the first time, well you can do that in the comfort of your own home. They are even talking about links to our nervous systems to enable us to have a realistic virtual handshake. I’m glad they have eventually cancelled that ridiculously expensive high speed train project – what was the point of it if business people don’t need to travel to meet people?

No more commuting

Commuting is a thing of the past

Talking of travel, do you remember the dreaded rush hour commuting of ten years ago with regular morning and evening traffic jams and people packed like sardines on trains? Of course, that’s all gone now that the majority of employees are now home based workers. At last all this reduced travel has greatly improved  our carbon emissions. Even better,  these spray on solar cells help reduce our energy bills as well the environment. They even work indoors, amazing!

Short-term and zero hours contracts are now the norm. No-one seems to have a full-time permanent job these days. Most people have a portfolio of jobs, usually part-time. But it can be tough. In my field I am competing with people in China and India – with all the developments in video and virtual communications distance is no object.

While offices have got smaller, houses have got bigger.  It seems all New Builds have a built in workspace so that all sorts of work activities can be done at home including small scale manufacturing with 3D printers. Of course it is essential to have a separate entrance for business visitors and deliveries.

A long cherished dream of many of my friends to be able to work in remote areas in the countryside is now possible. With 6G networks with hyper-fast reliable broadband people can work anywhere. Although home based working has reduced the price pressures on the London housing market it pushed up the price of accommodation in the beauty spots in the Lake District and Cornwall. If only I had bought that cottage when I could have afforded to.

Robbie the robot

Robbie the robot

Home-based working has improved the quality of life of many of us. We used to talk about Work-Life Balance but the realities of instant and continuous communications mean that work and social life have become intertwined.It’s all about Work-Life Integration, you just need to manage your life sensibly. There are plenty of digital tools to help you. I can’t imagine how we managed without our robot, Robbie, to keep the house clean and do other chores around the house. He even makes a decent cup of tea!

 

JE online croppe squareWritten by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd based on published research on future ways of working. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively.  My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology. 

Read more

The Agile Working Progression Model – achieving true Agile Working

There remains much confusion in the terms used for new ways of working and limited recognition of the benefits of to be gained from their adoption. The Agile Working Progression model seeks to provide a way of assessing how an organisation is progressing to true Agile Working. Technology has been a key enabler for the successful implementation of new ways of working. Also important are the working environments, management styles and tailored policies  to support staff in new ways of working. The model summarises best practice approaches for these workstyles. The stages in the model reflect the chronology in the development of technological developments to support new ways of working although individual organisations may have followed their own development paths. The term Flexible Working is excluded from the model as its meaning is interpreted in different ways.

jec-agile-working-graph-02

The Agile Working Maturity Model © John Eary 2014

Stage 0 – Traditional Office Working

The office has been the traditional working environment for most of the last century with “folks like Dolly Parton on the job from 9 to 5”. The fixed location and time periods for work activities of the traditional office model offers certainty for both employers and employees.

Technologies needed for traditional office based working are now well established. Typically each office worker is assigned a designated desk on which a personal computer is permanently placed connected to a local area networked to other PCs so that emails can be sent and received and line of business applications can be accessed. Before the advent of the Cloud, security was relatively straightforward as most data and systems were contained within the perimeter of the building.

Managers who like to manage by walking about can feel they are in control as their staff are under their watchful eye. Meetings can be held at short notice as staff, who are not on leave or ill, are already on site. However to accommodate impromptu meetings, a significant part of the office accommodation needs to be dedicated to meeting rooms even if their utilisation is low. Technology requirements for meeting rooms rarely exceed a video projector and screen.

There is little incentive for process improvement as many costs are fixed. Where there is change new processes are likely to be closely prescribed with little scope for employees’ discretion in decision making. The traditional office workstyle suits employees who find routine comforting and enjoy the daily contact and support of their colleagues.

So there’s a lot to like about traditional office based working and this workstyle is still prevalent. However it comes at a price, in accommodation costs for the employer, and commuting costs for the employee.

Stage 1 – Flexitime

The first variation from the traditional office model occurred in 1971 with the invention of flex(i)time. This introduced the concept of ‘core time’ around which staff could choose when they started work and when they would finish to fulfil there contracted hours. Some schemes also enable staff to accumulate credits for extra time worked and take these as additional holiday. There is little change in workstyle apart from managers having to accept that not all staff will be present in the office throughout the normal working day. As work activities only takes place in the office there is no need to change technology or processes.

The main requirements of this workstyle are the need for a flexitime policy so management and staff are aware of the rules of the scheme and a mechanism for recording time worked, which may be software application or a more informal signing in system. Significantly the emphasis is on time spent in the office (working or not) while the quantity and quality of outputs are typically not measured.

Stage 2 – Home Working

The first change in work location for office-based staff was allowing staff to work at home. In the UK in 2003, the Government introduced legislation that gave parents the right to request a flexible working arrangement from their employer and this right has been extended to all employees in 2014. Working at home for part of their contracted working hours, as opposed to full time homebased working, has been a commonly requested flexible working arrangement. However, as well as these formal requests there are often more informal arrangements and there are also ‘Day Extenders’ – managers and staff who do a ‘full day’s work’ in the office but also work at home in the evenings and/or weekends e.g.to catch up on emails or finish off a report.

While partial homeworking is normally an adjunct to the traditional office routine with little perturbation to processes this workstyle has additional technology requirements. Early connections over ISDN were often painfully slow but the increasing speeds of public broadband has put homeworkers at a much less disadvantage than their office based colleagues. At a minimum all staff working at home will require external email access. Many homeworkers will need equipment to access office systems. This equipment could be a corporately owned laptop or the employee’s personal PC ‘thin client’ software installed on it using the employee’s broadband service.

This workstyle poses additional security risks that need to be mitigated e.g. encryption to prevent data transmissions being ‘eavesdropped’. A homeworking policy should alert employees to privacy issues from other members of the household having sight of confidential data. The use of a house telephone for work purposes is an obvious no-no where there is a risk of other members of the household taking calls. The usual choice is between a corporately owned mobile phone or employees personal mobile phone where this is agreed by both parties. For calls to colleagues and management Skype may be an option.

Managers need to adapt their style to accommodate homeworking. They should ensure that home working staff are not excluded e.g. by arranging meetings at times when homeworking staff can visit the office.

Stage 3 – Mobile Working

Many staff, such as inspectors, service engineers and sales staff need to work “in the field” i.e. make regular visits to sites away from the office. A delegated management style enables mobile workers who enjoy some discretion in the decisions they make on the ground. However their decisions are often monitored closely through the examination of site visit reports and debriefs when they return to the office.

Technological developments for mobile working have been prolific  – laptops, tablets and smart phones and the coming wearable devices. These mobile devices need be connected through fast mobile data network (such as 3G or 4G networks), public and private Wi-Fi for email and messaging and access to line of business applications, for applications that are feasible for mobile working.

Mobile technology allows mobile workers to keep in touch with management, colleagues and clients also provide an opportunity to reduce travel time and costs. By enabling mobile workers to access the information while they are ‘on the job’ they can go straight to their first appointment from home rather than divert to the office. Similarly technology can enable mobile workers to file reports remotely without returning to the office saving further travel time and enabling greater efficiencies. These savings in commuting time can increase productivity through additional visits and/or reduced travel can contribute to the organisation’s green agenda.

The use of mobile devices creates additional security risks that need to be mitigated. There should be authentication measures to ensure that corporate systems and data are accessed by authorised employees. By using a Mobile Device Management system an organisation can lock down applications on the device or wipe data from the device if it has been lost or stolen.

In reality, although they may not regard themselves as mobile workers, these technologies have afforded managers and staff the same benefits, and security risks, when travelling to, and attending, offsite meetings. Therefore the appropriate use of mobile technology should be included in an augmented security policy for all staff.

Stage 4 – Smart Working

In Stage 2 organisations react staff requests for homeworking. When organisations adopt Smart Working staff are proactively encouraged to work at home for part of the working week. When staff are working in the office they are likely to be required to work at hot desks. Hotdesking breaks the link between individual staff and designated desks and therefore increases the flexibility of accommodation. As a result of these initiatives fewer desks, and other physical facilities, are needed so there is consequential reduction in office space required. This reduced requirement can be realised as a cash benefit from the sale, or rental, of surplus accommodation. This benefit is the driver for many Smart Working initiatives.

The hot desk area needs to be ergonomically well designed otherwise staff will be distinctly cool about hotdesking if the environment is inferior to the facilities they have previously enjoyed. Some hot desk areas are simply touch down points where staff can connect their portable device. Where equipment is provided, each hot desk needs to offer uniform technology features and a common desktop interface. Meeting rooms should be equipped with conference phones so staff working off-site can dial in and participate.

A wireless network supporting the hot desks and meeting rooms will offer advantages of convenience although the increase vulnerability to external eavesdropping will need to be addressed. The adoption of Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) provides additional flexibility as it enables communications services such as voice, SMS, and voice messaging over the public Internet. Staff member’s phone number can be routed to their temporary hot desk. As well as flexibility calls via VoIP can be made at much less cost than via the public switched telephone network. A Smart Working policy should define employer and employee responsibilities incorporate a procedure for the booking of hot desks.

The other benefit promised by Smart Working is summed up by the slogan, ‘work smarter not harder’. To realise this benefit existing procedures need to be examined to identify opportunities for business process improvement. Smart Working assumes that a proportion of the work activities will routinely be carried out away from the office. The organisation can continue to provide its services at appropriate and acceptable levels when staff are working away form the office. Unless web based, line of business application systems will need to be tested and possibly modified to ensure that their performance is not significantly inferior to that when used in the office environment.

Moving paper to and from offices is neither desirable nor feasible and Smart Working requires organisations to switch to  readily accessible electronic documents. The implementation of an Electronic Document and Records Management system (EDRMS) will enable documents to be managed effectively and securely.

Stage 5 –  Agile Working

Agile Working differs from Smart Working in that it is transformational i.e. based on fundamental changes in working practices rather then incremental improvements. With Agile Working performance is explicitly based on objective measures of output, and managers need to allow flexibility in how these outputs are achieved. Similarly Agile Workers can choose when and where they carry out their work activities provided they fulfil the business need.

Technology has evolved to support Agile Working In an increasingly connected digital world exploiting newly available technologies such as the Cloud. Unified communications and collaboration services can bring together all fixed, mobile and desktop communications services in one integrated platform that is accessible from any device. This technology enables each employee to have a single incoming and outgoing phone number across their fixed, mobile and desktop phone as well as one voicemail box and contact directory. This unified approach extends to collaboration tools so employees can easily share ideas through instant messaging, video conferencing or through enterprise social media tools on any device through the same unified application. A specific example is screen sharing where participants in a videoconference can simultaneously see documents such as spreadsheets and presentations.

Increasingly staff are willing, and expecting, to use their personally owned smart phones, tablets and other devices for work activities. Organisations need a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy that sets staff responsibilities in the use of the organisation’s systems and data on their own devices and define what support the organisation is able to offer to staff who wish to use their personal devices for work activities.

As well as holding personal and business information on the same device Agile Working often requires staff to mix their business and personal time to meet deadlines or provide a timely response. In this new way of working, sometimes called a connected lifestyle, work-life balance becomes work-life integration.

Agile Workers require a conducive environment for work activities that add value for their organisation. Quiet areas for reflective activities such as report writing and stimulating areas that inspire and support creative activities. While some organisations will provide these areas within their own premises others will identify appropriate independently managed co-working spaces providing further stimulation of developing ideas with employees from other organisations.

To realise the benefits of true Agile Working managers will need to engender a significant change of culture and ensure that staff who are working in a more autonomous way feel valued and supported. A light touch management style is needed based on results measured on agreed targets. Agile Workers need to be empowered to make their own decisions within their competence and to react quickly and appropriately regardless of where they are situated. Agile Working cannot be dictated by policy but with education and involvement a voluntary commitment to Agile Working can be elicited from employees.

JE online croppe square

Written by John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. with contributions from David Isherwood of OWI Associates. I have a strong track record in advising organisations on new ways of working and exploiting IT effectively.  My blog seeks to provoke thinking on the opportunities and challenges of new ways of working presented by technology.

 

 

Read more