This year has posed many challenges for businesses, none of which were expected. After six months of lockdown and a job retention scheme that saw 9.6 million jobs furloughed with 80% pay, the Government is encouraging businesses to get back into city centre offices to kick start the economy and support small enterprises.
While yes, this is important, firms have found that having an office full of people doesn’t directly correlate with success. To be successful in these unprecedented times, businesses across all industries need to look at ways to create or build agile workforces. Here's how.
Agile communications strategy
In mid-March, when companies were encouraged by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ‘work from home wherever possible’, it was those with an agile communications strategy in place that were able to adapt quickly with little to no business interruption.
Companies need a company culture of openness to enable effective communication and collaboration. Of course, how you facilitate this is entirely dependent on your structure and capability, but key points to consider include:
1. Having open social networks and easy access to documents
Online systems and cloud storage can go a long way to ensuring swift communication and collaboration between departments. But this isn’t purely for working documents - it includes company documents such as policies and company values, which many employees and managers may wish to revisit during these uncertain times.
2. More visibility of the CEO and/or senior team
Messages that come directly from the top and are shared personally to every member of the team (rather than being filtered through various levels of line managers) are always going to result in more confidence and trust from a workforce.
At uncertain times, leading through change and actually being visible can make a huge difference between a team that is content and productive, or one that is unhappy and unmotivated.
3. Asking for feedback
Letting your team know you are there is one thing, letting them know you’re willing to understand feedback and implement change is quite another.
Agile work styles
Flexible working styles – from hours to locations – has led to improved retention rates across a range of businesses, with many employees now claiming to be more productive without the stress of commuting to work or meetings, allowing more time for focused activity. So how can this be sustained?
1. Encourage flexible working for all
When offered to certain groups – e.g. parents or managers – flexible working can be deemed more a reward than a norm, something that could become detrimental to your business rather than promote it as inclusive.
2. Keep communications flowing
Agile working may mean your once weekly team meeting now becomes a short daily catch-up to replace the time spent ‘chit chatting’ in the office. It also gives you more regular interaction with colleagues as well as keeping two-way communication open.
3. Empower people with self-serve
Some managers may feel they need to micro-manage, but this can cause employees to feel undervalued. It's far better to empower your team to make their own decisions and structure their own day, showing them you trust them to get on with their job.
Being an agile leader means you should focus on:
1. Making your purpose clear
If your team doesn’t know what you are all working towards, it’s hard for them to be on the right path. It's vital to ensure you're all on the same page and that your team are aware of how their individual duties lead into a common goal.
2. Developing talent
Agile working is showing us all how people work when given more autonomy and can uncover some previously untapped – or unnoticed - skills. While not all will be beneficial to the business, those that are need to be developed and nurtured.
3. Strengthening employee engagement
Working from home can increase feelings of loneliness and, while some businesses are splitting time between office and home working, it’s important to make sure you are engaging with your employees on a regular basis to maintain that team spirit and connection you may otherwise lose.
Agile performance management
Removing daily interaction can make it difficult to understand, assess and manage the performance of your team, but there are ways around that.
1. Keep goals and objectives up-to-date
The annual review is a thing of the past – it’s difficult to imagine anyone is still working on all of the same goals they set themselves in December 2019. Regularly update goals and objectives to ensure your agility to your team and their progression is in line with your agile approach to working.
2. Reinforce commitment
If your team know you are committed to them, they will remain committed to you. It’s that simple. It's still important to conduct salary reviews and discuss progression plans with your staff, even during these uncertain times.
3. Consider 360 feedback
When managing the performance of your team, not only should you take the time to look inwards, but offer them the chance to feed back to you about your performance as a manager.
Being agile isn’t prescriptive; by its very nature it's about adapting, changing and developing to navigate adversity. Ultimately it is a journey, not a destination, so it's vital you remain flexible as a manager and ensure you're able to adapt to the needs of your customers and employees.
About the Author
Jenn Brown is an account manager at Harvey & Hugo, a North East PR and marketing agency that specializes in building loveable and memorable brands. Its team – known as The Pack – includes experts in strategy development, content writing, social media, design and animation and event management.