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An agile challenge

29 May 2013


Is there really a backlash against flexible working or is it just a media construct following the ‘Marissa Mayer affair’?


The furore around the Yahoo CEO’s edict that everyone must get back into the office has been given another twist by Maxine Boersma’s piece on FT.com (23 May) citing everyone from the CIPD to Cranfield School of Management on resistance to flexible working.

The article is an apparently carefully selected set of snippets of information, put together to create what looks like a credible challenge to the whole agile working movement.
In fact it’s an affront to the intelligence of those who have been working to overturn outdated attitudes to work over the past 20 years.

But you can see what's going on here. There are some very powerful groups who would rather the whole agile thing would just go away. Lets face it, as we go forward, most organisations will need at least 30-40 per cent less space than now to support the same population. You can see that property industry grandees might find that a bit tough to swallow.

I mean, asking the British Council of Offices whether agile working is a good idea is like asking Nigel Farage whether he’d like Brussels to have more power.

I wonder if Mayer realised how helpful the Yahoo story would become as a device for explaining what happens if you go full agile without putting in the right management disciplines to replace what you had in the office?

If you really want agile working to work, you can't just allow your workforce to simply not turn up (physically or mentally) – you have to introduce a new deal and you have to put something back in the mix to make sure you don't lose all that you have when you are together in the office. Managing and working at a distance is a new skill set that goes much further than making sure your outlook calendar is up to date and shared.

These are key issues for HR professionals, as well as FM. Recruitment consultant Laurence Monnery, quoted in the FT piece, is right on the money when she says there must be changes to leadership style to reflect changing work patterns.

Trust management, outcome management, relationship management, presence management are just some of the new ingredients that have to be put into the mix. What the Yahoo story tells us is how poor Yahoo's management has been, perhaps leading to its poor business performance.

Agile working is a joyous liberation of human capability, freeing people to work where and when it's best, both inside and out of the office. If done properly, it makes people and organisations more effective, but it requires new attitudes, thinking and enhanced skills and it challenges the conventional wiring of most conventional minds.

The agile genie is well and truly out of the bottle and – BCO chief Richard Kauntze please note – it's not for popping back in any time soon.

Andrew Mawson is managing director at workplace strategy and management specialists AWA