29 May 2023

Powerful lessons from agile working

Many housing providers now claim to offer ‘agile working’. This is sometimes just a consolidation of the changes enforced by the COVID lockdowns. But some organisations have gone further, to fundamentally reinvent the way they operate.

My experience of making this shift is that ‘agile’ needs to be much more than a catchy slogan or vague aspiration; this is about real, lasting change.

Work is what you do, not where you go

Until quite recently, if you were scanning job advertisements, location was all important. But now home-based, remote, hybrid and mobile working are the norm. My association is in the East Midlands, but today we’re able to recruit from all over the country, and have staff in Wales, Manchester and Hampshire. Flexibility like this widens the talent pool and helps people to balance their personal and family needs with their careers.

Certain colleagues still need a physical base (for example, repairs and grounds maintenance depots), but agile working helps to break down silos and improve relationships between these roles and office/home-based teams. When people can choose how and when to use their face-to-face contact more selectively, they’re likely to use it more effectively.

Agile working is about maximising individual choice rather than forcing people to follow arbitrary rules. This builds trust, leadership and accessibility – from online board meetings to more social and fun-focused connections between colleagues.

Embracing the unexpected

It’s often the unanticipated spin-offs from a truly agile approach that have most impact. For example, at Greatwell Homes sickness levels have steadily declined, especially short-term absences. And colleagues’ engagement and morale have both improved.

When the office is no longer a static, one-dimensional place of work, you can give it a more homely feel, with fresh terms and conditions to match.

It’s also helpful to invest in positively connecting staff, board members and customers as people (for example, through community events, Black History Month and joint mental health awareness training).

The power of small things

Agile working is living proof that small things can and do make a difference, and can add up to be a potent force for good. Done well, it can deliver improved satisfaction from both colleagues and customers and reduce expensive staff turnover.

People don’t have to be in a fixed workplace to feel supported, empowered and well managed. Agile working is about creating possibilities not barriers.

If you want to stay strong, get agile.

Written by Julie Robinson

Julie is an executive director and company secretary at Greatwell Homes, which provides around 5,200 rented and shared ownership homes in Northamptonshire.

Julie previously worked as Director of Resources at Watford Community Housing Trust, and she is a board member at Community Housing Group.