Research recently published jointly by the CIPD and the Agile Future Forum,  titled HR: Getting Smart About Agile Working, provides a good starting point.  In this Post, I am particularly interested in defining what is meant by agile working and considering the impact on employees with disabilities and long-term health conditions against this workplace change.  Anyone who has been following my Posts recently will have not failed to notice that I like to drill down into the research and present some ideas of my own.

The term ‘agility’ in the business context can refer to workforce agility (flexibility in matching workforce fluctuations to
demand), and operational agility (responsiveness and adaptiveness of processes and structures) (2014: p3)

The Agile Future Forum argue that there are four areas where this applies.

  • Time: when do people work?
  • Location: where do people work?
  • Role: what do people do?
  • Source: who is employed?

Another angle with regard to the Agile Workplace comes from the changing ‘needs’ of today’s workforce.  I recently read another article, about employees becoming much more entrepreneurial with regard to their changing mind-set and what keeps them engaged, this points to the need for individual resilience.

Let’s consider each of the four dimensions and their impact on managing disability in the workplace.

Time for our purposes refers to the way in which working patterns are changing.  The days of working set hours, regardless as to which business sector is being considered, are far removed from what I recall at the beginning of my working life.  In the 1980s when I first started work as a Machine Setter/Operator for a sub-contractor to Cameron Balloons, I worked what was a typical day, including some overtime, day in day out.  More recently in my career, I worked what many termed as Flexi.   However, working patterns still reflected the type of work you did, whether you were in the private or public sector and your seniority in the organisation in other words, the collective sum of its individuals.  So what would agile time look like?

As with time, where you actually worked depended upon the productive purpose of the business which you worked within.  Business that combined physical resources such as manufacturing needed to bring people in to one place.  This was the most efficient way to make things.  However, the massive leaps in technological advances are leading to the ability of businesses to provide the remote means of production back in to our homes.  It seems strange to think that modern Luddite’s  fear this decentralisation as something that is unworkable especially in their type of business.  Marxists talked about controlling the means of production which relied upon the centrality of control.  So organised labour and business actually shared a common interest albeit from differing perspectives on ownership.   Working remotely as you often hear today or “I’m working from home” is no longer associated with where you fit in an organisation’s hierarchy, but is dependent upon the actual output from the type of work you do.

As with the other two mentioned so far, the roles that employees undertake is a changing.  The challenge is to recruit the right people for the type of work that needs doing rather than matching applicants against outdated job roles defined on paper by Job Descriptions.  The rigidity of past roles defined by a specific title were designed to attract the archetypical employee who could complete the tasks listed.  I would argue that there are two reasons for this that many appear to ignore.  First, the recognition that flexible workers come from diverse backgrounds is rooted in socio-political change and the move from equal opportunities to equality of outcome.  Second, that the new types of work and the way that the work is done requires emotions and behaviours that don’t fit to a rigid job-role.  The entrepreneurial employee’s time has come.  Businesses require specific talents, attributes and skill-sets.  If you need your Broadband to work, you get someone with specialist knowledge and use someone who comes highly recommended by those that you trust.  You don’t call the first person who can use a screwdriver.  Recent articles on the News point to the disappearance of many traditional roles.

The changing roles, or perhaps more accurately the need to do away with a job-role altogether, has led to the need to find individual talents to achieve what is being produced as a product, service or both with regard to workplace change for employees with disabilities.

What About Disability?

Over the past 20 years where I supported business owners to retain people with disabilities and those with deteriorating health conditions, we began with the individual’s reality and the needs of the business.  Thinking what others could not see often always came back to one thing, the willingness to do things differently and put changes in place that worked.  Many in HR are very familiar with job carving, but I often took this to another level; task carving or Smart Working as it is now known.

I will just finish on a case-study from a local authority.  I was contacted regarding a Social Worker with Dyslexia.  Their Manager explained that they could not organise their diary properly, they missed meetings and did not complete their work to required deadlines.  We agreed what the outputs of the role required, how they should be measured and the cost of not doing anything to both the employee and the organisation.  I met with the Social Worker and listened closely to what they perceived as the required outputs, what they thought they did well and not so well and then I asked each to list one thing that would make a difference.  The solution to the organisational issues and failure to meet deadlines was created by taking in to account the techie interests of the Social Worker.  They suggested using Outlook’s Calendar, but the Manager resisted saying that they would still need to put it in the office diary.  Having shown them how to see other people’s calendars, their opposition quickly diminished.  Today the whole Department works this way.  We used remote working from home to increase productivity and achieve deadlines.  The Agile Future Forum were right to place a high level of importance on the need for organisations to undergo significant cultural change and questioning of the processes that say things have to be done this way.  For what reason, has anybody ever asked this question?

Next time we look at the Agile Workforce and what this means for the management of disability in the workplace.  I look forward to catching up with you next week.

Chris Catt

The Enabled Entrepreneur

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