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22 May 2018 | By Emma Codd Community

In your own time: the business case for agile working

Deloitte UK’s Emma Codd on its approach to agile working and how it is delivering results

What does the term ‘flexible working’ make you think of? Perhaps someone leaving the office early or working part time? For some, sadly, it conjures up images of people (most likely women) working to rigid schedules that are difficult to accommodate.

That’s why at Deloitte we avoid using the term ‘flexible working’ and instead refer to ‘agile working.’ Agile is much more positive. And we made it clear that agile working is available for all our people.

Agile working doesn’t necessarily mean formal approaches like reduced presence or term-time working – it can mean more informal approaches like flexible hours or working from home when needed. It is about working in a way that suits both the individual and the business. Crucially, it helps create a culture where individuals can have a better work-life balance. This means our people are more likely to be engaged and stay with us for the long term.

Our approach is underpinned by three principles: open and honest communication; trust and respect; and judging solely on output. First and foremost, we want to tackle the issue of presenteeism. The idea that just because someone is out of sight; they aren’t delivering.

Making a difference

When we embarked on agile working, I knew how important it was find great role models to embrace the change. So we launched a campaign showing the ways in which a number of our senior people, both male and female, were agile working – #agileme remains one of our most impactful communications campaigns of the past few years.  

Ensuring that agile working is gender neutral is one of the key recommendations of A Manifesto for Change: A Modern Workplace for a Flexible Workforce”; a new report produced by Timewise, in collaboration with Deloitte.

The five-point action plan also states that leaders must provoke cultural change and this is very true in our case. We secured the support of our senior leaders by showing them that agile working is good for our business and then setting the tone from the top. We have also actively engaged with managers to ensure everyone is clear on our approach to agile and how to escalate any issues to senior leadership.

Furthermore, we have reviewed our hiring processes. All our job adverts now include references to our agile working approach, and our recruitment teams are tasked to look at which roles can be delivered in part-time/annualised days contracts, not just having roles as full-time by default.

Delivering results

So does it work? We recently surveyed our people and over 90 per cent of respondents were satisfied with our approach to agile working – with over 60 per cent saying agile arrangements were either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. We have more than 1,000 people working on formal agile working arrangements, with many more embracing agile informally. Since introducing our Time Out scheme in 2014, more than 700 of our people have taken a month of unpaid leave, enabling them to take a break for any reason.

Since introducing agile, the number of UK female partners has increased from 14 per cent (in 2014) to 19 per cent (in 2017) and our attrition rates for female managers and above have fallen to below the company’s average. Work-life balance is no longer the main reason people choose to leave our firm. Women in particular actually choose to join us because of our approach to agile working, and our people tell us they feel trusted to decide when, where and how they work.

To achieve gender parity it’s clear that many organisations need to change the working culture and provide greater flexibility. That is something that men have as much a part to play in, and benefit from, as women.

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