In an era of change, housing providers must evolve to keep pace with developments in the housing sector, in an environment of increased financial pressures created by a lack of reliable funding, continuing welfare policy changes and to help meet the ever-growing need for housing. We must also respond to the demands of our tenants who increasingly prefer to engage with us online, providing them with a personal, responsive service. Agile working is a new concept for the housing sector, and a necessary step to ensure we are well equipped to face the demands of the future.
Circle Housing is one of the first in the housing sector to implement agile working. Agile working makes use of technology to transform our workplaces into flexible spaces, where staff are not tied to a single desk, but can move around as they deem fit for the particular task in hand. Each staff member is provided with a laptop and smartphone, which not only allows them to move around our existing office spaces in a more flexible way, they also have a mobile office at their fingertips, wherever they are.
Why are we doing this?
Improving service for tenants
Being agile enables us to spend more time out with our tenants, providing services directly to the communities that we serve. Tenant-facing staff can address or resolve issues or answer queries wherever they are, such as in residents’ homes using their mobile connected laptops and smartphones.
It also enables us to function more homogeneously rather than in silos, through improved cross-team relationships.
Reducing our overheads
Once we have finished implementing our agile programme, we will have moved from 54 per cent to 150 per cent desk usage. This enables us to make the best possible use of our available space and take steps towards reducing the size of our overall office portfolio, with staggering projected savings.
Empowering our staff
Staff productivity has improved. Not only does the technology enable staff to take advantage of previously lost time, such as while on public transport, but also liberates them staff by giving them more control and measuring their performance based upon their outputs has proven to encourage creativity and yield greater results.
‘Presenteeism’ is common across the housing sector which, although well-intentioned, has serious implications for staff, whose productivity is reduced, damaging team moral and may lead to eventual long-term sickness, putting extra pressure on teams. Our move to agile working is one way in which we are addressing this problem by empowering staff and enabling an improved work-life balance to make us more efficient.
Agile working is particularly good for staff with responsibilities outside work, such as parents and carers. It’s also good for people with disabilities; for example, people who have MS or arthritis and experience times when pain is worse often find it easier to work from home during that time. Other staff, whose mental health is particularly affected by the rush-hour commute, can adjust their working hours, within the needs of the business. Looking after the needs of our staff increases the likelihood that we will get the most out of each individual.
Successfully implementing the change
In order to implement this new way of working and help staff who may be resistant to change to adapt, we used an end-to-end, multi-faceted approach. We first ran an agile working pilot, which was invaluable to highlight the improvements needed, before we rolled it out across the organisation.
The lessons we learned included having the correct equipment and technology in place, a better understanding of cultural issues, and a clearer explanation of the likely impacts and benefits. These lessons were then incorporated into our wider agile working rollout, which is running from August last year until this July. During that time, we will have made approximately 2,000 people agile, which is 80 per cent of our workforce. So far, our approach has resulted in staff overwhelmingly embracing this new way of working.
Circle Housing is already enjoying the many benefits of agile working, from significant cost savings to maximising productive staff time and, above all, increasing responsiveness to our tenants’ requirements.
Jen Smith is the head of diversity and inclusion for Circle Housing.