Three hundred years ago, there were no offices and no factories. People lived and worked at or near home, and work was judged on what you produced, not how many hours you spent working. The first office was opened in 1729 by the East India Company, and the first factory was opened in 1769. During the Industrial Revolution, this system quickly became the way most people worked. However, technology means that, for many jobs, it is no longer necessary for everyone to work in the same location, which is causing people to question whether it is the most productive way to manage our working lives. We’re calling this era the Agile Revolution. Of course, it creates many challenges, not least of which are in managing training and development.
A fully agile employer won’t worry about where or when employees work; they will be judged on outcomes and their contributions to the team. People may also work for more than one employer, as long as there is no conflict of interest. In consequence, there will be a shakeup of traditional approaches to learning and development.
For example, the concept of having line managers or mentors who support employees at their desks won’t work in an agile organization, where most team members aren’t desk-bound. Instead, agile organizations develop structured development initiatives on the days when team members are together, at least once a week. New recruits will need their managers to be more present as they learn the ropes and establish their relationship. But many now believe that it doesn’t need to stay that way for long, if you are proactive in being supportive and present (not just in person). Agile companies make full use of technology, particularly collaboration tools, like Slack, and they report that remote working helps employees become more solutions-focused and confident, trusted to get the job done. Technology is also an enabler for peer-to-peer development initiatives, such as video workshops and webinars or, on an ad hoc basis, Google hangouts and Skype calls to allow for “face time” with other team members.
The idea of applying an “anytime, anyplace, anyhow” approach to development has widespread appeal as all generations in the workplace seek a more flexible approach. Tools such as apps for continuing professional development or e-learning portals are likely to have higher rates of engagement among agile organizations, where there is less emphasis on time spent at a desk and more on productivity and outputs. This environment gives employees the autonomy to carve out time to invest in their development.
Team-based development initiatives also work well in an agile context. Where employees may all be working remotely, or rarely from the same location, most will agree that they do need to commit time where everyone is together. Because this time is limited, agile organizations make it very focused and use the power of the group to solve problems.
For example, a manufacturing company might be experiencing high costs within its supply chain and organize a day where the entire team is asked to identify potential challenges and solutions. While this approach to development might not be traditional, it enables a meritocracy, allowing employees across all levels of the organizations to work together and contribute, and it truly makes a difference to the individual and the business.
How soon and whether a position or an employee can become agile should be judged on a case-by-case basis. There will always be cases where it’s best for two people to sit next to each other the majority of the time. Equally, agile working doesn’t suit all sectors, all organizations or everyone within a business. Some jobs can’t be carried out remotely, and many people like working set hours from a consistent location.
The same rule applies to certain types of training that absolutely must be done in person. It cannot be forced on people, but it also not something that employers can ignore. It is hugely attractive to many employees, especially at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to find skilled people. If you don’t offer agile working, there is a real danger than your best people will go and work for a competitor who does.