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Online workshop report: Agility and the workforce


This is the transcript from the online workshop held on 27 May 2002 on the subject of Agility and the workforce - how are changes in business practice affecting the workplace?, hosted by Lee Slater of BT Business Agility.

Stephanie Phillips Hi Simon!

Stephanie Phillips Hi Maria

Stephanie Phillips Thanks for coming along. The session is due to start in about 10 minutes.

Stephanie Phillips Hi Fred - thanks for coming along.

Stephanie Phillips The session is due to start shortly.

Stephanie Phillips Hi Claire. Thanks for coming. We'll get going in the next few minutes.

Stephanie Phillips Hi Maria again!

Stephanie Phillips Hi all - Hi Lee.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks to everyone for coming along today.

Anne Teggart Hi all.

Robert Hello all.

Stephanie Phillips Lee - do you want to explain a bit about what you do and what you'll be talking about today? For anyone who doesn't know, Lee works for BT's Business Agility programme.

Robert What is the BT Business Agility Programme?

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility Hi all, Thanks for coming along. Just a quick overview. I work in BT Retail focused on delivering customer orientated solutions for customers around empowerment and flexible working.

Anne Teggart So this focuses on empowering your BT colleagues to better the service you deliver to customers?

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility That is part of the process, however most of what we do starts from the customer perspective. What is it that customers need and want from empowering their people. It aims not to be driven by technology but rather business drivers, for example cost efficiency, productivity etc.

Stephanie Phillips Lee - some of the key issues people will be interested in are flexible working, virtual teams, empowerment and what e-HR exactly is.

Fred Olsen Are you talking about internal or external customers?

Anne Teggart Lee focuses more on external customers Fred.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility The Business Agility programme is essentially addressing the issues that keep managers and directors awake at night in respect of their organisation. Specifically their people, processes and assets. It aims to offer solutions based on customers needs and translated to their specific markets and environment. It can take a customer from infrastructure through value adding services and into strategy related/led initiatives for example when BT helped the Halifax on their IF service.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility Please allow for a little time delay. The answers take longer to write than the questions. Their will be smoke coming off the keyboard by the end of this chat.

Fred Olsen So, how does virtual teams and flexible working etc fit into this?

Antony Davies I work for a small consultancy with 25 people and we've decided to introduce a form of flexible working with regard to start and finish times. The difficulty is, how far to go at this stage i.e. full flexibility or limited flexibility as a trial. What about the issues of trust re. staff start and finish times? Any thoughts?

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility OK. I will pick up Antony's question first. Firstly I would ask some questions back. Have you asked your people how they view flexible working, and how they think they will benefit? Flexible working is as much a voluntary exercise as is overtime, i.e. people should want to do it and not be forced. In a lot of cases employees are quite open to the idea, as we all hate the traffic problems, the late nights etc. Yet, there will be those that are happy to stay in the office perhaps due to the social aspects or the need for structure. Consider carefully what you would do if there is a 50:50 split. My advice, having seen a number of these is to learn by trial. Run a small group (by volunteers) with a mixture (if that's possible). Perhaps select someone who is known for being late as well as a high flyer. My last point in this brief response is measure. Measure before and after. Seek feedback, what works and what doesn't. Is that OK for a starting point?

Claire Barry Hello Lee, do you use e-learning as part of E-HR and has this helped staff benefit more?

Antony Davies Thanks Lee.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility Hi Claire. Most definitely. The benefits of e-learning is best seen when it is divulging information and data e.g. new regulatory requirements or latest engineering changes. It is not best suited for interpersonal based skill development (not until video conferencing becomes part of the piece. It has helped staff by being more quickly dispersed through an organisation and enabling them to find a quiet slot. However in my view the pluses are more for the business. (reduced cost, time away from desk etc.). The best advice is a combination, blended learning, using face2face and e-learning.

Robert How can you ensure your staff are performing to a desirable level when you can't actually see them working?

Claire Barry Thanks Lee.

Fred Olsen Fred how do you identify and meet any learning or development needs of members of your virtual team?

Claire Barry I agree a combination is the best approach.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility This gets back to the trust question. Making some assumptions on your office environment here. How do you know your people are working the 42 hours a week in the office? A combination of trust and measures to check e.g. reviews, performance stats, if applicable T&S claims, meeting attendance. Not many managers have time to watch their staff in the office, so they know their workers performance by the interpersonal relationship with the individual and by discussion in 121 situations. There is little difference in a flexible worker, just the methods of measurement change. I will discuss this further.

Robert Presumably this new technology can facilitate this trust, if properly implemented.

Simon Lewis What are the different measurement methods?

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility Selection and approval of the right individual is an important part in choosing who shall be a flexible worker. If the individual is not right for reasons such as perhaps being poorly self-disciplined etc then a company does not have to offer that individual a flexible working package.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility In the same light, a company should if possible enable a flexible worker to come back into an office environment. This could be due to changes in their home life e.g. lost their office space or too many distractions. etc.

Louise Taylor So what kind of benefits do companies gain by offering flexible working. Do you have any figures?

Anne Teggart I think it's hard to measure in terms of figures - it's best to measure in terms of a person's performance. Obviously, if they're working in a sales environment for e.g., their performance will be easier to monitor because of the revenue they generate.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility To answer Fred's question. We use a Personal Development plan as part of our evaluations with our line manager. This can be on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. The individual is responsible for nominating courses they would like to attend. The manager reviews this in light of business need and budget elements, and also the abilities of the individual in relation to the role. Their is also a learning unit that identifies wider training needs for BT.

Fred Olsen Thanks Lee.

Simon Lewis Anne, but there must be some other tangible benefits other than reducing office space costs. What are they?

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility Louise, benefits in measurable terms depend usually on an organisation measuring the before and after elements. Some companies are reluctant to divulge exact amounts as this is sensitive info in the hands of competition. However, productivity is usually the first yardstick, and this has seen results of between 20 and 45% increase. This comes from increased motivation and dedication. Secondly, there are examples of cost savings, for example office In London a desk can cost £11k/yr to run, and around £4-5k outside London. Yes their is a cost in setting-up an individual at home, but there are definite savings in the long term.

Anne Teggart Do you mean benefits to the business or the individual (or both?) with re: to the individual it would mean less stress/travelling time etc. they could also probably get more done at home rather than from distractions at work... we currently have certain people working from home at the moment because it's ideal for them.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility How may of you have flexible working programmes and what is the size of your company?

Louise Taylor We have around 900 employees and some offices are more flexible than others, but there is no formal flexible working programme as yet. It's something we might look at.

Anne Teggart there are nearly 400 in our company and we assess people's requirements for flexibility around their role and the business needs.

Fred Olsen Fred We are a small consultancy and work with all our team on a flexible contract-based system. We work with large multi-sited organisations that are seeking flexible solutions to 'space, team-working, work-life balance, performance management' etc.

Claire Barry I work for a University with over 2000 employees, some have flexible working arrangements. We also work with SMEs who may be interested in this approach.

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility Louise, I would suggest that you do. Firstly it controls the process, and avoids time delays and confusion. Secondly, it enables future programmes to be controlled far more effectively. Has your org set-up the flexible workers on an ad-hoc basis, and do they tend to be senior managers?

Stephanie Phillips All - unfortunately we're coming to the end of the time for this session. Does anyone have any last comments or questions they'd like to add?

Louise Taylor Just to thank Lee for his time and advice!

Lee Slater, BT Business Agility I'd just like to say thanks for the questions, and please send me an e-mail if you wish to know anymore. I will do my best to reply ASAP.

Richard Sergeant Thanks Lee, that was very enjoyable.

Claire Barry Yes Thank you.

Fred Olsen Fred Olsen This is our first experience of an on-line workshop and we have found it very interesting.

Simon Lewis Yes, thanks Lee.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks Lee - it's been a good session!

Richard Sergeant Thanks all for taking part. Hopefully 'see' you all again!

Robert There were some interesting issues raised today - much appreciated.

Stephanie Phillips The transcript from today's session will be added to the site over the next day or two.


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