Senior execs recognise benefits of agile approach but are slow to implement change

Agile working is more than just flexible working. It’s about finding new ways of working, doing things in a different way — not just at a different time and place.

Unilever, for example, defines agile working as “an approach to getting work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. It goes beyond just flexible working or telecommuting and focuses on eliminating the barriers to getting work done efficiently.”

This can include more cross-departmental collaboration to accomplish tasks. In fact, research by digital consultancy Red Badger has found that 94% of the 750 senior business people questioned believe that organisational efficiency could be increased significantly simply by rearranging their office seating plans to promote better collaboration.

Yet just under two thirds (64%) of the senior executives surveyed — who ranged from board members to departmental leaders in organisations with more than 500 employees — said that their offices are still structured on a traditional departmental basis. Around one in five (21%) organise workers based on their position or status within the company, while only 13% bring suitable employees together in project teams.

Digital leaders agree that changing departmental office seating could improve efficiency. Of the 100 digital leaders surveyed by Red Badger, four out of five (81%) said they strongly believed that an inflexible office layout actively led to delays in launching a product or service into the market.

However, it seems that things are unlikely to change any time soon. The median length of time before organisational changes are expected to take place is two years and eight months from now.

If so many leaders can see the significant benefits to be gained from making simple organisational changes, why are most failing to implement them?

Among those who don’t expect to make any alterations to staff seating arrangements in the foreseeable future, 44% cited a lack of suitable employee skills — perhaps implying that they don’t trust workers to get on with the job if line managers are not watching over them. Meanwhile, just over a third (35%) of senior executives were concerned that this kind of organisational shift would simply be too difficult to implement, and just under a third (31%) believed that their teams would not be enthusiastic about such a move.

Interestingly, a lack of suitable employee skills and willingness among teams to accept change were seen by digital leaders as much less significant barriers to reorganising current ways of working than they were by senior business decision-makers. This may suggest that digital workers, many of whom are Millennials, are more open to cross-departmental collaboration than their older colleagues, Red Badger suggested.

For digital leaders, the number one perceived obstacle was a lack of senior management buy-in (42%).

“In other words, despite senior executives’ apparent enthusiasm for restructuring how employees work in order to help boost internal efficiency and customer focus, they are actually considered the biggest impediment to change, which implies some of their own fears around the subject may be misplaced,” the report said.

Commenting on the findings, Cain Ullah, founder and CEO of Red Badger, said: “Departmental silos, and arranging offices in this way, feel like a hangover from a time when industrialised workers needed to be closely supervised to ensure that they completed tasks efficiently. In today’s economy, where skilled workers have more autonomy, these seating plans are outdated and as our research shows, are actually slowing organisations down.

“This puts organisations at significant risk; they are only as fast as their slowest moving department. With more and more companies looking to disrupt the larger organisations, transformation is needed much sooner than in three years’ time.”

If you would like to discuss how we can help your business prepare for the future of work, please read our Future of Work thought leadership series.

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