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February 16, 2023

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Agile working in a post-pandemic world

In his latest article for SHP, Adam Clarke at Praxis42 explains the foundations of a robust agile working policy as we emerge from Covid.

Understandably, agile working has come to the fore over the last three years. COVID-19 pushed many people into working from home, even if it was something they’d never considered before, let alone done in practice. For 18 months during lockdown, we all stress-tested (quite literally) how this new kind of working could succeed.

And on the whole, it did succeed. Businesses could still remain productive even when their employees and management were spread over large geographic areas. They learned to use Zoom, Teams or Meet together, and gradually built up their collection of carefully chosen books for their backdrop.

So when the UK entered Stage 4 of the pandemic road map and the workforce could return to the traditional workplace, it was understandable that many opted to adopt an agile, or hybrid model. This meant that people would divide their time between the shared workplace, and the location(s) they preferred to work in, whether that was their own home, a café or wherever they happened to be.

Same…but different

But of course, wherever a business’ employees are working, it’s still the employer’s responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure their welfare, safety and health under the terms of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The expansion of the list of possible locations (and times of day & night) at which people may now be working, has obviously brought with it additional considerations for those of us working in Health and Safety, so let’s have a look at the elements that underpin a successful agile-working environment.

Although the way of working may be different, from an health and safety point of view, the process of assessing different situations as part of a larger framework remains the same. Through my experience of helping clients make the switch to a formalised agile/hybrid working model, I’ve identified several key steps that must be considered if the changeover is to succeed.


When first starting out, it’s essential to look into whether agile working is feasible for your business and its employees. Although many types of business can support the model, it’s not practical for some, and this stage will help you identify which camp your business falls into.

Considerations at this stage include:

The Executive Team – what is its appetite for this new way of working? Is the desire real and full of energy, merely ticking boxes, or even actively against it?

Your employees – are they for or against agile working? If they are behind the idea, what do they need to succeed? And equally important, what do they want from the experience?

The business – at a very basic level, is it viable? Do you have the resources to support a remote team, both in terms of equipment and services such as HR and IT for example? Every move to agile working must be underpinned by technology which enables it, which can put a strain on many businesses.

It’s worth stressing at this stage that every business is unique. There is no single correct way to switch to agile working. Some are ready to go, others need lots of preparation to get everything into place and for many, it is simply found not to be viable when explored properly.

The same can be said for individual workers. Many embrace the idea of agile working, whilst others prefer the routine of travelling to and from an office each day. Equally, following the pandemic, many are still reluctant to return to the workplace at all.

Agile working policy

Once the potential for agile working has been confirmed, you’ll need to begin defining your business’ policy/guidelines around it so that your agile teams can begin making their own arrangements within it. The guidelines can’t hope to cover every eventuality within your workforce, but they should provide enough detail so that employees can make consistent decisions within them.

The best way to do this is of course in collaboration with those teams (or their representatives), encouraging open channels of communication and also buy-in from an early stage.

At this point you’ll also need to assess individual roles to define whether they are suitable for agile/hybrid working, can be fully remote, or need to be in the workplace full time. Once you’ve identified those roles which fall under the agile model, you can begin looking at what those workers need to succeed, and what may prevent them doing so: the enablers and potential barriers.


Some enablers are practical (such as having the technology they need to do their job effectively) but others are more abstract. Lockdown helped to show that people do work productively at home, without the need for a strict 9-5 day. This has helped build a level of trust between businesses and their employees that may not have been there if not already proven.

This base level of trust should be bolstered by setting out clear expectations for agile workers, so management and employees know what is expected of them. This could be in terms of how often they need to be in the office, how many hours per day they need to be available, or goals they need to achieve for example. Again, the specifics will be down to your own particular business and they don’t need to be overcomplicated.

Having proactive and flexible management is also important. Whilst agile workers need to adapt to the new situation, so do team leaders and other managers. Some will have already embraced agile working, but others will need access to new tools and training in order to keep supporting their teams, particularly when it comes to mental wellbeing.


Home working eyesOften people working from home have competing responsibilities, such as providing childcare. Agile working provides the opportunity to combine both effectively, by removing the barrier of the 9-5 day, allowing people to work earlier, later or a combination of the two.

The actual working space should also be considered. It’s important that agile workers have a suitable workstation set up, but it’s also important that on days they are in the office, the potential for collaboration is maximised. Many businesses are not only redefining what the ‘workplace’ means, but also redefining it physically, with less desk space and more break-out, meeting or collaboration spaces ready for when teams are face to face.

One clear message that came out of the lockdown was that as social creatures, working remotely with limited contact with other people has a debilitating effect on mental health. This is certainly something that should be considered when planning a move to agile working (as noted in the management section above), and strengthens the case for collaborative spaces rather than desks in the workplace. Give your teams every opportunity to get together when they can.

And finally, whilst there are many benefits to working non-traditional hours, workers and management need to be aware that although they may be most productive at 8pm, other members of the team may not see an email until the next morning. They shouldn’t assume that everyone is working when they are, or pressure others into adopting their timetable. One suggestion here is to encourage those who work later to set a time delay on their messages or emails so they arrive at a more traditional time.

Employer responsibilities

Once you’ve made the decision to adopt agile working, you’ll need to assess the risks for each employee’s agile work environment just as you would in the traditional workplace. This can’t be done for every eventuality (you can’t assess every coffee shop an employee may work in), but must be done at a high level, giving guidance, support and training on for example:

  • Using Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and setting up their workstation
  • Security at home and on location
  • Physical hazards and how to reduce them
  • Mental health and wellbeing

One other aspect to consider is to ensure that nobody is being discriminated against because of their particular circumstances. You must be prepared to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ (both in the workplace and at an agile worker’s home) to enable agile working for all.

The way ahead

As you’ve seen, there’s a lot to assess before adopting an agile-working model, but if it’s viable for your business, it brings with it a range of benefits.

The majority of the workforce is made up of millennials, who view agile working as the rule rather than the exception. By demonstrating that your agile  business operates successfully, you’ll be in the best position not only to attract talent, but to ensure it’s not tempted away by a competitor offering it when you don’t.

Anecdotally, agile working also has a very strong impact on the culture of a business. The obvious level of trust needed for an output-led business rather than the traditional time-led, bums-on-seats model, says a lot of positive things about your business.

Further reading

You can read Adam’s recent blogs on the Health and Safety at Work Act here and First Aid here.

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Dawn Fielding
Dawn Fielding
1 year ago

Great synopsis of where we are across business, and the benefits and pitfalls of home working. #mentalwellbeing #healthandsafetyleadership

Sue Parker-Tantush
Sue Parker-Tantush
1 year ago

Really considered article. I think many employees have also forgotten the cost they may need to set aside support home working.