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Benchmark your progress in Smart Working

Use the Flexibility.co.uk Smart Working Maturity Model

Where is your organisation on the road to Smart Working?

One way to check your progress is to take a look at our Smart Working Maturity Model, from Andy Lake's book Smart Flexibility. It's been developed from nearly two decades of working with organisations and researching new ways of working.

Smart working in a cafe

July 2014

Smart Working Maturity Model
Copyright Flexibility.co.uk


Smart Working involves several trajectories of change. The most progressive forms take an integrated and strategic approach, with a strong business focus, and also support as far as possible employee choices about where and when to work by adopting a 'flexibility as normal' principle.

The model identifies four stages in the journey so far - and of course as new evolve the journey continues. It is important to emphasise that this model is an analysis of where organisations are, rather than mapping out a route they should take. They should be aiming for the more mature forms of Smart Working from the outset, wherever they find themselves now.

Level 1 - Isolated initiatives

Many organisations - or departments within organisations - introduce some features of flexible or smart working as limited scope initiatives. Typically these might be:

  • an initiative from within HR to promote work-life balance. It might be linked to particluar issues over staff retention (especially after maternity leave), or an awareness of unbalanced recruitment. It might be linked to a strategic objective about becoming an employer of choice. There will be some flexible working options offered as part of the solution, but is probably regarded as an employee benefit and a departure from the normal way of working.
  • a desk-sharing initiative - perhaps called something like 'non-territorial working' but known by sceptical employees as 'hotdesking'. This may be driven by property rationalisation, and an awareness of the under-utilisation of individually-assigned desks. without a more strategic approach to mobility, remote working and office redesign, it won't deliver the benefits it could do
  • enhanced mobility - some employees, probably field workers and managers, are given new IT tools and some permissions to be more mobile, perhaps even working from home sometimes. However, without changes to the working culture, to processes and to office design the benefits will be limited.
  • ad hoc homeworking - some people, probably managers and autonomous professionals, are allowed to work occasionally form home. This will either be for personal reasons, e.g. waiting in for the plumber, childcare emergencies or to get the peace and quiet to finish work uninterrupted. Typically IT, processes and communications are not optimised to support this. For many this is their experience of homeworking, and can be a reason to doubt its value in a more strategic approach.

Some of these initiatives may be the first steps towards more advanced kinds of Smart Working. But often it is hard to scale up from them. And they can give people some misleading ideas about the potential for working more effectively. For example, remaining heavily paper-based in the office puts the brakes on working more effectively when out of the office. Sometimes people will say, 'We tried that, and it didn't work'.

Level 2 - Basic flexibility

At this level there is a more coherent framework for flexible working. Policies may be in place, and more concerted programmes to support flexible working.

Typically, however, it has more of an employee focus than a business efficiency focus. Policies will be in place to support employees who request to work flexibly. Line managers will be given responsibilities and sometimes advice for saying yes or no to requests.

In countries like the UK where there is legislation to give employees a 'right to request' flexible working, policies and procedure may focus on compliance with the law.

There may be positive programmes to encourage uptake, and these may introduce the idea of their being potential business benefits. But often the policies are framed somewhat negatively, e.g. that flexibility is permissible when it doesn't harm the business; what to do if it all goes wrong; how to deal with poor performance (etc)

At the end of the day, while it may be well-motivated in principle the approach is essentially reactive. Reacting to individual requests, and leaving flexibility to the initiative of individual employees.

On this basis there may be many benefits and a growth in understanding of the potential for working smarter. But from a business perspective, it is probably all very unstrategic. Having strategies for the workplace, the workforce and the deployment of new technologies on this reactive basis to how, where and when people work is almost impossible. A different approach is needed to inject some 'smart' into the 'flexibility'.

Level 3 - Advancing flexibility and the beginning of Smart Working

This level of smart/flexible working is where many organisations involved in some forms of business transformation find themselves at the moment.

They will probably have some of the connecting pillars of progress in place, with an IT roadmap for introducing new technologies for mobility, a property rationalisation programme and some office redesign to promote more sharing and collaboration in offices, movement towards electronic processes, enabling policies and a more strategic approach that highlights the benefits of working in a smarter or more agile way.

Compared to leading-edge companies, this level can be characterised as Smart Working from around 2004 - a decade behind the state-of-the-art. Yet there are still companies that have limited ambitions and so will not reap the potential benefits.

Implementations may be partial or patchy across the organisation, with different parts moving at different speeds depending on managerial enthusiasm and awareness.

Traditional practices sit alongside the new ways of working, and can sometimes be incorporated in programme, e.g. by profiling employees in rigid role-categories such as 'fixed, 'flexible' and 'mobile', rather than looking closely at the tasks involved in their work and having smarter forms of flexibility.

This kind of approach often adopts a 'build it and they will come' approach. That is, a lot of the focus is on building the platform for Smart Working - the technologies and the office work environment - and the realisation comes too late that the most important changes needed are in mindset and work behaviours.

Level 4 - Smart Working

State of the art Smart Working is characterised by a strategic and integrated approach. It has a stronger focus on delivering business benefits by rethinking the ways in which people work. This involves challenging all assumptions about how work is traditionally done, and developing a new working culture based on trust and management by results.

So the key features of this advanced stage of Smart Working are:

  • Clear and comprehensive strategy for working in smart/agile ways, linked to defined business benefits
  • flexibility as normal
  • use of space aligned with actual need
  • trust-based culture and management by results
  • high focus on collaboration, but traditional meetings are reduced
  • high autonomy for employees to make decisions about the most effective teim and places to get work done
  • a range of 'activity-based' work settings rather than 1:1 assigned desks in the office
  • people enabled to work effectively beyond the office
  • paper processes replaced by electronic ones, available beyond company offices
  • work is much less resource-intensive
  • routine travel is minimised
  • culture of innovation in working techniques, collaboration and technologies.

Achieving this level has probably involved a strong leadership commitment and leading by example. And the programme of transformation is characterised by an integrated approach involving the People, Property and Technology functions, adopting a common set of principles and common roadmap.

The journey continues

There isn't an endpoint to the journey into Smart Working.

A key part of Smart Working is openness to the future - and being ready to embrace new techniques, technologies and workspace innovations as they emerge and make a positive contribution to working smarter.


Further information

In this article we explore the Flexibility.co.uk Smart Working Maturity Model.

This is a useful model to measure where your organisation stands in terms of implementing Smart Working - finding where you are, where you could be and what needs to be in place to make the difference.

Many large organisations find themselves moveing forward at different speeds in different departments or locations. The Maturity Model can be a useful way of benchmarking progress in different parts of the organisation.

For more information, or if you'd like us to run a Smart Working Maturity Assessment, contact Andy Lake on 07967 500135 or email andy.lake@flexibility.co.uk.


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