What Is The True Value Of Agency?

The most commonly used meaning of the word ‘agency’ is from business. An agency is usually a type of business that connects people or companies – think of a travel agency or advertising agency. However, there is a less common use that focuses on power – or the ability to change something.

This type of agency is what you will hear economists or business school professors talking about. An employee has agency if they are trusted to decide on their own working hours. They lack agency if they need to ask permission to visit the bathroom. It’s a simple concept, but extremely powerful.

Think about why people leave their jobs. Sometimes it is a simple reason, like the employee just wants to earn more, but most of the time there is a problem with agency. The MIT Sloan Management Review found that a toxic corporate culture is 10.4 x more likely to be the driver of resignation, rather than an employee seeking better compensation.

Culture is ten times more important than salary.

A positive culture is usually underpinned by giving control and agency to workers. Pointing them in the right direction. Giving them the tools they need, then allowing them to get on with it, rather than micromanaging every individual action they need to take. Granting agency is a key ingredient in creating a positive corporate culture.

Most of us know this intuitively. Think about a time when you had a good boss or great job. It’s almost certain that you enjoyed some autonomy. The boss allowed you to get on with the job. You could take control of your day and what you planned to deliver. Now contrast that to the interfering boss that constantly changes priorities and dictates how every last task should be undertaken.

Agency is more important than many managers realise. Many brands are already considering the value of their services in terms of agency – what power does our product give to the consumer, compared to our competitors? This can be important where some products are almost identical to the competition.

If the marketing people have already realised this then what about managers that need to create a working environment where people care about what they are doing?  This is important because creating a workplace with agency creates value for the business itself:

  • Lower attrition: team members with a stronger sense of control over their work are less likely to quit than those who feel endlessly controlled by a manager.
  • Wellbeing: employees with more control over their schedule will feel more in control of their work and life generally – this naturally boosts wellbeing.
  • Engagement: employees that have greater agency are more likely to be positively engaged in their work – interested in what they are doing and keen to perform well. This can be critical in customer service work – have you ever been served by someone that just doesn’t care? Contrast that to when you have been served by someone who is engaged and interested in what they are doing.
  • WFH and hybrid teams: distributed teams are harder to micromanage – some managers complained during the pandemic that they could not manage without seeing their team all in one place. But granting more agency to remote workers allows them the ability to deliver what is needed in a flexible way.

Agency may sound like a concept from an economic report, but it is extremely valuable for managers to understand it. Building a positive culture at work through increased agency has a number of positive outcomes and is an important tool for managers that are struggling to retain people and expertise.

How Will A Potential Recession Impact Flexible Working?

The Covid pandemic ushered in a new era of flexible work. Employees started working from home. Managers gradually started focusing on output and deliverables, rather than time spent at desks. Although there were several stories about companies using cameras to monitor their employees, the general outcome of the pandemic experience is that employees now have an expectation of a much more flexible work environment.

The post-pandemic business debate has been dominated by how much flexibility will be retained. Employees have developed a preference for flexible work that allows them to work from home or visit an office for meetings as required – a hybrid approach.

Since the pandemic it has felt like employees hold all the cards, but what happens if a recession arrives and there is far less economic certainty? Will company leaders start insisting that flexibility is now over?

New research from LinkedIn suggests that this may be the case. After surveying almost 3,000 C-level executives their new research found that company leaders feel there may be a winding back of progress on important areas of working life such as flexible work (68%), skills development (74%), and employee wellbeing (75%). This striking finding highlights a growing disconnect between what professionals require and what employers are now offering, with the balance of power shifting back to employers as hiring slows.

However, Josh Graff, LinkedIn’s managing director of EMEA and LATAM, commenting on the research said: “We can’t go back. Companies that pull back on flexible working and learning and development risk demotivating their workforce and pushing people to competitors that offer more attractive options. As a result, flexibility will increasingly become a survival issue for many businesses.”

Banks that have started forcing employees back into the office have faced difficulty. Many employees are rumored to be planning to quit inflexible employers once their 2023 bonus arrives. Even bankers want to retain their flexibility.

Many governments have tried to introduce flexibility into law. Australia has amended their employment law so that all employers must now accommodate requests for flexible work – provided it is a reasonable request. In the UK, workers will soon be able to request flexible work from day one – they no longer need to wait 26-weeks to qualify for the right to make a flexible working request.

When jobs get harder to find power usually reverts back to employers – this is typically what has happened during past recessions. Employers can reduce the salaries on offer, and flexibility available, because people just want those jobs. We all have bills to pay.

But this time does feel different.

Governments are rapidly adopting employment law that encourages flexibility at work. Bankers are demanding flexibility from traditionally very inflexible employers. Employers are suggesting to LinkedIn that there may be a reduction in flexibility, but the immediate response of the LinkedIn boss is that there is no way that companies will turn back now.

It feels like we have turned a corner. There was a time when weekends did not exist. Sunday was the the only day off work until workers organised and created the expectation of a day with the family (or watching sport) and a day for church. Nobody is talking now of reducing the weekend – it’s more common to hear about extending the weekend by another day.

I believe that flexible work and the reduction in commuting we have seen for many workers will stay – it will become an expectation for employers. Even if there is now an economic downturn, there are standards and accepted norms for work and it looks like flexibility is here to stay.

 

(Webinar) What will the Flexible Working Bill mean for your business?

THURSDAY JAN 12TH, 12 – 13.00PM
Chair: Jane Thomas, South West Contact Centre Forum

With the Government recently rubber-stamping proposals to give employees a greater say in selecting their own work arrangements, the Flexible Working Bill is set to make its way onto the statute books.

So what will the proposed Flexible Working Act mean for you?

In this webinar we’ll look at the legal and practical implications of the proposed new law, as well as other important considerations when building an effective hybrid workforce.

• What will organisations need to consider when reviewing a flexible work request?
• What different flavours of ‘flexible working’ are there?
• Important homeworker health and safety considerations
• Looking after the well-being of remote workers
• Building a strong cultural identity amongst home and hybrid workers
• Managing hybrid teams

Jane Thomas will be joined by specialists from home and hybrid workplace company Sensée and employment lawyers Kilgannon & Partners LLP.

Register for the webinar

Sensée is featured on the CX Podcasts

In October, our founder Steve Mosser was a guest on Martin Teasdale’s podcast ‘Get out of Wrap.’ It’s a show that focuses entirely on contact centres and the ecosystem of services that surround good contact centres.

Martin started by asking a few questions about the Covid pandemic and the experience that many people in customer service faced – a sudden pivot to working from home (WFH). Of course, this didn’t apply to Sensée as we were entirely WFH before the crisis began.

He asked some interesting questions about overwork and how working from home changes the behaviour of the employee – if you can just go downstairs and start work then how do people switch on and off and create a barrier between work and home life?

Steve explained how we all need to think differently when you bring work to people rather than transporting people to work. It’s a 180-degree change to what most people have experienced before. In our experience what people need to avoid is transferring the 8-hour block of work from an office to the home environment. This is what happened at many companies during the pandemic.

We promote a micro-staffing arrangement where scheduling tools can be managed by employees to build custom schedules, breaking the day/week into pieces that adds up to their contracted hours. So they can pace the work and fit it around their life. There is no scheduled lunch period or anything, it is entirely driven by what works for the employee.

We believe that by empowering the employee to take control of their schedule in this way it helps to avoid the typical overwork issues – people staying late or burning out. With our model they get refreshed several times a day – they are not just at the desk solidly hour after hour.

More recently, this month Steve was also a guest on the CX Files podcast talking to CX analyst and writer Mark Hillary.

The CX Files was really exploring the culture of remote work, with a focus on how to pull people together into a single team with a strong culture when they are not physically working together. He explained that many industry views on this issue remain shaded by the pandemic. Some people that are used to working together in person will feel that something is missing if they then start working remotely – as happened back in 2020.

What is more important now is our experience of culture in teams that are used to working remotely. They largely build their own culture. They create online groups using WhatsApp or Facebook. They chat and socialise in a different way, but there is a strong connection. What’s really interesting is that it is mostly the employees themselves who create these connections. As a business we can nudge them to use certain tools and so on but if they don’t want to chat then they won’t.

I was talking recently to one of our team who lives in a very remote countryside location and she said that she has never felt such a strong bond with a team, even though she has not really met most of the people she works with.

Both the podcasts explored other themes, including looking ahead to CX in 2023, so please do follow the links below to listen in full or just search for them on your favourite podcast app.

CX Files

Get Out of Wrap #132

Flexible Work To Be A UK Right From Day One on The Job!

The UK is finally set to get new legislation to allow employees to request flexible work arrangements, including the option to work from home. Importantly, the Government proposes that this become a basic right for all employees from day one – the previous law allowed employees to ask for flexibility, but only after 6 months on the job.

The law change was originally proposed by Bolton South East MP, Yasmin Qureshi. Talking to the BBC, Ms Qureshi said: “While the Bill may not resolve all the concerns on access to flexible working, it is a step in the right direction, towards that end.”

She added: “The Bill aims to set the right conditions for employees and employers to have open-minded conversations about what flexible working arrangements might be possible in any given context. The idea is to simplify and normalise the process of making and responding to flexible working requests, bringing benefits to employees and employers alike.”

The UK government website outlined key benefits of the new legislation on December 5th:

  • Millions of employees will receive day one right to request flexible working, empowering workers to have a greater say over when, where, and how they work
  • Businesses set to benefit from higher productivity and staff retention as a result
  • Around 1.5 million low paid workers will be given even more flexibility, with new law coming into force to remove exclusivity clause restrictions, allowing them to work for multiple employers if they wish

When the Bill was still being debated there were many critics. Some commentators believe that it’s not enough to just be able to request flexibility as many employers will find a way to wriggle out of their responsibility. In the BBC news report, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, which represents the human resources industry, said: “This new right will help normalise conversations about flexibility at the start of the employment relationship, with significant benefits for employees in terms of wellbeing and work-life balance.”

So HR leaders believe that it will make a difference. Most of the critics are really suggesting that employees don’t know enough about a new job on day one to start making flexible work requests. This may be true, but not always.

Greater flexibility does create a boost for businesses as well as the wider economy though – in addition to being good for the individual employees that are offered the opportunity to work more flexibly. Research published in HR Review earlier this year suggested that a 50% increase in the number of people offered flexible working conditions could generate £55bn for the UK economy and create over 51,000 new jobs.

Refusals to accommodate flexible working requests are costing businesses almost £2bn a year in recruitment and training, as staff look for more accommodating employers. Companies that invest in recruitment, onboarding, and training can lose all this investment if employees quit just because they are not offered more flexibility.

People Management reported that we will see a new era of work in the UK because of this legislation. Not only will it normalise requests for flexible working, but it also forces employers to think more creatively about how their employees can work. If an employer refuses flexibility then there now has to be a very clear reason why.

Sensée has always been more flexible than most employers in the UK, but we are still pleased to see that other companies will soon be embracing a much more flexible work environment!

Sensée’s LiveDesk hybrid working collaboration application now available through the G-Cloud 13 Government Framework

G Cloud 13Sensée is delighted to announce that its LiveDesk™ application to create Digital Workplaces for hybrid working front and back-office environments is now available through Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) G-Cloud 13 Government Framework to public sector organisations.

LiveDesk is a next-generation communications & collaboration app to ensure that everyone -independent of location – can tap into a real-time stream of information, care and support so they are optimised to deliver great service.

CCS supports the public sector to achieve maximum commercial value when procuring common goods and services. In 2021/22, CCS helped the public sector to achieve commercial benefits equal to £2.8 billion – supporting world-class public services that offer best value for taxpayers.

Available as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), LiveDesk brings together home and office-based people into a single digital workplace with all the tools needed to inform, support and engage just a click away.  It provides:

  • One (web) app page with everyone needed to simplify employee experience (EX)
  • Continuous and certain support for frontline colleagues for better engagement
  • Consistent broadcasts, alerts and briefs, so nothing is missed
  • Peer-to-peer support and knowledge pooling to accelerate learning
  • Integration with comms tools like MS Teams
  • Digital Workplace Analytics for continuous improvement
  • Sentiment & Engagement tracking so no one is left hanging

Thousands of CX advisers are already benefiting from LiveDesk today by having a perfect-fit digital workplace that unites everyone under a digital roof so they are optimised for their work mission.

Launched in November 2022, G-Cloud 13 enables public sector organisations to purchase around 40,000 services from over 5000 suppliers that have been awarded a Framework Contract. To register to access services, customers must first register through the Public Procurement Gateway.

To find out more about LiveDesk and other hybrid working technology solutions, please visit www.cloudworks.cc