Managing the Agile Workforce – Chapter 1: Why We Still Need Help

In recent years, Advanced Workplace Associates have supported the professional development of ‘workplace’ leaders through our Workplace Performance Innovation Network (Workplace PIN). We’ve given many senior leaders the confidence, knowledge, support and tools to evolve to more innovative models of work, workplace and workplace management, providing higher levels of value to their organisations.

We have shared our research into knowledge worker productivity and cognitive performance – which provided a rich understanding of how to improve individual and team performance. Now we turn our attention to the ‘agile workforce’ and share how to make agile and “virtual” working a success.

Click here to download the officical whitepaper.

AWA Research: Managing the Agile Workforce

A  few years ago, ‘agile’ or ‘virtual’ working was in the spotlight following decisions by several prominent American leaders in the technology sector to bring their people back into the office. While this didn’t lead to a flood of similar decisions elsewhere, examples where organisations appear to reverse their attitude towards people working away from the office are still appearing. It seems that agile/virtual working still sometimes gets a bad press, when really there may be many other factors in play – not least of which that the initiative may have been implemented and managed poorly.

Back in 2014/15 the PIN Research “Explorer” Group undertook a review of academic research into the management and operation of ‘virtual’ workforces. In order to combat some of the mythology we wanted to identify the best understanding and practices in relation to the operation of agile / virtual teams, so we could help our sponsors identify the best approach to take in setting up and managing these teams.

A few years on, there is still a keen need to understand this arena, so we decided to share the research through a series of blogs.


What are Agile / Virtual Teams?

The drive for so called ‘virtual’ working has come as a consequence of increasing pressure on companies to be more responsive to change, reduce their operational costs and respond to staff desires to have more say over when and where they work. In seeking to respond to these pressures, it seemed clear that some organisations had implemented agile and virtual (i.e. people are not always together) working practices without sufficient planning and preparation. This led in many cases to arrangements becoming problematic and ultimately being withdrawn.

In thinking about agile or virtual working, the following situations are included:

  • Working in different physical locations (base office; other company location; 3rd party or partner location; home; on the move; café; hotel etc.)
  • Working in different time zones (where organisations use different territories to follow the sun or to recruit the best resources from specific market places or service geographic markets
  • Working at different times (shift patterns, job share, compressed hours, flexitime, part time etc.)
  • Geographically distributed teams


Research Purpose

The primary research question we set out to study was “What is known in the scientific literature about effective strategies for managing the agile workforce?” In addition, we wanted to know how agile / virtual teams were defined; how they differ from “traditional” teams and whether any of the following had a significant impact on the performance of agile / virtual teams:

  • Management styles and practices
  • Personal characteristics of team members
  • Contextual factors

Our sponsors – Allsteel in the US and BDO, BP, Pitney Bowes and Old Mutual Wealth in the UK contributed to the thinking and the development of tools and guidance for managing agile / virtual teams.


The Research Approach

AWA partnered with the Centre for Evidence Based Management (CEBMa) who undertook a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) of available academic research in order to identify the best available evidence in this field. They searched a range of academic databases for suitable studies conducted between 2000 and 2014 (the year our REA was conducted) and used a series of search terms to identify suitable studies.

The studies were then subject to a critical appraisal, designed to ensure that only the best evidence was included in our work – they considered research design, outcome measures, effect sizes, sample size / population and findings. Only the most robust evidence was included.


Managing the Agile Workforce Blog Series

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing the results of the research, the conclusions that were drawn and the ways in which you can ensure your agile / virtual teams benefit from this knowledge. We will also link this research to the findings of knowledge worker productivity – because surprise, surprise – the things that make teams productive also make virtual teams productive – they just need to be thought about and executed differently.

By adopting best practices, we can ensure these teams work effectively, and that you don’t leave things to chance.


Next time we look at virtual teams – what characterises them and how they differ from ‘traditional’ ones – if indeed such a thing still exists!

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