Many organisations are now following the entrepreneurial lead and moving to a more ‘agile’ or ‘activity-based’ way of working.
The tech revolution has allowed us to start to work wherever and whenever we want. Central city locations for big companies are no longer the only place that we can work; coffee shops, co-working spaces, library, the trains are now places of work too.
This gives us more flexibility than ever before – hoorah! However, it also poses some potential difficulties that are easily overcome with just a bit of thought. The problem is that we tend not to think about them until it’s too late, and we’ve now got aches and pains or a clunky way of working that we probably could have avoided.
In this article on agile working, we’ll work our way through all aspects of people, place and technology and give our thoughts on what you need to consider and why when moving away from traditional office-based working routines.
So whether you’re a Freelancer, Remote Worker, Facilities Manager, or Co-working Space provider you’ll find some useful nuggets here to get you thinking.
By no means will these be exhaustive lists – just food for thought to help navigate these changes for yourself, your employees or your clients.
Instead of the traditional desk setup, you’re now taking everything you need with you as you move from desk to coffee shop to home, to the train – wherever you happen to be working. All this can add up.
So what do you really need to carry? How can we make this easier? How are you going to carry it?
What are you carrying?
Phone, tablet, laptop, cables, chargers
Notebook, pens and other worky items
Lunch, spare shoes (maybe that’s just me?!), toiletries, keys, gym kit – the list is potentially endless!
How can we make this easier?
Lots of stuff in our bags…so what can we do about it?
Clearly, we need to do as much as we can to cut down the amount we need to carry – some will inevitably be more disciplined with this than others but there’s plenty we can all think about:
- Do you need all that technology?
- Is it the smallest/lightest it can be to comfortably perform the task required of it?
- Is battery life adequate to avoid the need to carry cables and chargers?
- Are spare or loan cables and chargers available in different locations?
- Can paperwork be accessed remotely rather than carried?
- Are digital paper & pens worth considering?
- Are you adequately trained to make full use of the digital technology
- available to you?
- Can storage be provided in regularly-visited locations to negate the need to carry all items all of the time?
And then there’s the personal stuff that many of us insist on dragging around with us! So many of us are guilty of throwing stuff into our bags and rarely clearing it out.
We’ll admit – behavioural change is the hardest thing to do! No magic answers here we’re afraid – sorry! Just keep trying to keep stuff to a minimum.
How are you carrying it?
Backpack? Messenger bag? Briefcase? Handbag? Trolley bag? All capable of housing the laptop you’ll undoubtedly need, but all have their pros and cons, so which one should you go for?
The answer to most Ergonomics questions really is ‘it depends’. Generally, we’d say a backpack (carried on both shoulders) is the best option in terms of comfort and reduction in aches & pains. But it doesn’t suit everybody or every situation, so you have to weigh up the best option for you to avoid it being a waste of money and yet another item of clutter that’s put under your desk, behind your sofa, or in a locker that’s never used.
One size/solution doesn’t fit all, so some thought required.
And if you’re an employer, some manual handling training specific to this aspect of an individual’s role would also be appropriate so that you can work together to make ‘agile’ as ‘painless’ as possible for all concerned.
It’s so easy to think that if you’re shifting to a more agile way of working then any laptop will do. But if you spend a bit of time looking how you’ll actually be working then you’re far more likely to get it right 1st time.
What Do You Need?
Clearly not everyone will need everything on this list so here are the pros and cons:
Easy to set yourself up in a comfortable and ‘ergonomic’ way – generally plenty of adjustability but clearly not portable and therefore not conducive to agile working unless you’re going to be based in 1 remote location.
There are soooo many different sizes and weights available. A large screen is easier to work on, but heavier to carry around. A small screen is not so easy to work on and (usually depending on how much you’re prepared to spend!), not necessarily light either.
Lovely and light to carry around, but small screen and poor ergonomics (especially if used without a keyboard) make it unsuitable for prolonged use.
A full-size monitor, keyboard and mouse for your laptop or tablet to help bridge the gaps between size, comfort, and weight when used for prolonged periods in an office-based environment. Best of both worlds if you’re moving around some of the time, but also have a regular base of home or a co-working space.
Battery life and power cables
You’re not necessarily going to want to drag around a heavy power cable with you every day so battery life is definitely a consideration, as is the making sure you have access to additional cables to be kept in frequently-used places such as the home, office or co-working space.
Headsets will make life much more comfortable if you’re on the phone for any length of time.
This aspect of agile working will be relevant to employers and employees, but unlikely to have much relevance to the self-employed – it’s been your decision to make changes to your working style, so presumably, it suits you well. But if you’re an employee that’s going through an agile working transition, then that may not be the case.
So the details of how your space(s), furniture and equipment will help the transition towards Agile Working have been worked out. Lovely job.
But not everybody is going to be up for it. And this whole journey will only be effective if everyone is fully engaged and ready to meet the challenges of the new working style.
Having decided that Agile Working is the way to go, it’s essential that everyone is involved in the whole process. Things that an employer might consider:
- Share information early on about the goals of the agile workplace – explain why it’s happening
- Conduct a study on how current space is being utilised and garner views about how Agile Working might be implemented
- Conduct staff interviews to ensure correct information about how teams currently function within the larger organisation
- Use a staff survey to enable employees to give anonymous but true accounts of their needs, understanding, and concerns
- Try a post-it note board for anonymous feedback
- Listen to, and understand feedback and concerns – incorporate these into your plans
- Train Agile Working ‘Champions’ to help spread the word
Resistance to Change
Many people don’t like change – especially change that they have little or no control over.
Take time to get this phase right and employees will feel included and valued which, hopefully, will result in less resistance to change. Let staff see how they will fit into the brave new environment and how they can benefit from new working practices.
This is just a snapshot of what can be involved and we would be really interested to hear about your experiences in moving to an ‘agile’ way of working. Let us know what’s worked for you and anything you may have done differently if you had the chance.
If you’re an employee then you should have had a DSE assessment in the office, and you will realise the importance of good posture when using a computer to safeguard you from visual problems and aches and pains.
If you’re self-employed then it’s highly unlikely that you will have had any training in computer ergonomics, but you need it just as much as any employee – so read on…
When you’re in a traditional office environment with an adjustable chair and desktop computer it’s relatively easy (if you know what you’re doing) to adjust your working environment and get yourself comfy. But it’s not so easy to adopt good posture when working on a laptop and sitting on a bed, in a train, or a coffee shop.
The problem with laptops is that they lack separation of screen and keyboard – so if you want to bring your keyboard nice and close, then your screen is probably not at a comfortable viewing distance, and if you want to raise your screen to avoid leaning forward to see it, then your keyboard will be too high – no matter what you do, you’ll be compromising some aspect of your comfort.
What can you do?
Separate the keyboard and screen. In an office or co-working space, you could provide a docking station to enable this, and if you have a hot-desking policy then that’s ideally what you would do.
But clearly that’s just not practical as you move around, so you have to find some other way of providing separation. By using a separate keyboard and mouse, and finding some way of raising the laptop screen, posture can be greatly improved and most should be able to get into a comfortable working position – replicating the traditional office working posture.
It’s not realistic to think you’ll always set yourself up perfectly like this, or to carry around a screen raiser, keyboard and mouse all the time if usage is only likely to be occasional. But it’s important if longer pieces of work are being done – get yourself comfy and avoid getting unnecessary aches & pains.
The other issue with working away from an office environment is your seating position. It’s obviously not practical to drag an adjustable office chair around with you, but you can adapt the environment using cushions or whatever you have to hand to get yourself comfortable:
- a cushion in the small of your back to support the natural curves
- placing the laptop onto a cushion or backpack to raise it up slightly to a more comfortable position
- keeping the mouse and keyboard nice and close to avoid overstretching
- using a plug-in keyboard and mouse & using a screen raiser
Simple stuff – but it’s all about keeping an eye on what you’re doing and how you’re working and change stuff and make it work for you. Ask your employer or co-working space if they can provide spare keyboards, mice, screen raisers to avoid you having to carry these things around, and some ergonomics advice so you know what to do – it really will make all the difference.