An agile approach can have a positive impact across charities’ organisation, leadership and skills
You may have heard the word ‘agile’ thrown around more than usual lately. The concept is in vogue within the sector, with charities encouraged to have an ‘agile mindset’ and become an ‘agile organisation’.
But what does that mean in practice?
At its core ‘agile’ working sees work as an activity rather than a place. Digital is at the heart of this outlook, as charities look to remote working and pivot their operations from in-person services and fundraising to digital activities.
Being ‘agile’ can lead to happier staff and beneficiaries, as gives them more choice over when and where they carry out tasks. This can also bring benefits for charity finances, with less focus on bricks and mortar, and more on the vital work the voluntary sector carries out.
Having an agile mindset is particularly important amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as charities look to save money by reducing their property portfolio and office time due to social distancing.
Here we examine more about the concept of an agile mindset, its benefits and how it is already being successfully applied across charities to help charity leaders and boost the skills and wellbeing of their staff.
Having an agile mindset means a culture shift for many organisations, who are used to running in person activities and meetings. They are also used to welcoming staff into buildings, from local centres to headquarters.
Thinking about the activities of staff, not where they are being carried out, is key to an agile mindset.
Take desk utlilisation for example. Routinely head office desks are rarely used. This can be just half the time or less in many cases. People need a desk for some tasks but not for others. This means seeing work in terms of what activities are being carried out rather than where they are taking place.
Being agile gives charity leaders and staff greater choice about the activities they carry out for a charity, looking at when they work, what they do, where it is taking place and who they are working with.
Successfully applying that mindset to an organisation relies on one key word – trust.
This means leaders and staff work together as part of a trusting employer/employee relationship to decide on the boundaries and rules of their agile working.
This could mean ensuring an agile workspace has different zones, looking at informal collaboration areas to share ideals as well as places for training and formal meetings.
Rules could also be in place to support charity staff to organise a home office environment, with help regarding screen breaks and keeping their work and home life separate.
COVID-19 has clearly accelerated an agile mindset, but the benefits have long been released.
For example Comic Relief is among charities to already have a dedicated agile delivery manager role, to look at issues around value, nurturing collaboration, continuous improvement as well as to coordinate workstreams.
The agile mindset comes with its own jargon. Charities are urged to learn some of the key terms to help take that mindset into their organisation.
Some familiar terms will be ‘hot-desking’ where desks are allocated on need. Another is ‘flexible working’, which looks at time spent in the office and focuses on the needs of the worker first.
Other terms include ‘presenteesim’, which looks at the time workers spend in the office simply for the sake of being there. Is staying late or the traditional eight-hour working day necessary? Can the work be completed in far less time by employing a different method?
‘Unified communications’ is another. This looks at how digital can look at the integration of communication methods, from phone, video conferencing and sharing data and reports. Utilising digital for communication and collaboration is key to a successful mindset within an organisation.
An agile mindset can produce a number of benefits, most notably the ability to attract and retain talent. The freedom associated with agile working is a major pull for millenials and young professionals in the workplace. This mobile and tech savvy generation now expects to be able to work remotely, hot desk and enjoy workspaces that are flexible to their needs.
Aa number of charities are already looking for ways to cut costs to cope with substantial income losses caused by shop closures and event cancellations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Closing buildings and leasing small office space is an effective cost-cutting measure. But making sure this is part of an agile organisation can ensure this money saving move also benefits staff and beneficiaries.
For example, this month St John Ambulance announced it is to close a third of its 352 buildings to tackle COVID-19 losses as part of a reorganization. This comes in tandem with an agile mindset as he strategy includes increasing online meetings and using technology to grow and manage volunteers.
“We have a duty to continue serving these communities by responding to their health needs and it is with regret that we have to reduce our estate to shore up the charity’s future.
As part of this process, I will be exploring, with St John people, how we evolve to still meet and serve communities. Whether that’s using technology to better connect with people or finding partners in the community who would welcome St John, we will find new ways to continue our life saving work now, and for many years to come.”
- Martin Houghton-Brown – Chief Executive, St John Ambulance
Agile working also helps the environment by reducing a charity’s carbon footprint, as more staff work at home and meetings take place online.
As well as collaboration and communication tools like Slack, there are a number of other useful digital resources to support charities. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations offers advice on having an agile mindset in software development. This is where charities can focus on smaller, ongoing cycles of research, planning and testing so that the organisation is continuously delivering versions of software that can be improved each time.
Charity Digital has also produced a raft of handy content around some of the key themes of an agile mindset, such as improving culture, inclusivity and employability.
We also focused on an eBook guide from charity HR experts Breathe, which explains more about how an agile approach can help charities adapt.