Bischoff adopts agile approach to flexible working – Telegraph

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Bischoff adopts agile approach to flexible working

Lloyds chairman Sir Win Bischoff says firms are losing out
financially by
sticking to traditional working patterns.

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                                        Photo: ALAMY

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                        By <a shape="rect" rel="author" title="Louise Armitstead" href="">
                                        Louise Armitstead</a>

    11:48PM BST 23 Jun 2013

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Few words are more likely to stiffen the spine of a company boss than “flexible

The struggle to accommodate the awkward ones, who want to work from home, do
the school run or work three days a week, has led to an entrenched
reluctance to deviate from traditional practices.

But Sir Win Bischoff, the chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, and his 21 fellow
members of the newly launched Agile Future Forum, say British companies have
got it wrong – and it’s costing them a lot of money.

“Flexibility has denoted something that a well-meaning employer has to
offer employees. That’s how we think about it. Wrongly. There’s more to it
than that,” says Sir Win.

The City grandee was approached by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, 18
months ago to help the Government analyse Britain’s workforce. The Coalition
is clearly keen to boost employment levels, particularly among working
parents and women, but it also wants to drive economic efficiency.

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“It was part of how to help Britain in the new, modern economy,”
says Sir Win. “The question was how to do we get the workforce engaged,
and can employees and management find a way of using our resources in a more
agile fashion?”

His first move was to ditch the tainted word “flexible” and adopt “agile”
instead in a bid to ensure that companies understood that this was a “new
approach”. His second was to commission some detailed economic analysis
of working patterns, looking specifically at the impact of being fluid over
staff hours, locations, and roles within the company.

The work, carried out by McKinsey which analysed the agile schemes already
adopted by various companies, found the impact was considerable.

Lloyds Bank believes it has cut its overall workforce costs by 7pc by asking
staff to work at a series of different sites and introducing a system to
hire freelancers to meet seasonal demand. Tesco says it has reduced its
workforce costs by 13pc by using more part-time staff which also allows the
company to meet customer demands, by keeping stores open for longer, for

Ford Motors cut its plant costs by offering alternative maintenance shifts to
staff which resulted in staff cover in line with the needs of each plant.
Accountancy giant KPMG, one of the signatories, said it saved £4.7m during
the recession by offering flexible working hours to staff rather than making
redundancies. Another, law firm Eversheds, said 28pc of staff reported
increased productivity when they gave staff freedom over their working

Sir Win argued that all firms would benefit from a degree of agility. He said: ”
Auditing firms, for example, are very busy at the December and April year
ends. There are employees who are willing to give up hours in return for
flexibility over when they work and where they work or to what age they work.”

He added: “Call centres could come back to the UK – the supposed
flexibility they offer abroad can be replicated here if you talk to the
workforce. They are people who are perfectly happy to work on Saturdays in
call centres; perhaps the young are not because they are out partying, older
people may not be.”

And it’s not just a luxury for big companies. The results showed small and
medium-sized firms could benefit, even more from agile working.

Ian Greenaway, boss of MTM, a Derbyshire-based manufacturer of “exit”
signs and other publicly displayed panels, says his company is thriving on
variable working shifts and job roles. “By operating more than one
shift, the working day is extended,” he said. The company used to
assign workers to a single machine which meant frequent disruptions from
sickness or holidays. By retraining staff to handle multiple machines, the
workforce is more skilled and fluid and the company benefits too.

The AFF has been formed primarily to persuade all companies to at least
investigate whether their work patterns could be more efficient. But it has
also devised a specific assessment tool, while it will run seminars and
workshops to help small, medium and large companies overhaul working

“We expect the Government to welcome this but the one thing we don’t
want is for the Government to proscribe agile working, that would make it
bureaucratic,” says Sir Win. “This is not obligatory. We’re
saying, why don’t you look at it? Each company will have its own way of
looking at it and adopting it.”

But the AFF has laid down some principles, the first of which is to ensure
agile working policies “come from the chief executive, not human
resources”, to ensure they are business-driven. The second is for
bosses to engage staff; some will want to work weekends or evenings or less
hours, in exchange for flexibility.

The group is also laying on seminars, talks and mentoring as well as templated
tools for companies to conduct their own assessments.

Sir Win and the others are urging firms to not delay. “We’re not the only
ones looking at this; other countries are moving fast, particularly given
the opportunities offered by new technology.” He added: “Even if
you take the lower end of the estimates, the potential benefit to companies
and the economy is vast.”

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