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The Stack Archive

Managing the challenges and reaping the benefits of remote and agile working

Mon 16 Jun 2014

While secPeter_Ransom_small[1]urity has continued to occupy the thoughts of Peter Ransom, the CIO of international charity, Oxfam, his department has also been using its controls and disciplines to help other business units and, in a desire to promote business agility, he finds himself asking: what is a normal place of work?

Last time I wrote about the challenges I was having as the Interim Info Sec Manager whilst my new person turned up. This month I’m happy to report not only did Av turn up but continued to attend and seems very happy making my team squirm with difficult “naive” questions.

I can now say this as I have rather quickly passed the hot potato on to him and told him that I want a new strategy soon. It was good timing as a few days later the Heartbleed virus was revealed and then eBay did a blinder too. Now, I don’t want my blog to talk about security all the time as it isn’t the only thing on my mind but I am surprised at how aware I have become. I don’t know if I’m over-sensitised or just naturally pessimistic and worrying. I would like not to worry so much, however, I have a concern that if I didn’t, then I’d be worried that I wasn’t worrying enough. Quite.

I would like not to worry so much, however, I have a concern that if I didn’t, then I’d be worried that I wasn’t worrying enough. Quite.

We’ve just taken all the project management and business analysis resources from across Oxfam into the IS department and we now manage that on behalf of the other business units as a service function. This was after we had demonstrated a successful approach to running a group like this and with the controls and discipline that IS can provide, it’s expected that projects will ultimately be delivered in a more effective way.

To fit everyone in physically would have been a struggle so I made the decision to ensure that as many of these people joining us were kitted out with mobile technology to enable them to hot desk effectively, we call it “agile working” in Oxfam.

The great thing with being agile is that I can work everywhere. Well, all right, not everywhere but many places, much of the time. All I need is a laptop and an internet connection. Of course, that’s where problems start but you have to admit it’s a whole lot easier now than it used to be.

Because of this I find myself having discussions with other agile workers across the globe in different locations from their normal places of work, if indeed they have a normal place of work. Increasingly we are becoming individuals who have to get used to be working remotely and in a somewhat peripatetic way.

At Oxfam we in the IS team have used agile working to increase our resilience and also allow us to have people work for us that we wouldn’t normally attract. Being able to work one day a week from home means less travel and aggravation and a significant contribution to CO2 savings. In fact, the IS Management Team alone saves more than 30 tonnes a year in CO2 by doing a day a week at home or perhaps using the opportunity to visit others and work from their locations too. I’ll have to find how much that is now that more of the IS team does this.

Not only is this generally good, but it’s a direct objective for Oxfam to reduce its carbon footprint. We operate around the globe so travel and keeping in contact is a big challenge and probably worthy of another blog in the future, clearly reducing travel is always an objective. The other great benefit, of course, is that we are continually testing and checking our business continuity activity so the risk of not having a functioning team in the event of a disaster is minimised. It also means that in the days of cross-affiliate work and travel the systems and processes are all in place to support his activity.

When I first introduced agile working into the department there was quite a push back from some parts of the organisation. The usual ones about how do you know they are working? What about the cost, etc? After some discussion and getting support from our facilities department who were pushed for space, we carried out a pilot that than grew.

At the same time the quality of services we delivered also improved so we could demonstrate quality hadn’t suffered but we had better employee engagement, resilience improved immediately and we did save carbon, straight to one of the corporate objectives. Since then it has grown and now many parts of Oxfam work this way although we still have some resistant areas.

In the future I expect our headquarters will be highly virtual; already many of our teams are based around the world, I have regional IT teams in six locations and also part of the management team is in India so we are used to this. However, it is the way we are going and if it means I can hire quality staff and retain them, then I will continue to develop the agile approach to work.

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agility charity feature security
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