Black’s Blog: Caledonia’s agile people

Black’s Blog: Caledonia’s agile people

Caledonia Housing Association's People Team

Jimmy Black reflects on Caledonia Housing Association’s ‘agile’ staff strategy and gets misty-eyed about his old place of work in a Broughty Ferry mansion house.

I came across the term “agile” when working in technology-enabled care. A bunch of expert software developers created the Agile Manifesto in the hope of uncovering better ways of creating IT systems. One of the principles was to “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done”.

At Caledonia Housing Association, Barry Johnstone is following an agile plan. He’s the director of people, a title I personally prefer to the soulless term, “human resources.” Like every other employer, Caledonia had to make rapid and dramatic change in working practices to get through the COVID lockdowns. Unlike many employers, post-Covid, Barry led a series of consultations to find out what staff want from their working environment. He wants agile employment for everyone.

It’s not just about allowing people to work from home. Barry and his award-winning team have been creating dispersed offices where staff can touch down, meet managers, train or just work, depending on requirements. The organisation has invested in IT so that a seamless customer support service can be delivered from a mix of homes, offices and any other appropriate location. Customers, ie tenants and owners, have been consulted too.

Crucial to the whole process is the way line managers motivate their staff and come up with ways of working which suit both them and the organisation. Barry is our guest on the latest episode of The Scottish Housing News Podcast and we visited him in the boardroom of Caledonia’s magnificent HQ, a Victorian mansion house in Broughty Ferry. It’s worth taking the time to hear him describe the thinking behind agile working and the practical implementation of this approach by Caledonia.

“Give them the environment and support they need” … years ago I worked for Servite Housing (now called Caledonia) and also for the SFHA in that beautiful HQ building, formerly the home of a member of the DC Thomson family. In case you don’t know, DC Thomson brought you the Beano, Commando comics, Bunty, the Sunday Post, Pure Radio and much else.

I swear that the moustachioed and bearded gentlemen depicted in stained glass on the grand staircase are Paw and Granpaw Broon; and it’s the grandest place I ever worked. Meetings were in a huge shiny boardroom around a polished table. There was a baronial hall with a big fireplace, and the toilets were the original family bathrooms with ceramic tiling, enormous heated towel rails and big old baths. Strolling in the extensive grounds was always a pleasure and I could practice my chanter in peace up in the tower.

Sadly a Victorian mansion is no longer a useful environment for a modern housing association. On the day we visited to do the podcast, the building was eerily quiet as so many staff were working elsewhere. A warren of small rooms with staff scattered around them is not conducive to collaborative working. Putting a cup of hot coffee on that polished table would be a crime. At some future time, Caledonia will inevitably move on because there is nothing agile about clinging to an inefficient working environment.

I was delighted to have another look around my old workplace, so thanks, Barry, for giving me that chance.

All episodes of the Scottish Housing News Podcast are available here as well as on the following platforms:

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