Agile or flexible working?
A question that we’re often asked in the context of workplace design, is “What’s the difference between agile and flexible working?”
A short answer could be that agile working is primarily about outcomes for a business, whereas flexible working focuses on benefits for employees. But this isn’t particularly informative or wholly accurate in my opinion.
A longer explanation is given by the ENEI in one of their employer guides:
What is agile working?
Agile working is based on the concept that work is an activity we do, rather than a place we go.
With the technology available to modern business, there are numerous tools to help us work in new and different ways, to meet customer needs, reduce costs, increase productivity and improve sustainability.
Agile working is a transformational tool to allow organisations to work smarter by eliminating all barriers to working efficiently.
What is the aim of agile working?
The aim of agile working is simply to create a more responsive, efficient and effective organisation, which ultimately improves business performance and increases customer satisfaction.
Is it the same as flexible working?
Agile working may incorporate flexible working practices but the aims, drivers and scope are significantly different.
Flexible working is a work pattern, which has been designed for an individual, usually to help that person balance work and home life. Flexible working has traditionally been viewed as a benefit for the employee at a cost to the employer. Whilst this is a narrow view that is not supported by research, flexible working does tend to be driven by the employee and usually only involves changes to working time, patterns and location.
Agile working is based on the complete flexibility of work to drive long-term organisational success. Whilst it can unlock value for both the employer and the employee, it will be driven by business needs.
Another definition is that flexible working has two dimensions, time and place, whilst agile working has three dimensions, time, place and activity.
Time is when you choose to work and how much flexibility is offered
Place is where you choose to work and how much choice is given
Activity is what you do and how much autonomy is allowed.
This third dimension is often a bigger challenge for organisations because it involves relinquishing an element of control over how people work and undertake tasks. It’s about empowering employees to choose how they meet their targets and complete projects, albeit within a framework of standards.
I really like this ‘two or three dimensional’ definition as it gives hope that when properly implemented, agile working provides benefits for both employees and businesses alike.