Sunday 9th May 2021
Woman working in a modern coworking space

Flexible working. Agile working. You may have heard of both of these terms, particularly as flexible working arrangements have been on the rise in the last few years. But are they the same thing? Let’s dig into the details.

What is flexible working?

When we talk about flexible working, it concerns the idea of giving individual employees the choice as to how they work, allowing for individuality in an individual’s contract, rather than a blanket 9-5, or a 37.5-hour work week across the board.

The UK government states that:

Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s need, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.” All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.”

Flexible working could include:

  • Part-time work, where someone works anything less than the standard full-time hours for their company
  • Compressed hours, where full-time hours are worked over a shorter time frame, for example working full-time hours over four days instead of five, resulting in one day off per week
  • Job sharing, where two or more people share a  job role
  • Working from home, or another location that isn’t the business’ main office
  • Flexitime, where employees are permitted to choose their own hours rather than working a standard 9-5. This usually involves being in the office for ‘core hours’ but otherwise, they may choose to work 8-4 or 10-6 for example.
  • Annualised hours: Where an employee has fixed hours they must work in a year but outside of core hours, they’re free to choose how these are worked, to account for peaks and troughs in business demands.

Although all employees (if they’ve worked continuously for the same employer for 26 weeks) have the right to request flexible working, it doesn’t have to be approved by their employer. Once someone submits a request, the employer has 3 months to approve or reject the application. If rejected, they must give the reason for doing so, and employees are entitled to an employment tribunal if they feel it’s been unjustly dismissed.

There’s been an increase in home working during the Coronavirus pandemic, but 44% of employees haven’t worked from home at all during this time due to the nature of their jobs, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that 75% of employees agree that it’s important for employers to support those who can’t work from home by allowing them to work flexibility in some of these other ways.

Benefits of flexible working

There are many benefits of flexible working, for both employees and employers. Employees feel more valued and enjoy a better work-life balance, whilst employers benefit from increased productivity. Research has shown that people who work flexibly, whether that’s through different working patterns or reduced working hours, have a higher level of job satisfaction and are more committed to their role and the company.

There’s also the opportunity for employers to review how their office space works if there are fewer people in the office at the same time – something which a desk management system can support by providing data around desk usage.

What is agile working?

Although the two terms tend to be used interchangeably, agile working is actually a different thing from flexible working. Paul Allsopp, the founder of The Agile Organisation, defines it this way:

Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task. It is working within guidelines (of the task) but without boundaries (of how you achieve it).”

Agile working often incorporates elements of flexible working, such as remote working or flextime, but it’s also focused on the impact of the business. An agile business takes an integrated approach to business processes company-wide, meaning that there’s often the need to completely overhaul processes, technology, equipment and even people when becoming a truly agile organisation.

Agile working isn’t the same as Agile project management – but agile working does take principles from the Agile Project Management manifesto, which states:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

An agile working environment encourages the whole company to work towards a common goal, encouraging feedback and being adaptable to change.

Benefits of agile working

Going beyond flexible working and focusing on getting the job done efficiently, agile working can be a huge bonus for companies who may find that they reap the benefits from a switch to agile. 

Agile working allows businesses to embrace technology to support their goals as well as their employees. Desk booking software, for example, can help to organise your workplace whilst reducing real estate costs. Both of these are crucial for developing agile businesses who may find that they need less desk space, and they may also encounter more overheads if they’re embracing new software to help them work in a new way.

Whilst flexible working is focused on changing habits, for both employers and employees, through a move away from a regular 9-5 or working from home instead of the office, agile working is a change of mindset. This can help to create more engaged, productive employees, as there’s a focus on accepting and learning from mistakes rather than sweeping them under the rug.

Whether you’re looking to establish “the new normal” as employees return to the office after lockdown, or you’re looking to move to a more agile way of working, Condeco can help with workspace management solutions to improve the employee experience and make managing a business easier.

Research report: Attitudes to Hybrid Working.

Attitudes to Hybrid Working Report

The impact of hybrid work on employees and employers.

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