As companies develop their individual plans and consider unique needs for how their offices will function in a post-pandemic workplace, there is broad agreement that much has changed over the past year because of COVID-19. After many employees have spent more than one year proving they can function efficiently working entirely remotely, adjustments are being made to provide more permanent flexibility from the traditional, pre-pandemic Monday-Friday, 40-hour in-person work week. Part of these conversations about the changing world of work include terms that may be new to you, including agile work and flexible work. At first glance it may seem like agile work and flexible work mean the same thing, but in fact they are different. In this post we will explain what each term is, as well as the differences and benefits you should be aware of when it comes to agile work and flexible work. Read on to learn more.

 

Agile Working

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Let’s start with agile working.

Writing for the design company Blueprint Interiors, Chloe Sproston, creative and commercial director, defines agile working in the following 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).” Sproston goes on to say, “By its very nature, it’s about what works best to enable an organisation to carry out its activities as efficiently as possible. This can relate to how your office is physically designed as well as the culture of your workplace. Flexible working (where and when you work) may be a part of this, but being agile also encompasses how work is carried out and by whom. Ultimately, agile working encourages maximum flexibility with minimum constraints.”

 

Flexible Working

workplace flexibility

Now we will move on to flexible working.

HRZone, an online publication for HR professionals, defined flexible working this way, “Flexible working, also known as flextime or flexitime, refers to non-traditional working arrangements that take into account an individual’s personal needs, often involving some degree of working from home. Flexible working is often used to describe any other working arrangement than the traditional nine –to-five.”

 

The Difference

Maggie Holland, Editor of ITPro, a technology news & reviews hub for IT professionals, does a great job at explaining the difference between agile and flexible working.  One excerpt for Holland’s piece we find particularly helpful includes the following, “The main difference between agile working and other forms of flexible working is commitment. While flexible working can be easily implemented using today’s technology, commitment to agile working is required from management and staff.”

According to Holland, “Flexible working tends to be employee-centric. It’s believed to improve work/life balance and enhance employee happiness, though there are benefits there for productivity, reduced absenteeism and staff retention. Agile working practices, however, are designed to benefit both the employee and the company; staff get more freedom to work where and when they want, but the result should be a more performance-focused, responsive and effective organisation, where motivated workers deliver stronger products and better customer service.”

Mike Baddeley, Head of Innovation and Strategy at RICOH, a document management solutions company, put together the following list of differences between agile work and flexible work:

  1. A FWP does not make the organisation more agile, an agile workforce does
  2. Difference by design
  • An FWP is designed to give the people a better work-life balance, (I certainly don’t want to commute every day). It has also shown to improve employee engagement and well-being, reduces staff sickness, increases productivity and increases talent retention. These are of course also beneficial to the organisation, but an FWP is employee-centric. Creating an AW however is organisation-centric, or should I say, customer-centric. Either way, the benefits of having an AW is based around the organisation’s goals and objectives or how they can achieve them.
  1. Flexible working is a habit change, agile working is a mindset change
  2. An FWP may lead to less face-to-face meetings, something that agile working encourages

If you are looking to read more about the differences between agile work and flexible work, Oktra, an office design company in the UK, provides the following explanation: “The Agile Organisation makes it clear that the aim of agile working ‘is to create more responsive, efficient and effective organisations’ as it lowers office costs, increases productivity and reduces environmental impact. The term is often associated with clever office design, activity-based design, hot desking and space optimisation. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors argues ‘work is an activity, not a place’ – it’s about how you work, not where you work. Adopting agile working requires a change in structure and management.

So flexible working refers primarily to flexibility around working hours, agile working goes beyond that and focuses on removing boundaries in order to get work done as efficiently as possible.”

 

Benefits of Flexible and Agile Working

benefits

Now that we have covered the differences between agile work and flexible work, let’s take some time to focus on the benefits of each. It’s important to note here that many of the benefits are the same for both agile and flexible working.

We will start with flexible working:

Jessican Howington, Content Manager at FlexJobs, a job search site, compiled the following list:

  1. Improves retention
  2. Attracts top talent
  3. Improves diversity
  4. Increases productivity
  5. Improves employee engagement
  6. Provides a cost-effective and eco-friendly choice

Richard Ferris, Digital Marketing Specialist at Flokk, a company that provides a wide range of furniture and acoustic solutions, produced the following benefits of agile working:

  1. Increased productivity
  2. Increased freedom and sense of autonomy for workers
  3. Improved well-being, sense of happiness and job satisfaction
  4. Reduced operating costs due to better space management

A LinkedIn article written by Tim Hare, Senior Director of Global HR Operations at Ramboll, a global engineering, architecture and consulting company, highlights  the benefits of both agile and flexible working, and we are sharing Hare’s list below:

  1. Attracting millennial talent
  2. Optimise performance
  3. Reduce cost
  4. Reduce organisational and carbon footprint
  5. Increase innovation and motivation
  6. Give that hard to find talent a reason to join, and do the right thing

 

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