Your Complete Guide to Agile Working: Part 1

agile working

It seems like everyone is talking about ‘agile working’ these days, from HR and Facilities, to IT and Corporate Real Estate.

Since the Agile Manifesto was born in 2001, software teams have slowly but surely embraced agile development methods to improve the success rate of their projects. Before this, they were overburdened by excessive bureaucracy and documentation that slowed down the development process and de-motivated product teams.

The Agile Manifesto adheres to the following principles:

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

In more recent years, agile methods have reached beyond our tech teams. These days we often talk about the need for our entire organisations to be ‘more agile’; and one way to achieve this is by embracing agile working.

In this series we’ll explore what agile working really means and dig into the ‘how to’ of implementation.

What is agile working?

There are endless definitions of agile working. Here are just a few:

“Agile working is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimise their performance and deliver ‘best in class’ value and customer service. It uses communications and information technology to enable.” – NHS

“Agile working is an approach to getting work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. It goes beyond just flexible working or telecommuting and focuses on eliminating the barriers to getting work done efficiently.” – Unilever

“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 to achieve it).” – Paul Allsopp, The Agile Organisation.

Most definitions suggest that agile working is about enabling people to work when, where and how they like, i.e.

  1. You don’t have to come into the office, unless you prefer to, or have a specific reason to do so
  2. You are given a goal or task to accomplish, but you aren’t told how to approach it. Rather you’re free to get things done however and with whomever you like.
  3. You can choose your own working hours. There’s no culture of clock-watching or presenteeism.

In other words, agile working is about giving people autonomy. The right to self-govern. Freedom from external control. Independence.

Why is agile working important?

Agile working isn’t just important. It’s inevitable.

The pace of change, spurred on by technological innovation, is accelerating exponentially, according to the law of accelerating returns. Due to the sneaky and counterintuitive nature of exponentiality, the upshot is we are seriously underestimating how drastically things will change in the remainder of our careers.


To learn more about exponential change and the law of accelerating returns check out our free ebook on The Future of Work


This new reality demands that our organisations – and our minds – become more open and agile. Otherwise we’ll be ill-equipped to thrive in a complex, fast-changing environment. 

While agile working is all about increasing autonomy, the old 20th century approach to getting things done was all about reducing autonomy. 

Pioneers of Scientific Management, like Frederick Winslow Taylor (1956-1915), believed autonomy led to unpredictable results. That’s why they studied and documented the ideal way of performing every single task, then handed very detailed instructions to workers.

This ‘command and control’ approach clearly won’t fly in the vast majority of work situations today. It’s slow. It’s de-motivating. It’s the antithesis of collaboration.

Agile working, on the other hand, enables us to move faster, stay motivated and collaborate in a way that suits us, as individuals and teams. Not least because we  each take more responsibility and have greater decision-making powers in an agile culture.

What are the benefits of agile working?

Working from home, or a coffee shop, clearly wasn’t an option before we had mobile phones, internet access and collaboration tools. 

That’ why it made perfect sense to gather everyone together in a physical space between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

These days, however, there are many reasons why the 9-5 physical presence approach is no longer optimum:

The dreaded commute

  • Traveling to and from the office wastes valuable time, eating into productivity
  • Commuting times are worsening as cities become more congested
  • High train fares and fuel costs makes the commute an expensive business
  • Carbon emissions from office hours traffic damage quality and the environment

Diversity: widening the talent pool

  • Organisations are missing out on hiring skilled working parents who struggle to adhere to fixed working hours
  • People with medical conditions that require regular working-hours appointments can struggle with a 9-5 schedule
  • Organisations are restricted to hiring people who live in close proximity to their office if they aren’t open to remote workers from further afield

Rising real estate costs

  • As real estate costs increase, high office footfall comes at an enormous price
  • Lots of people in the office means high energy usage, impacting both the bottom line and the environment

(Employer) brand positioning

  • Top talent often expects autonomy and won’t take a job that doesn’t allow it
  • Potential employees can be put off by a long commute
  • Lack of flexibility makes your employer brand less compelling

Employee productivity 

  • With the rise of open plan office layouts, people can struggle to focus
  • Lack of flexibility in where and when you work reduces employee wellbeing and leads to increased absenteeism

Agile working can potentially solve these issues, enabling us to create healthier cultures that grant people the freedom they require to do their best work.

future-of-work

To summarise, the top 3 benefits of agile working are:

  • Increase productivity
  • Improve the employee experience
  • Reduce costs

Want to know more about Agile Working? Is it right for your organisation? How do you build a business case? To find out more, subscribe to our blog so we can alert you when Part II of this series becomes available.

If you’re interested in creating a modern, agile workplace, you may also enjoy… 

The Top 10 Workplace Trends Impacting HR & Facilities

The Critical Role of IT in Workplace Transformation 

“Agile working is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimise their performance and deliver ‘best in class’ value and customer service. It uses communications and information technology to enable.” – NHS

“Agile working is an approach to getting work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. It goes beyond just flexible working or telecommuting and focuses on eliminating the barriers to getting work done efficiently.” – Unilever

“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 to achieve it).” – Paul Allsopp, The Agile Organisation.

Most definitions suggest that agile working is about enabling people to work when, where and how they like, i.e.

  1. You don’t have to come into the office, unless you prefer to, or have a specific reason to do so
  2. You are given a goal or task to accomplish, but you aren’t told how to approach it. Rather you’re free to get things done however and with whomever you like.
  3. You can choose your own working hours. There’s no culture of clock-watching or presenteeism.

In other words, agile working is about giving people autonomy. The right to self-govern. Freedom from external control. Independence.

Why is agile working important?

Agile working isn’t just important. It’s inevitable.

The pace of change, spurred on by technological innovation, is accelerating exponentially, according to the law of accelerating returns. Due to the sneaky and counterintuitive nature of exponentiality, the upshot is we are seriously underestimating how drastically things will change in the remainder of our careers.


To learn more about exponential change and the law of accelerating returns check out our free ebook on The Future of Work


This new reality demands that our organisations – and our minds – become more open and agile. Otherwise we’ll be ill-equipped to thrive in a complex, fast-changing environment. 

While agile working is all about increasing autonomy, the old 20th century approach to getting things done was all about reducing autonomy. 

Pioneers of Scientific Management, like Frederick Winslow Taylor (1956-1915), believed autonomy led to unpredictable results. That’s why they studied and documented the ideal way of performing every single task, then handed very detailed instructions to workers.

This ‘command and control’ approach clearly won’t fly in the vast majority of work situations today. It’s slow. It’s de-motivating. It’s the antithesis of collaboration.

Agile working, on the other hand, enables us to move faster, stay motivated and collaborate in a way that suits us, as individuals and teams. Not least because we  each take more responsibility and have greater decision-making powers in an agile culture.

What are the benefits of agile working?

Working from home, or a coffee shop, clearly wasn’t an option before we had mobile phones, internet access and collaboration tools. 

That’ why it made perfect sense to gather everyone together in a physical space between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

These days, however, there are many reasons why the 9-5 physical presence approach is no longer optimum:

The dreaded commute

  • Traveling to and from the office wastes valuable time, eating into productivity
  • Commuting times are worsening as cities become more congested
  • High train fares and fuel costs makes the commute an expensive business
  • Carbon emissions from office hours traffic damage quality and the environment

Diversity: widening the talent pool

  • Organisations are missing out on hiring skilled working parents who struggle to adhere to fixed working hours
  • People with medical conditions that require regular working-hours appointments can struggle with a 9-5 schedule
  • Organisations are restricted to hiring people who live in close proximity to their office if they aren’t open to remote workers from further afield

Rising real estate costs

  • As real estate costs increase, high office footfall comes at an enormous price
  • Lots of people in the office means high energy usage, impacting both the bottom line and the environment

(Employer) brand positioning

  • Top talent often expects autonomy and won’t take a job that doesn’t allow it
  • Potential employees can be put off by a long commute
  • Lack of flexibility makes your employer brand less compelling

Employee productivity 

  • With the rise of open plan office layouts, people can struggle to focus
  • Lack of flexibility in where and when you work reduces employee wellbeing and leads to increased absenteeism

Agile working can potentially solve these issues, enabling us to create healthier cultures that grant people the freedom they require to do their best work.

future-of-work

To summarise, the top 3 benefits of agile working are:

  • Increase productivity
  • Improve the employee experience
  • Reduce costs

Want to know more about Agile Working? Is it right for your organisation? How do you build a business case? To find out more, subscribe to our blog so we can alert you when Part II of this series becomes available.

If you’re interested in creating a modern, agile workplace, you may also enjoy… 

The Top 10 Workplace Trends Impacting HR & Facilities

The Critical Role of IT in Workplace Transformation 

By |2019-01-07T16:06:52+00:00December 17th, 2018|agile working, future of work, workplace strategy|

Leave A Comment