Many people have heard of the term flexible working, but there is also another term, agile working. Many people have used these two terms interchangeably, but there are subtle differences.
Flexible working is something that suits the employee’s needs (i.e. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home, for example). The name is given to any type of working arrangement that differs from an existing one.
These arrangements are independently negotiated, need permission from management, and are more of a benefit for the employee (and a cost to an employer) and is an exception to normal working arrangements within the business.
Agile working may incorporate flexible working practices but the goals, drivers and range are considerably different. It is based on the total flexibility of work to drive long-term business success.
It uses technology to create a new normal pattern of working where all employees can work anytime, anywhere, provided business needs are met. This should result in benefits such as greater employee productivity, decreased office costs and a more motivated workforce.
An agile workforce can work in various locations to complete the tasks necessary to their job on any given day. This may be in an office at a desk with an employee’s team, breakout area, a park, a coffee shop or at home. This approach stems from having the applicable practices and processes to allow employees to work anywhere.
With agile working, management has to change its focus from inputs (turning up to a specific workplace at a specific time) to a more outcomes-based approach (making sure tasks and projects are completed).
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.
Agile working is not a move to contractual flexible working from home. Such arrangements will still have to be agreed with a line manager. However, home working on an ad-hoc basis without changes to contract terms and conditions may form part of an agile working solution.
Implementing an agile working pattern
Balancing the needs of the employee and business is not easy, but agile working can bring several advantages it executed thoughtfully.
For many businesses, the main barriers to agile working center on its cultural mindset. Having the right technology and building new workspaces isn’t enough. Organizations need to engage with their workforce; building up a relationship of responsibility and trust are essential.
The change will also challenge the command-and-control leadership and culture, especially in senior and middle management. Implementation has to be across the whole organization. Departments heads, such as those from IT, human resources, finance and property must drive agile working together.
There also has to be a strong case for having agile working in an organization; important goals have to be outlined and agile working needs to show how it can help in achieving these goals. The UK government has an agile working code of practice, PAS 3000, developed by the British Standards Institute, that can be used as a resource for getting started on the path to agile working.
While many flexible working schemes have been small scale with some savings, agile working promises transformational advantages of improved service as well as ongoing cost savings.