The phrases agile working and flexible working have become almost interchangeable in conversations about work styles and environments yet they are two distinct things in fact.
Put simply: Agile working is a business concept focused on improving operational efficiencies within a flexible working style. Once considered avante garde, agile working is now a very mainstream concept and you could argue a pre-requisite of doing business in the 21st century. Agile working brings people, process, technology, time and place together to determine the best way to complete a given task.
We have The Agile Organisation to thank for this explanation – they go on to explain that “agile working embraces both the physical and digital workplace in empowering and supporting people to work, where, when and how they choose to maximise their productivity, innovation and ultimately deliver best value to the organisation.” A very neat and accurate summation.
In many ways the phrase agile working is a bit misleading. It’s more than a way of working, it’s a business model or philosophy and one that done properly, can deliver business transformation. This is where the confusion between agile and flexible working comes in and it’s to the detriment of agile working that this happens. Many businesses perceive the benefits of agile working as little more than making flexible arrangements for individual members of staff, flexi-time, an afternoon working from home, rather than looking at it as a means to achieve wider business strategy and operational efficiency.
Agile working puts the focus on the ultimate end-game, that is getting the job done, rather than looking at some of the ‘old school’ barometers of success such attendance or the time you ‘clock in’. It encourages businesses to think about how they work as a whole rather than just the individuals within it.
True agile working requires real commitment from management and staff and this must come from the top. It’s about strategic and behavioural change, looking at business processes and finding ways to add value and deliver more efficiency. This in turn has an impact on workplace design and is where firms like us are called in to create office interiors that support different working styles, processes and cultures.
A business that has adopted agile working has created a culture in which being responsive, productive and empowered are at its heart. Customer service can be improved, new product development quickened, cost savings enjoyed, productivity increased with happy staff and much much more. Unilever has been heralded as a true advocate of agile working and it puts the focus on getting the job done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints.
Technology is one of the key factors that has pushed agile working forward – its evolution has broken the link between the act of work and the place of work, we’re no longer tethered to production lines or desktop PCs like generations gone by.
Agile working is a business mindset, a strategy almost, that embraces the idea of being nimble, agile and responsive in all aspects of its decision making. That impacts on how work is done and the enviornment that supports it.
Flexible working is a work protocol, it’s a style of work that helps to deliver agile working for the business as a whole.
Download the Agile Working Whitepaper to find out more: