Flexible working and agile working are often discussed as if they are one and the same thing. However, there is a difference. In a nutshell, agile working incorporates flexible working but it goes further.
Like flexible working, agile working means being unconstrained by traditional working hours and being able to work in an environment that strays from traditional office conventions. However, flexible working is basically about working in a different way to achieve the same performance outcome. Advocates that champion flexible working argue that it allows people to carry out their duties to the same standard as they would being in the office working regular hours. Only this way employees benefit from a better work-life balance and save money on things like transport and childcare.
Agile working takes this conversation to the next level. It explores the idea that a more fluid way of working can actually enhance job performance. As Heather Wilson, Director of People & Organisation Development at Rockpool Digital, argues in an article published on HR Grapevine.
Agile working “shifts the focus to outcomes and performance rather than time spent.” It is about “using processes, technology, people, as well as time and place, to create the optimum environment to perform,” Wilson goes on.
Paul Allsopp from The Agile Organisation also argues that 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 is very much tied to how technology is creating new ways for workers to carry out their work and communicate with their colleagues. For example, improvements in mobile and broadband technology and the rise of cloud computing means it is easier for individuals to carry out office duties remotely.
However, it is important to further highlight that agile working can be achieved without necessarily spending part of the part of the week working from home. Although agile working often does partly involve working from home, agile working practices can be implemented without ever leaving the office.
In fact, agile working also represents a shake up of the office working environment, as this post on Facilities Management Journal summarises. Embracing the new philosophy may involve rearranging work spaces so that they are allocated based on their function rather than their hierarchy, or making it easier for employees to change teams or departments. It may involve creating a “team zone” where a group of employees working on a project together can interact, and providing nearby shared spaces for teams to use when they need.
Like flexible working, for agile working to be successful, employees need to have certain working attributes. Communication and self-motivation skills, and the ability to organise your own schedule are crucial. So is an ability to work remotely, which demands an extremely proactive approach to communication. 360 feedback can help to measure how suited a person is to agile working.
To conclude, perhaps there has never been a better time for businesses to explore agile working as a concept. It could be that the latest generation of people to enter the workplace- the millennials- are much better suited to agile working than previous generations. Research consistently finds them to be self-motivators and creative animals who thrive within a more fluid work structure.