Agile working practices and flexible working arrangements have both received a lot of attention as of late, but the difference between the two concepts is not always apparent, and many often mistakenly use the two terms interchangeably. In an attempt to clear up any grey areas and provide some clarity on the matter, we thought we would break down what exactly it is that each of these concepts entails, and how you can best make use of them.

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Firstly, what is Agile Working?

Agile working refers to a system whereby employees are given an element of freedom regarding how and where they work. Rather than being assigned a specific desk or station within the office, staff members are encouraged to locate themselves wherever they wish. Typically this is still confined to areas within the office premises themselves, but it may extend to “third place” workplaces such as cafes and other public spaces, or perhaps the employees’ own home.

By allowing employees to move between dedicated workstations, breakout zones, quiet spaces and other areas, you can achieve a boost in productivity all while reducing your company’s carbon footprint and operating costs. Bear in mind however that agile working practices require a solid IT infrastructure and a high level of trust in your workforce, though these should be sought after anyway.

With that cleared up, what is Flexible Working?

Flexible working generally refers to arrangements made between individual staff members and their employer in regards to alternative working hours or patterns that differ from the company’s established norm, so while flexible working arrangements are often out into practice alongside agile working systems, the two concepts do possess a clear differentiation; the term flexible working is often also used in reference to home working arrangements, which is likely the source of the confusion.

As of June 2014, all employees in the UK are legally entitled to request flexible working arrangements from their employer, but the benefits can potentially extend beyond the employee and on to the company as a whole. By placing less restrictions on working hours a business can reduce the required level of space and workstations, saving on operating costs in the process. Such systems are also highly popular among much of the working population, and will likely aid the company in terms of staff retention.

Some industries or those with certain job titles may find that flexible working arrangements are simply not feasible, often due to a strong need for prompt communication and high levels of collaboration between colleagues, but for many professions the benefits far outweigh the negatives. As with agile working practices however the success of flexible working arrangements depends heavily upon not only your IT infrastructure but also your relationship with and the attitudes of your workforce. You need to trust your employees not to slack off when given the freedom to sculpt their working day as they see fit, otherwise a downturn in productivity is sure to result.

What about hot-desking?

Hot-desking often forms an integral part of both the aforementioned concepts, but in reality is more like a slimmed-down version of agile working practices. Offices that practice hot-desking do not assign a specific desk or workstation to their employees, but rather allow them to simply seat themselves wherever they please each day.

Hopefully the above summaries have helped provide some clarity as to the meaning behind these increasingly-popular working arrangements. Be sure to consider the nature of your company and industry as a whole before implementing such systems however as, as previously stated, they are simply not feasible within the confines of certain professions/job roles. That being said, when implemented properly and appropriately, both can provide significant benefits to a business.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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