For years the two terms have been used in a rather arbitrary way. This had led to confusion and not benefited the management of modern workplaces. The dictionary meaning of flexible is adaptable, variable, or easily persuadable, tractable. Not the same as agile which evokes speed – rapid adaptability.
Graham Jervis, Director at AWA, examines the use of the terminology, and explores definitions from various UK institutions.
In common usage, Flexible Working is used in the context of flexible working hours (Flexitime). Although, certain organisations have used the term to include separation of work from time and place. The UK Government define it as “Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, e.g. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.” It may cover part time working, job sharing, home working etc. This may or may not equally, and in my view, erroneously be termed Agile by some. It has the tendency to favour the employer rather than the mutual needs of both employee.
So how is agile working defined? The British Computer Society offers:
“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 to do their best work”.
Well here too are opportunities for misunderstanding. In IT development projects, agile working relates to a particular form of software project management that allows fast prototyping, limited formal change control but high degrees of collaboration. It deserves the name and its attributes of fast ability to change and high levels of collaborative engagement are similar to that I would engage throughout agile organisations and the way in which they work.
Commonly, we now see the term ‘agile working’ used when designing workplace experiences, where the features most talked about are activity based design, hot desking, remote working and space optimisation.
The truth is that all these aspects may be part solutions to the overall agility that from a business perspective is needed. They are, if you will, agile infrastructure. Real agility comes from the willingness to deploy them rapidly.
Learn more about agile working here:
Working styles like agile working and activity based working have become the future of work. If you haven’t already, it’s time to consider your workplace options and create a strategy that works for your organisation.
Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) are based in London, United Kingdom and New York, USA – however we work with clients internationally. For more information on agile working or flexible working, contact an AWA workplace management consultant using the information below.