Understanding what sets them apart is essential to establish the right workplace model for your organisation.

Agile working, flexible working and hybrid working are all increasingly common terms in the world of workplace; but they are often conflated. Understanding what sets them apart could be critical to establish the right workplace model for your organisation long term. Let’s clarify the difference.


What is flexible working?

Flexible working is all about adaptability – creating a working agreement that has been designed for an individual to accommodate for a particular need, such as childcare commitments. The UK government defines it as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, e.g. having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.” Traditionally, it has been viewed as a benefit for the employee and a cost to the employer. However, with flexibility fast becoming a ‘must’ for many people, organisations are recognising that including it within their offering can have significant benefits to their business.

Flexible working includes:

  • Working from home or another location that isn’t the organisation’s main office
  • Part-time work – where someone works anything less than the standard full-time hours set by the organisation
  • Compressed hours – where full-time hours are worked over a shorter time frame
  • Job sharing – where two or more people share a job role
  • Flexitime – where employees are permitted to choose their own hours rather than working a standard 9-5

Picture of individual working near window, working from home

What is agile working?

More often known now as hybrid working, agile working is based on employees being able to flex the time, location and patterns of their work – enabling flexibility of work to improve performance, wellbeing, efficiency and productivity.

Creating an agile workforce (or hybrid workforce) means being less focused on where or even when employees work, and more focused on how well they perform and what they achieve. Commonly, we now see the term ‘agile working’ and ‘working hybrid’ used when designing workplace experiences, where the features most talked about are activity-based design, hot-desking, remote working and space optimisation.

If you would like to know more about managing an agile workforce, take a look at our research.

Is agile working the same as hybrid working?

We think so. Hybrid working as a concept relates to the workplace environment where you will be your most productive. ‘Working hybrid’ is where employees split their working hours between their workplace and home, rather than being in an office full-time.

A hybrid working model focuses on the business needs and is centred around the ability to work from the office, co-working space or home. It does not mean that an employee can change their working hours. In contrast, flexible working is based on the individual’s needs and considers a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work.

Whilst a company may be open to agile / hybrid working, flexible working options may not all be appropriate for the company or the individual employee.

We can help your business implement the right tools and techniques to lead an effective hybrid working strategy that delivers immediate benefits to both the business and staff. Real estate costs for example can often be reduced, while workers usually appreciate the more flexible working hours made possible by hybrid working.

Alternatively, if you’re interested to find out more about hybrid working strategies and office rate attendance overtime across the world, take a look at the AWA Hybrid Working Index – a trusted bi-annually data review of 220 offices in 33 countries, representing approximately 250,000 employees.

Of course, hybrid working provides its own challenges. Issues can emerge, such as a loss of collaboration and synergy within an organisation, but these problems can be overcome by proactive and open-minded business leaders.

What is agile development?

This is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their “customers” faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of betting everything on a ‘big bang’ launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments. Requirements, plans, and results are evaluated continuously so teams have a natural mechanism for responding to change quickly. Check out our research to learn more about managing an agile workforce.

Picture of stand up team meeting in an agile workplace

What does this all mean for organisations today?

When organisations adopt hybrid working, it inevitably means that people spend less time working together face to face in the same place. All the little visual signals about how people are feeling and what they are up to are more difficult to discern. And although Teams and Zoom are very powerful, the 3D experience of being physically together is much richer in building trust and enabling rapid knowledge transfer and fusion.

What this means is that leaders and people managers need to learn a new code for managing a virtual workforce, with much more emphasis on the things that make a real difference to performance and engagement. It also means that leaders must communicate effectively to clarify the rules and consider how they will deliver their ‘duty of care’ to a population of people that are spending most of their time at home and away from the corporate office.

If offices are needed, they should be designed as ‘support centres’ to populations that are working away. Leaders should clarify their ‘missions’ for the office. These might include fostering social cohesion, reflecting the organisations’ personality, reminding employees of its mission, supporting staff wellbeing or enabling productivity.

By creating a dynamic work environment for hybrid workers to frequent once or twice a week, employees can stay alert and engaged. More so than ever, there should be spaces to focus, collaborate, and connect with remote colleagues, including a combination of dedicated and hot desks.

Picture of remote hybrid workers in a workspace

So, to recap:

  • Flexible working– refers to when you work, often to better achieve a work-life balance.
  • Agile working– or hybrid working – refers to how the business optimises its workers to do their best work, allowing maximum flexibility and minimum constraints; and includes a combination of office-based and remote work.

Regardless of which variation your organisation chooses, when implemented effectively – together or in isolation – the benefits can be significant:

  • Happier, more productive employees
  • Higher employee engagement and lower employee turnover
  • Greater appeal to a larger and more diverse pool of talent
  • Smaller carbon footprint
  • Access to skills is not constrained by proximity to the office
  • Reduced office space and cost
  • More trust, transparency and openness

Their effectiveness comes down to the proactiveness of leaders to deploy them rapidly. To understand the benefits to the employer of hybrid working, take a look at our recent report findings here.

  • Understanding the differences between agile, flexible, and hybrid working ensures tailored strategies, optimising employee satisfaction and productivity. It fosters effective implementation, resource allocation, and adaptation to evolving work trends, ultimately supporting organisational success and employee wellbeing.

  • Agile, flexible, and hybrid working empower employees with autonomy and adaptability, enhancing satisfaction and productivity. They offer diverse work arrangements that accommodate individual needs, promote work-life balance, and foster a collaborative, dynamic work environment, ultimately driving performance and employee engagement.

  • Best practices for implementing agile, flexible, or hybrid working arrangements include clear communication, robust technological support, flexible policies, and fostering a culture of trust and accountability. Regular feedback loops and flexibility in workspace design also play key roles in ensuring successful adoption and integration within the organisation.