For years the terms agile working and flexible working have been used interchangeably. This has led to confusion in organisations and among employees and employers. Here, we provide a simple definition of each and give a clear explanation on how they differ.
Flexible working has been around for a long time and refers to flexible working hours. It is commonly used in the context of working arrangements negotiated between employee and employer. It is a way of working that suits the needs of the employee such as working from home, having flexible start and finish times, job sharing and working part time.
Agile, or smart working is a way of working that allows people to work where, when and how they choose provided it meets the needs of the business. Agile working is enabled by technology to create a new model that optimises performance and empowers people to do their best work with minimal constraints and maximum flexibility.
The Agile Organisation makes it clear that the aim of agile working ‘is to create more responsive, efficient and effective organisations’ as it lowers office costs, increases productivity and reduces environmental impact. The term is often associated with clever office design, activity-based design, hot desking and space optimisation. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors argues ‘work is an activity, not a place’ – it’s about how you work, not where you work. Adopting agile working requires a change in structure and management.
So flexible working refers primarily to flexibility around working hours, agile working goes beyond that and focuses on removing boundaries in order to get work done as efficiently as possible.