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What is the difference between agile working and flexible working?

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Both agile working and flexible working are becoming more common in modern workplaces; but to effectively implement either of these approaches, employers need to understand that while similar in many ways, they are different in what they aim to achieve. In this article, our Employment team detail what flexible working and agile working are, their objectives and the positive and negative impacts of both.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is a work pattern that has been designed for a specific employee, usually to help that person balance work and home life and to accommodate for a particular need, for example their childcare commitments. Traditionally it has been viewed as a benefit for the employee and a cost to the employer. However, as employers are beginning to recognise it can have benefits to the business as well, it is becoming more commonplace, with many employees making flexible working requests.

Flexible working can come in many forms, but it usually includes changing an employee’s start and finish times or allowing them to work from home. It may also cover part time working and job sharing. For an employee to make a flexible working request they must have 26 weeks’ continuous service and not have made another application within the past 12 months. You will then have three months to decide whether or not to accept the flexible working application, and can reject it for the eight business reasons listed below;

  • it would create a burden due to additional costs;
  • there would be an inability to redistribute any residual work amongst existing staff;
  • there would be a detrimental impact on the quality of work;
  • there would be a detrimental impact on performance at work;
  • there would be a detrimental impact on the business’s ability to meet customer needs;
  • you are unable to recruit more staff;
  • there would be an insufficient supply of work during the hours proposed;
  • there is a planned structural change to the business.

If you accept the application, the employee will have their contract permanently changed.

Flexible working has shown to increase employee satisfaction and retention, leading to a decrease in absenteeism and the associated costs of sickness and tardiness. A flexible working environment also allows employees to better balance work and personal demands which improves concentration on tasks while at work.

What is agile working?

Agile working is based on the complete flexibility of work to improve performance and productivity.  Creating an agile workforce often means an organisation will undergo a whole shift in the way it operates on a day to day basis, with it being less focused on where or even when employees work, and more focused on how well they perform and what they achieve.

It can unlock value for both the employer and the employee and will normally be driven by business needs.  It is about an organisation encouraging its workforce to work where, when and how they choose. For example;

  • the removal of dedicated desks;
  •  implementing hot desking;
  •  changing to an open plan office;
  • providing separate dedicated areas for breaks, meetings and private work.

Agile working provides flexibility that allows employees to find the most productive way to complete a task, increasing their wellbeing and job satisfaction. Better management of office space can also lead to reduced operating costs.

While agile working and flexible working may be similar in how they achieve their aim, for example both approaches may allow an employee to work from home, flexible working focuses on the employee, while agile working is focused on the impacts on the business. If an employee has made a flexible working request you can first test the arrangement by using a trial period, which you can read more about here. If you would like advice on how to implement or reject a flexible working request, or if you are considering putting agile working into practice, you can contact the Employment team on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk for guidance.