What's the difference between flexible working and agile working?

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 11 January 2019
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered:

Q: What's the difference between flexible working and agile working?

Scott: We had a follow-up question on this flexible working thing, which is what's the difference between flexible working and agile working? So, if flexible working is the, if you like, more of a benefit for employees, it's there to enable them to work, to balance their work-life balance and maybe their family responsibilities and so on. What's agile working about, then, Seamus?

Seamus: It's this idea now that we have these new terms that arrive with us every so often and suddenly, you hear everybody talking about it and you're not quite sure what it means. But you're right in terms of we've covered off the position of flexible working there. Just to recap on the three main points in that, you have to be an employee, not an agency worker or there's an issue about if you're in the armed forces, 26 weeks continuous period of employment, and you can't have made another application within the past 12 months.

The idea behind the flexible working is to move away from that traditional 9:00 to 5:00 type role and to facilitate people to be able to do a job outside of those normal hours that we see. I think it would be very surprising to go into any office where there's not some type of flexible working that's taking place, whether that's on job shares, whether it is people working core hours, sort of 10:00 to 4:00 sometimes rather than the strict 9:00 to 5:00 or some sort of part-time work.

The big thing now is the working remotely from home. Working remotely from home can fade into the agile working aspect, but essentially, to be clear, flexible working is where we're looking at a move away from the traditional working mode of 9:00 to 5:00. Agile working is more about the format of how you work when you are working. So, if we take things, for instance, like within a workplace, the idea of everyone having a desk set up and sit behind the desk or everyone has a certain point in the office where they work at.

Agile working is about working efficiently in terms of the projects that we have on, that types of work that we're doing. So, a classic one might be whenever you have a situation that there's a team of people working together within an office. They don't necessarily have to be in the office working together on it. It's the idea of perhaps maybe having these ideas of click shares and remote access to certain apps, where everybody can contribute in the one space, but not necessarily at the same time.

Scott: Sometimes you can. You can see the little comments. If you've used certain apps or software applications, I remember we were chatting earlier when Employment Law Hub, the website was being developed, the website developers put their changes onto this space on a temporary website and we could all feed in with our comments and say, "No, that's right. No, this is wrong. Let's change this. Can you change that word?"

You can see all the little ways that was working through. It was a way that you could respond quickly without us having to go and have meetings all the time down in Weavers Court, we could simply contact them effectively through a website and make our changes known then. So, it's about flexibility from the employer's point of view, being able to respond quickly, if you like. That's where the agility, the agile working really comes from.

Seamus: There are certain circumstances where there's a lot of managerial positions now that do not in any way follow the 9:00 to 5:00 or say that you have to work 35, 37, or 40 hours a week. There's a lot of jobs out there that people will have commitments that they have to work in the evenings. They'll have to attend functions. They'll have to have attend meetings and seminars and things like that that all take place in the evening. It's this idea that you are looking to improve productivity within the workforce. You're looking to boost motivation.

The real key thing is was it prioritising the physical and mental wellbeing of staff in order that you have a more efficient workforce. So, rather than looking at the hours that we work, agility is about the way we work and the format of how we're working. It talks about these would have been new age terms a couple of years ago, but we're all very familiar with them now, the idea of hot-desking, of having our breakout spaces in work, where you don't necessarily have a seat or a place or a desk at your work.

But it's free-flowing that people have an area and a space to meet in order to discuss projects or alternatively that that's done using the latest information technology that we have, where you don't necessarily have to physically see each other. We all use things like Skype and things like the Doodle Polls that we have now in terms of we don't need to actually physically speak to each other. It's a great way, if you can imagine, of having ten people and trying to arrange a meeting, things like that, without having to engage on a face-to-face basis, and giving people additional time in order to do that.

Scott: Yeah. Well, we do physically have to speak to each other, Seamus.

Seamus: Yes, we do…

Scott: Because we enjoy it, you know? That's one of those things. I remember going to meetings down at the Science Park at the Titanic Quarter. The guys there would book a table in the canteen area and that would be their office basically whenever they had to go in. Because they were seldom there, they were working from home. There were shared spaces upstairs or whatever. If you needed a meeting room, you would book a table, basically, in the shared area.

That's the kind of agile working type of thing. You can look it up on the internet. There are loads of ideas on how to, if you like, use technology to improve the way that you work. Undoubtedly some of them don't work. We'll have to go back to the old-fashioned ways of sitting next to each other like we're doing now, Seamus, you know?

Seamus: That's it. Unilever has a good quote in terms of how to describe this. They say essentially that the concept of agile working is an approach to getting work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. That really kind of sums it up in terms of it's a smarter way of working. It's a more efficient way of working. It's gone to the old days of the 9:00 to 5:00 at the desk, core hours and that's when the work is done. Things have changed. People are on the move. It's all about mobility. It's all about hitting your mark whenever you need to and using the technology to get there.


This article is correct at 11/01/2019

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Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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