Agile and flexible working policies are becoming more commonplace. But in order to properly apply these principles, you need to understand the differences between the two.
More and more businesses from all industries are beginning to adopt and benefit from a flexible working policy, allowing their people to get work done where and when they want. Flexible working often improves engagement, happiness and efficiency. As more businesses implement flexible working policies, these policies are often referred to as an “agile working policy”. But why? What has changed aside from employees working hours and possible locations?
Often, not a lot. The organisation is still the same organisation floating along, not improving, not being proactive to change. Departments still work in silos and any change is slow to happen. Realistically, the new “agile working policy” has just meant less people are in the office (especially on a Friday!).
What is flexible working?
Flexible working is the idea of giving the people in the business the choices as to where they work and when they work. Types of work can be broken down into four categories (concentration, collaboration, contemplation, and communication). A flexible work arrangement (or FWP/flexible working policy, as it’s sometimes known) allows employees to work in a way which is best suited to the type of work being conducted.
When Ricoh implemented an FWP it showed improvements in engagement, employee well-being and work output. An FWP requires good change management, buy-in from the senior leadership team to the team leaders and every employee. Flexible working requires trust (across the organisation) that people are working in their own way to achieve their objectives. People will find themselves working from different offices and other locations such as at home. Collaboration and communication must be made available through other means than just face to face meetings — it needs the right technology hardware and software to succeed.
What is agile working?
Agile working, while it tends to incorporate a flexible work arrangement is not wholly the same thing. While flexible working allows people to work where and when they want, an agile way of working is embedded in everything the organisation does – and doesn’t do.
Creating an agile workforce often means a whole shift in the way the organisation operates day to day. While agile working (AW) is different to Agile project management, AW takes the principles from the Agile PM manifesto  and incorporates them into the everyday running of the business. Agile ceremonies such as stand-ups and retrospectives are encouraged, silos are torn down and the company works towards a common goal – continually delivering value to the customer. People are open, honest, and welcome feedback. An agile workforce realises changes to products, projects and services will happen, they are prepared for these changes and adapt to them accordingly.
Now the differences
Aside from the obvious differences you can deduce yourself, there are some more subtle ones between agile working and a flexible working arrangement.
1) An FWP does not make the organisation more agile – an agile workforce does
The organisation has just rolled out their new FWP. People are now working from coffee shops, home, libraries, and some are still sitting at “their desk” (they’ve been sitting there for the last 20 years). But what else has changed? Is the company more effective at dealing with change? Is the board still demanding more sales in a dying market?
An FWP does not combat these issues, but an agile workforce will. Having an AW changes the mind-set of the employees and the organisation. Change is prepared for and accepted, adaption and adoption are quick, and innovation is encouraged.
2) Difference by design
An FWP is designed to give the people a better work-life balance (I certainly don’t want to commute every day, do you?). It has also shown to improve employee engagement and well-being, reduces staff sickness, increases productivity, and increases talent retention. These are, of course, also beneficial to the organisation, but an FWP is employee centric. Creating an AW, however, is organisation-centric, or more accurately, customer-centric – because after all you’re in the service of meeting your customers’ needs, right? Either way, the benefits of having an AW are based around the organisation’s goals and objectives or how they can achieve them.
3) Flexible working is a habit change. Agile working is a mind-set change.
Implementing an FWP is more of a habit change for the organisation’s people. People now have the option to work from where they feel they will achieve the most, instead of their old routine of going to the office from Monday to Friday 9-5. Projects can still run way over time, over budget and have the scope doubled, but all of this can happen from inside the office and while enjoying a latte at a coffee shop.
Having an agile workforce, however, creates a fluid business in which its people continually deliver value to the customer. Failures happen, but they are accepted and celebrated. They happen often, they happen fast, but they are small failures that create more successful outcomes in the long term.
4) An FWP may lead to less face-to-face meetings, something that agile working encourages
The 6 th principle of Agile is “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation” . We often see an FWP countering this as more and more people work from different locations it is not viable for them to have face-to-face conversations with others on a project team or department team. In my experience, ad hoc conversations with others in a project team can lead to those light bulb moments we all need during some of our trickier projects, not to mention people multitasking or writing emails while they’re on the phone. But I would argue that the incredible, immersive video collaboration experiences as we have it now via Interactive Whiteboards (also known as Interactive Flat Panel Displays or IFPDs), weren’t even on the radar back in 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was first conceived.
The era of the flexible workforce is here, for both failing companies and ones on the rise. However, only the ones with a truly agile workforce will succeed in this ever-changing, fast-paced, on-demand world we find ourselves in. Employers need to lean in – they can’t afford not to appeal to the next generation. “The employer-employee relationship is changing. Employers have gone from being builders of talent to consumers of work. We need to get more creative. We need to figure out how we attract and inspire the best Millennials. Investing in training and creating ways to learn on the job and move around the organisation is a sure way to make companies more attractive places to work.” 
Employees are eager to adopt new technology quicker. This means that businesses and organisations need to make sure that they have a good, solid infrastructure in place to empower their digital workforce to boost productivity, seamlessly collaborate with co-workers and clients, and get secure access to information without compromising data.
Understand how you can drive your organisation’s agile work culture and adapt to changing times by providing seamless and secure access to information from anywhere, anytime and with any device.
 Manifesto for Agile Software Development:
 Manpower Group, “Millennial Careers:2020 Vision” 2018