The world of working has changed. Not too long ago, many companies frowned upon letting their employees work from home but one of the few positive outcomes of the global pandemic was the introduction of flexible, hybrid and agile working practices into the mainstream. It's now common for employers to offer different types of flexible work, reflecting the growing need to accommodate a better work-life balance.
Surprisingly, there is still a lot of confusion around the difference between flexible working, hybrid working and agile working. In fact, the terms are often used interchangeably! In this article, we explain the differences between the separate working models.
The UK government defines flexible working as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.” In other words, it's an employee-centric approach that aims to deliver a better work-life balance.
Even before COVID-19, HR thought leaders were recommending a New Way of Working (NWoW) to try adding flexibility into workplaces to boost productivity and staff retention. But the concept initially struggled to become mainstream, with some companies doing their best to discourage employees from working from home. At least, until the pandemic hit and almost everyone switched to working from home. Remote working gave businesses a lifeline and allowed them to stay afloat when offices were unavailable.
Since returning to the workplace, we've seen changes in how we understand flexible working. Flexible working doesn't have a rulebook on how work is done but opens up possibilities for different types of arrangements such as hybrid working and agile working.
Hybrid working is a type of flexible working that splits the time between the workplace and working remotely. Most commonly, remote working is done at home, meaning that employees rotate between their homes and office. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. The CIPD notes that “hybrid will make greater demands of managers and organisations than the urgent shift to total remote working." In other words, hybrid working is driving businesses to update skillsets and offices to accommodate this new way of working.
And there’s no going back. Hybrid working was widely introduced during the later stages of the global pandemic as businesses realised that they needed to offer a better work-life balance. Working from home was irrefutably proven to be a sustainable option, breaking common myths that people at home cannot produce their best work.
But the future isn’t completely remote. Hybrid working is becoming more popular in the UK. According to the Office of National Statistics, the percentage of hybrid workers has risen from 13% in February 2022 to 24% in May 2022. This is a trend that we expect to continue as offices adapt traditional office spaces to make them more attractive and productive environments.
It's difficult to define agile working as it's purposely not prescriptive. It emphasises flexibility within the business but also on the individual, focusing on performance and outcomes rather than location, providing tools to support companies and their employees to work from anywhere effectively.
An example of agile working might be for an employer to offer hot-desking, where employees don't have set desks and instead can be allocated a desk when required.
This type of work fosters productivity and a better work-life balance. Recent changes in the working environment and undeniable benefits are accelerating the adoption of agile working. Flexibility around time and location makes agile working a more multi-dimensional approach to work. It also makes agile working more attractive to working professionals, reconstructing the traditional working environments.
For a detailed dive into Agile Working, check out our blog: What Is Agile Working?
Flexible working encompasses both hybrid and agile working. It is used as an umbrella term for different types of working that negotiate the elements of ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ the work is done.
Comparing agile working to a more widely adopted hybrid working model that operates between home and office locations, agile working offers a non-descriptive working environment – from office to home, coffee shops, beach huts and everything in between. Sometimes agile working is referred to as 'location independent working'. A simplified definition of agile working can be 'work is an activity, not a place'.
Creating a long-term, sustainable and flexible working environment is key to the success of a post-pandemic business. Working professionals are re-evaluating their priorities and, driven by a successful remote working experience, are seeking to establish a better work-life balance. While there are multiple flexible working strategies, hybrid working is taking the lead. Agile working is in the spotlight to become a new big thing in the future, allowing fluidity around the time and location of work.
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