Flexible or Agile Working: What’s the Difference?

August 7, 2020


When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, many employers had to adapt their working practices in order to enable their staff to work remotely.

As the lockdown restrictions ease, it is likely that there will be an increase in flexible working requests going forward, with some staff preferring to work from home at least some of the time. There is also likely to be an increase in agile working practices being implemented by employers.

Both flexible and agile working can have benefits to your organisation. These benefits range from increasing staff productivity to ensuring better levels of employee retention.

The terms flexible and agile working are often confused as being two words used to describe the same working practice. In fact however, there are key differences between them both:

What is flexible working?

Employees with more than 26 weeks’ continuous service have a statutory right to make a request for flexible working. Only one such request can be made by an employee in any 12 month period.

Employees choosing to exercise this right to request work flexibly will be doing so for a variety of reasons. For example, some employees may want to work from home all the time, instead of attending the office. Alternatively, they may wish to work part-time hours only, compress their hours, or enter into a job-sharing arrangement. Other options include staggering their hours, or working during term-time only. A request to work flexibly is often closely connected to an employee’s individual needs, with a focus on improving their personal work-life balance, or their child-caring responsibilities.

An employer is not duty bound to grant a flexible working request – there are statutory grounds upon which an employee’s request can be rejected, being:

  • The burden of additional costs

  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand

  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff

  • Inability to recruit additional staff

  • Detrimental impact on quality

  • Detrimental impact on performance

  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work

  • Planned structural changes

Now that employees have managed to work from home relatively successfully during the lockdown period however, – and in many cases for those employees with young children have been working altered hours to suit their child-care needs, we predict it will be far more difficult for employers to justify rejecting requests for flexible working in the future. Nonetheless, the above statutory grounds for rejecting a flexible working request remain available to employers to rely upon, if necessary.

What is agile working?

The option to work in an agile manner on the other hand is often brought about in reflection of an organisation’s aim and objectives, as opposed to the employee’s personal needs or statutory rights. It involves a range of working arrangements introduced or permitted by the employer to enable staff to work when, how, and where they like. Technology is used to create time and cost-efficient ways of working, which in turn improves staff productivity and motivation.

Agile working also favours a more innovative approach to workspace design, responding to employer and employee needs, and leading to performance-focused results. Examples of agile working include multifunctional furniture such as standing/collapsible desks, open plan workspaces, adaptable technology that allows staff to work in any location, hot-desking, or using instant messages as opposed to emails. Employers may also provide separate areas for breaks, meetings and quiet zones for employees to use within the office environment

Employer considerations

As we emerge from the lockdown period, employers will need to deal with flexible working requests on a case by case basis. It would also be sensible for employers to consider what agile working practices it could offer its staff members, and possibly consult with them about any proposals for agile working before implementing them. It is also sensible to keep a watching brief on your agile working practices / handling of flexible working requests, as it is likely that employers will need to adapt some of their arrangements in respect of agile and flexible working as the pandemic and its effect continues to unfold.

For more information on how to manage flexible working requests or implement agile working practices, get in touch with the Employment & HR team at Darwin Gray:



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