There’s a good chance that you’ve heard about agile, activity based and flexible working, but you’re probably wondering what the difference is between them? 

Although they’re in the same family of work style, they each play a different role in helping you create a productive and supportive working environment. 

Agile Working at Thoughtworks in London
Agile working @ Thoughtworks

What is Agile Working?

Agile working offers employees maximum flexibility and minimum constraints on how, when and where they work. It’s based on assigning teams to particular areas, rather than assigning an individual to a certain desk. Essentially, it’s about working from wherever you choose – be it a workstation, breakout space, quiet area or even a ‘third space’ workplace (such as a café or at home).

Due to its popularity with staff, agile working often helps to attract and retain top talent by promoting a more autonomous culture where they can reach their potential. The holistic benefits of agile working means that it’s not simply seen as an employee benefit but as a business advantage too. Enabling technology and flexible IT infrastructure is a cornerstone of agile working as it’s integral that staff have the tools to perform at their best, wherever they are.

Benefits:

  • Increases sense of autonomy and freedom
  • Increases job satisfaction
  • Carbon footprint and operating costs are reduced 

Challenges:

  • Requires flexible IT infrastructure
  • Not suitable for every industry
  • Requires major culture shift and trust
Activity Based Working office fit out
Activity based working @ Suez

What is Activity Based Working?

Activity based working refers specifically to the office set-up and is focussed on providing staff with a choice of work settings to suit different activities. An office design that embraces activity based working usually features versatile and open-plan areas that staff can work at throughout the day; including huddle spaces, breakout areas and a range of meeting spaces. Workstations and desks are still commonplace, however companies may use free addressing, where individuals and teams don’t have a single fixed area. This is supported through accurate way-finding, and allows the floor space to be as flexible and productive as possible.

Activity based working environments have been found to boost productivity, as staff are able to work in an area that is most suitable to the task at hand. It means that they can work somewhere quiet when they need to focus, and have the space to collaborate when it’s time to work together. By providing staff with optimum environments, they perform better, feel better and have improved job satisfaction.

Benefits:

  • Allows staff to manage their surroundings
  • Work in a tailored environment for your current task
  • Increases movement throughout the day

Challenges:

  • Not suitable for every industry
  • Requires cultural shift
  • May increase amount of floorspace required
Vacant desks in colourful office design
Hot desking @ Superdrug

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is the practice of multiple people using the same workspace at differing times, rather than having an assigned desk. This forms a core component of both agile and activity based working environments where staff or even teams don’t have an assigned workspace. The additional floorspace that’s released through hot desking can be used to provide alternative work areas - like breakout and huddle spaces or standing areas and quiet zones.

Benefits:

  • Work from different desks each day
  • Less clutter
  • Less empty desks 

Challenges:

  • Less sense of space ‘ownership’
  • Potential displacement if everyone is in the office at once

What’s flexible working?

Flexible working refers to individually agreed working arrangements that provide alternative working hours or patterns from your company’s norm. This can be implemented as part of an open plan, agile working or activity based working programme. Since June 2014, all employees in the UK are legally entitled to request flexible working arrangements from their employer. Through reducing the amount of dedicated desks required, decreasing property overheads and lowering the office’s carbon footprint, businesses can reap the rewards.

Benefits:

  • Reduces stress and save money on commuting
  • Companies save with fewer staff overheads and less floor space
  • Allows staff to accommodate out-of-work commitments

Challenges:

  • Requires cultural shift and supportive IT infrastructure
  • Cultural shift from presenteeism to output

Taking into consideration the needs of the people using the space is paramount to the success of any office design. The key is to identify which solutions may work for your business and your staff. 

For further advice see our activity based working checklist.