In the business world, flexible working hours have been around for some time with some companies adapting to a more complex, performance driven environment in order to succeed.  Now Agile working has become a more familiar term in the UK as it gains popularity across many high-profile organisations.

Not just in the UK, but around the world, today’s employees are increasingly placing greater emphasis on work/life balance and health and wellbeing. For many employees flexibility has become an expectation and not a benefit.  At the same time businesses accept that much of the time spent at an office desk can be unproductive. In a recent survey, conducted by Randstad, it revealed that 81% of those surveyed recognised that working flexibly had a positive impact on their commitment and overall productivity.

Agile working is a concept that is broader in scope than flexible working and often difficult to define, as it can be delivered in many different forms.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) describes agile working as work being “an activity, not a place” as the focus is entirely results based rather than subject to physical presence.

RICS say ‘Agile working empowers people to work how, where and when they choose offering employees the maximum level of flexibility to deliver results without the constraints of fixed daily and weekly office hours and locations.’

Agile working can be office based as well as outside the office and many companies are now providing agile working spaces in the workplace such as rest areas, hot desks and what are termed ‘break out spaces.’ The ethos remains the same wherever the employee works from, Maximum flexibility to deliver results, without the ties of weekly office hours or place of work.

Many business leaders now recognise that a 9 to 5 office environment can and often is detrimental to productivity.  Sitting at a desk for long hours could become a thing of the past.

Flexible working options are becoming more and more commonplace but less common are agile working options. However, those who have adopted agile working practices are now reaping the rewards and other businesses are keeping a close eye on the results.  Those businesses who have already introduced agile working are finding that improved lifestyle choices to employees reduced operational costs and the use of progressive, empowering technology is having a positive impact. Technology removes boundaries, making it possible for employees to perform their role anytime and anywhere.

Adopting an agile working culture requires communication tools and information technology which enables people to work in ways which best suit their needs eliminating the traditional limitations of physical location to perform a task.

Unified Communication strategies are an advantage in agile working environments. UC is an enabler, allowing employees to increase productivity through effective communication and advanced collaboration and businesses are increasingly seeing the benefits.

Seamless communication across platforms can dramatically improve communications both in office and across remote working situations and reduces time wasted scheduling by providing up to date statuses of colleagues’ availability. Agile workers do not require a fixed space to deliver results as they can access company systems via intranets and communicate through a multitude of devices. For companies, this means cheaper call costs and simplified billing and presence.

Businesses can see the benefits in enabling substantial cost reduction in terms of facilities, building, travel, parking and office space. Adopting agile working has the potential to revolutionise the traditional office environment. Not only can an agile approach engage the current workforce but the adoption of agile working also has the scope to address skill shortages by enabling companies to attract talent beyond geographical limitations, removing the need for physical relocation. Employees are empowered to create their own work environment where and when they need, working at their most productive time of day and delivering optimum results.

The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development was recently invited to co-chair the Government’s new Flexible Working Task Force

The task force has been established by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to promote wider understanding and implementation of inclusive flexible work and working practices, bringing together policy-makers, employer groups, Unions and employee representative groups, research groups and professional bodies.

Workforce data and forthcoming CIPD research shows that the uptake of most types of flexible working by employees has largely plateaued over the last decade, despite the right to request being available to all. The task force will therefore work to understand the reasons behind this, clarify the benefits of flexible working for individuals and organisations across the many different options and practices, and develop the evidence and understanding as to the most effective ways to increase the provision and support. An important first priority for the group will be to take on the Prime Minister’s challenge to businesses to improve workplace equality by advertising all jobs as flexible from Day one in employment.

The task force will draw together action plans and recommendations with the intention of increasing flexible working opportunities, and will also feed directly into the evaluation of the effectiveness of the Right to Request Flexible Working Regulations in 2019. The first meeting comes after the Government committed to consider how to further promote workplace flexibility in its ‘Good Work Plan’ in February.

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD and co-chair of the Flexible Working Task Force, commented: “Flexible working is key to unlocking employment and progression opportunities across many under-represented groups in the labour market. It can also play a crucial role in an organisation’s performance through enabling better work-life balance, improving employee engagement and retention and key outcomes including productivity and delivering more flexible service to customers. Despite this, uptake has remained low over the last few years. Our research shows that the main obstacles to employers providing flexible working arrangements include a lack of understanding and support amongst line managers and business leaders, and long engrained working cultures of presenteeism and tradition of standard working hours. There is much to learn from those employers whose flexible working practices are more inclusive and who are already seeing the benefits of a diverse, flexible and more engaged workforce.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with the Government on their new Flexible Working Task Force, representing the voice of more than 145,000 people professionals across the UK and globally. HR is in a unique position to understand the barriers that are limiting an advance in flexible working for UK organisations, and identify how flexible working options can benefit both the organisation and individuals. We’re here to encourage, challenge and support government and organisation’s efforts to create a seismic cultural change and greater take up of flexible working for everyone.”

Business minister Andrew Griffiths said: “We have record employment in the UK and now the challenge is to make jobs higher-quality and high-skill to boost earning power and productivity as part of our Industrial Strategy.

“Genuine two-way flexibility between employers and employees is key to achieving quality jobs and giving employers access to a bigger pool of potential talent in the labour market including amongst women, older workers, carers and disabled people. The Prime Minister has called on employers to make jobs flexible from day one to help close the gender pay gap and our new joint taskforce will look at how employers could achieve this, what works well already and how we can remove obstacles to flexible working.”