Flexible, Agile or Remote Working: Defining the Working Styles of the Modern Workplace
In analysis / By Charlotte Tobulevicius / 01 November 2019
Remote working, working from home, agile working, flexible working… these are the broad range of terms and buzz words we’ve all come to hear a lot about over the past couple of years and we’d be forgiven for thinking they all meant the same thing. However, they don’t, and mixing up the definitions of these terms is like saying Coke is the same as Pepsi – we all know it’s not the same!
It’s important to distinguish the differences between them if we’re going to embrace these new ways of working in our organisations. In this article, we’ll try to give a clear definition for each term so you can decide which way of working would fit well within your business and how you can implement it.
Starting with the term we hear most often; flexible working can often be misconstrued to mean something it is not. At Nasstar, flexible working for us means moving away from the traditional nine to five and understanding that personal lives happens within these hours, meaning that it’s not always possible to stick to the status quo.
An example of flexible working could be giving an employee the opportunity to start work earlier on a particular day and allowing them to finish early so that they can make their child’s parents evening, or allowing a person to work later into the evening instead of starting early so that they can go to a gig on a Tuesday night. It can also encompass changing their working hours completely, for example by not working Fridays or changing their core hours from 9-5 to 10-4.
Times have changed and it’s not just employees with children who can benefit from this way of working; changes to UK law have paved the way for flexible working by ensuring that all employees are entitled to request flexible working arrangements. This means that everyone can maintain a better work/life balance or even just be at home to have a washing machine delivered!
Flexible working is not always a permanent solution though, it’s about being able to adapt your working situation to suit your personal needs as and when they arise. This also makes it one of the easiest working methods to implement in the workplace.
To implement flexible working, employers should consider having the following in place:
- A clear process for how flexible working will work within the business which is then circulated around the organisation
- Documented flexible working terms which have been agreed with individual employees, so they have this confirmed in writing
- Defined roles and responsibilities that employees have for making a flexible working initiative a success
- A review of support levels offered to line managers
- Sufficient communication methods
- Performance management criteria which incorporates flexible working to ensure people are measured on their outputs rather than being seen in the office
- A revised culture which supports and encourages flexible working for everyone, not just a select few
- Technology which allows a person to stay connected and able to do their work efficiently when away from the office
Often used interchangeably with flexible working, the term agile working goes together with flexible working but is not the same thing. Where flexible working mostly refers to a person adapting their working hours to suit, agile working is more about the company and culture which enables flexible working or remote working to become a part of the organisation.
Agile working puts structure in place to allow people to work where, when and how they choose as long as it meets the operational and strategic needs of the business. It’s about how you work, not where you work and it’s about empowering people to do their best work by optimising their performance to allow them to do this with minimal constraints and maximum flexibility.
Of course, implementing agile working is not an overnight fix and requires a change in both management and structure. To have an agile workforce, an organisation needs to take stock of what processes are currently in place and how these can be changed to get the most from the workforce; whether that be removing the time spent commuting by allowing people to work from home or changing the office environment to allow for hot-desking and increased creativity.
Executing agile working also requires the right technology to be in place so that workers can connect seamlessly with systems, resources, applications and files, as well as being able to communicate effectively with their colleagues. Without the right technology, things can go drastically wrong and the security of your business could be at stake.
Agile working brings a number of benefits to an organisation when fully embraced and proactively managed. A business can look forward to reduced office costs if a smaller premises can be used due to more people working remotely, increased productivity and creativity from those working how they want to and talent retention from staff who feel valued and have a work/life balance that suits their needs.
We find it’s a good idea to think of agile working as the process of removing boundaries to promote flexible working and get work done as efficiently as possible, whilst ensuring your staff have everything they need to do so.
Working from Home
Working from home is a term which is very closely aligned with flexible working in that it’s not a major change to the day-to-day and is more of a temporary fix. You might work from home if you have important deadlines to meet and need some distraction-free time away from the office or as mentioned above, you might need to be at home to take a delivery.
This type of working can often be confused with remote working because in effect, a person working from home is working away from the office and therefore remotely. But they are not the same and each require very different processes. For example, if you need to work from home you could just take your work laptop and set it up in the kitchen for the day without the need for much else, which is easy enough to do and can be great for productivity. However, the structure of the office is still apparent as you’d likely still be working to your normal hours and your desk would still be waiting for you at the office on your return.
Working from home means exactly that, you are working from home and therefore this is the location you are expected to be at, similarly to when you’re in the office. This way of working doesn’t allow for you to work in your local Starbucks or from a yacht in the Mediterranean (we can dream), it’s purely a temporary place for you to work from. Remote working on the other hand, would allow for you to work from any location.
Perhaps the most common phrase of them all, remote working is an all-encompassing working style that allows people to work away from the traditional office environment by incorporating all three of the aforementioned working methods.
Remote working is largely based on the concept that work does not need to be done in a defined place to be successful. As mentioned previously, remote workers can work from anywhere; a coworking office space, the kitchen table, a local bistro, a taverna on a Greek island or even the moon (eventually)! There are no designated desks or working hours, professionals can complete their work and meet their goals wherever and whenever they please, as long as they still meet the requirements of the business.
Now it’s worth mentioning that our definition is a fairly general explanation of remote working; every company that offers remote working will have its own policy in place and a view of how it should manifest itself within the organisation. Some businesses will allow employees to work remotely on a full-time basis and collaborate online, whereas others will ask employees to attend meetings in the office or come in one day every fortnight.
A 2019 report by Buffer found that 99% of 2,500 workers surveyed said they wanted to work from home, at least some of the time, for the remainder of their careers. This is a big statistic and remote working is something that we believe is only going to gain traction as millennials take over the workforce and technology makes it easier than ever for people to embrace this way of working.
Technology for Remote Working
Technology suppliers have seen the increasing need for remote working in a variety of businesses and as a result, now offer more dynamic communication and collaboration tools which enable professionals to work from any location without losing access to important information.
Solutions such as secure cloud hosting and Microsoft Office 365 give businesses the opportunity to ensure their employees can access emails, documents and information from anywhere, at any time. Being able to seamlessly access applications and data, with the same experience as working in an office, means that remote working doesn’t impact on a business’ ability to services its clients. It also allows workers to better communicate with their clients; sharing files securely and collaborating live on document changes, as well as video conferencing with teams across the world.
Is Remote Working Secure?
It’s all well and good saying “yes, let’s offer remote working” but have you thought about security? Cyber security is one of the biggest hurdles that businesses come up against when considering remote working, but that shouldn’t put you off. Taking security to the next level when it comes to remote working is of utmost importance.
As an employer, you need to ensure that your employee’s devices are secured to the highest levels when being used both at home and in the office, and that any data being shared in the cloud or outside of company networks is protected. You’ll also need to implement risk-based multi-factor authentication to ensure an employee is who they say they are and even think about remote wipe functionalities and PIN-lock. But where do you start?
Managed IT providers, like Nasstar, can work with you to implement the technology, systems and processes needed to be able to offer more remote working to your workforce, without compromising on the performance of such systems and the security of data.