Agile vs flexible working

28th May 2021

Agile VS Flexible Working – What’s the difference? 

We all hear a great deal about flexible working and how it has become more commonplace, especially given recent events (global pandemics for example!). But less so, agile working…what actually is the difference anyway and why does it matter?

Flexible working – What is it?

Flexible working is a term used to describe any working arrangement which differs from the traditional set working hours of 9-5, Monday-Friday. It is driven by the employee and their need for a different working pattern to accommodate an out of work commitment – childcare, study and caring responsibilities being just some of the common ones. Many positions are now advertised from the outset as flexible roles to widen the potential pool of applicants. All employees are entitled to make a flexible working request provided they have been in their role for 26 weeks or more, are legally classed as an employee and haven’t made any other flexible working requests in the last 12 months.


Employers generally recognise that there are many benefits to flexible working arrangements, including increased job satisfaction and productivity levels. Legally, employers must consider each request reasonably and in accordance with a statutory procedure. But it doesn’t always work and there are circumstances where employees’ flexible working requests can be turned down, namely if:

  • It will cost too much to implement
  • Work cannot be reorganised amongst other staff
  • The employer cannot recruit more staff
  • There will be a negative effect on the quality of work
  • There will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
  • There will be a negative effect on performance
  • There is not enough work for you to do at the times you’ve requested to work
  • There are planned changes to the business, for example, your employer plans to reorganise or change the business and thinks the request will not fit with these plans.


Whilst COVID 19 has driven an increase in remote working through necessity, recent figures from the CIPD show that 46% of employees still do not have flexible working. Employees in lower paid, more manual occupations often do not have the same access to flexible working as those in higher paid, managerial positions.

See here for our guidance on dealing with flexible working requests post pandemic.


Agile working – What is it?

Agile working may by definition incorporate a flexible working policy but it is a much broader concept. It’s about bringing people, resources, processes, technology and location together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working. Agile working puts the emphasis on the activity or task itself rather than the location it’s carried out in. Its implementation will be on a firm wide level rather than individual arrangements with members of staff. So it could incorporate providing different office spaces / environments to work, remote working and the infrastructure and technology to support this as well as project management tools and processes which take away a “timesheet” culture.

Examples of “agile working” include:

  • Implementing real time feedback and two-way performance management instead of annual appraisals
  • Redesigning work-spaces to maximise creativity and create “zones” according to the tasks being undertaken
  • Providing shared access technology so employees have the ability to work on documents at the same time remotely
  • Flat management structures where reporting lines are project based rather than hierarchical

Agile working already exists in many companies to some extent and is seen as transformational in terms of the way it can maximise productivity and utilise resources in the most cost-effective ways.  It requires something of a cultural change to be fully embraced in any organisation.  But agile working shouldn’t just be reserved for the bigger corporates. Smaller organisations can benefit from agile working practices as they can bring huge savings in terms of office space, staff retention and an increase in creativity and productivity.


So now we’ve clarified the differences, it’s clear that employers really can go beyond the introduction of flexible working policies and take a holistic look at their business and the way tasks  are carried out to implement organisational change. For more information and advice on how your company can introduce flexible and agile working policies, contact the team at Murrell Associates.