What is agile working and how does it differ to activity-based working, hot desking, and flexible working? Our latest Q&A has the answers...

It is now widely accepted that businesses need to offer staff flexibility and choice in how they work. Agile working, activity-based working, hot desking, free-addressing and flexible working are all solutions to consider — but how do they differ and what are the benefits of each?

What is agile working?

Agile working provides staff with minimum constraints and maximum flexibility in the way they work. The practice is assigned to the entire workplace, where individuals can choose to work from any setting they choose — whether it be a traditional desk, standing desk, a breakout space or even the staff kitchen. In an agile working environment, staff may prefer to work from home or in a local café. It’s about being as open and flexible as possible in your company’s approach to where and when staff work.

Establishing a more autonomous culture with agile working can be a real boost for attracting and retaining top talent. It tends to be seen as a source of competitive advantage for employers as well as an employee benefit, although an enabling IT infrastructure and suitable technology is essential for it to work.

Benefits of agile working

  • Increased sense of autonomy and freedom for staff
  • Increased job satisfaction, resulting in higher engagement and retention
  • Less floor space needed — reducing operating costs

Challenges of agile working:

  • Requires culture shift for both employees and management
  • Applied to the entire business — staff can’t choose to opt-out
  • Requires enabling technology and IT infrastructure

What is activity-based working?

Activity-based working is the concept of using different settings for different tasks around the office. It’s often designed around an open plan office, made up with a variety of alternative workspaces that people can choose from — including huddle spaces, quiet rooms, collaboration booths, meeting spaces or breakout areas.

The practice is often used in an agile working environment, as it provides flexibility and choice, and can work well when combined with hot-desking or free-addressing.

Businesses that have embraced activity-based working report an increase in productivity, as individuals are able to choose to work in the workspace that most suits the task at hand. It means that when they need to get together with colleagues, they aren’t limited to a few meeting rooms and when they need to focus, they can find somewhere quiet to work.

Benefits of activity-based working

  • Variety and choice of different workspaces
  • Increased autonomy for staff and potential to perform at their best
  • Staff are more physically active during working day

Challenges of activity-based working

  • Not suitable for every industry or job role
  • Requires a shift in culture and management techniques

What is hot desking?

Hot desking is the practice of having unassigned desks so multiple people may use any given workstation. It works well in environments where not everyone has to be in the office at the same time, or in activity-based environments where there are a variety of other settings that people can work at instead.

Similarly, free-addressing refers to office space where teams are not allocated to a specific area so all workstations can be used by all staff at any time. This allows the floor space to be used as efficiently as possible but does require accurate wayfinding.

Benefits of hot desking

  • Cost-efficient use of space through fewer empty desks
  • Increased interaction between staff
  • Supports clear desk policy

Challenges of hot desking

  • Staff may prefer to have ownership of a space
  • Requires comprehensive wayfinding
  • Having enough seats if everyone is in the office

What about flexible working?

Flexible working is an HR term which refers to the now legal right for individuals to request an alternative working pattern to the business norm. It could include working different hours or working from home and is requested and agreed on an individual basis. Agreeing flexible working on a case-by-case basis may provide staff with an opportunity to be at their most productive whilst boosting their engagement and job satisfaction.

Creating a culture of choice and flexibility in your workplace takes considerable time and attention. These workplace strategies may work brilliantly in some organisations, whilst not being suitable for others. The key is to identify a workplace strategy that suits your business and then design your office space around it.

Flexible working