The past 18 months has seen many change in the workplace – from furlough schemes to homeworking. Many things have been tough for businesses, but there are also some positives – and one of these is the focus on “agile working” – which offers staff the ability to work in the setting and place most appropriate for the task in hand.

It’s often confused with flexible working, which is really more about working hours. Agile working is deeper than this – a combination of all of the best parts of hot desking, remote working, homeworking and mobile working. It is giving workers the authority to be stationed in the best place for them to work from on any given day. An agile working environment provides everything from collaborative and social spaces, to focused and rejuvenating spaces, bringing space, people and technology together so that they can do their best work.

The new way of working?

Actually, not really. Agile working is not as new a concept as you might think. Indeed, it has been used by the more forward-thinking organisations for some time.

It’s something that we are People Matters HR, Bury’s leading HR provider, are embracing. We have moved out of our town centre office and in to a purpose build “hub”, where staff are free to come and go as their workload demands. Agile working is the best way for our business to move forward in this “new normal.”

And it seems we are not alone. A recent survey by the BBC amongst 50 of the UK’s biggest employers found that they do not plan to bring all employees back to the workplace full time – and will be adopting some mode of flexible working. 75% said they would embrace a mix of home and office working, with staff encouraged to work from home two to three days a week.

So, it looks like agile working is here to stay – and here, we explore the pros and cons of the concept.

The pros

It’s perfect for social distancing

Despite the promise of all legal restrictions being lifted in the coming months, we expect that social distancing will be around for some time. After all, it’s pretty ingrained in us now.

The agile working benefits means less people in one workplace at the same time – highly conducive to social distancing!

This also allows for better use of office space. Less desks can mean more scope for meeting and chill out areas, making for a more pleasant environment.

It’s great for work-life balance

When utilised correctly, agile working facilitates a much better work-life balance for employees. We’ve seen how parents struggled juggling family and work over the lockdown periods and for many, there will be huge relief that they can plan their working day around other commitments.

It’s also useful in other ways. Gone are the days of having to book holiday to receive a home delivery – agile working benefits workers who can now simply take advantage of a “work from home” day.

It keeps people connected

Zoom, Teams and FaceTime have all been a godsend over lockdown – but you can’t beat face to face meetings. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to project planning. Many employers report that staff have thrived during homeworking – but as business picks up, the need for a space to collaborate is greater than ever before.

In addition, many people – particularly those who live alone – crave the human interaction that comes from being “in the office.”

A happy bi-product of this is that while employees will benefit from the ability to quietly focus at home when required, but the extra buzz and motivation when they physically come together and work together as a team will be palpable.

The cons

A (potential) reduction in productivity

When introducing agile working some employers may notice an initial reduction on productivity. Many staff who have been out of the working environment for some time may find it difficult to readjust to being back at work. This could mean that it takes a while for them to work as effectively as they were doing previously.

Psychologically, going back to the workplace it will be a huge shock to the system. People will naturally have built up their own routine and rhythm whether furloughed or working from home and returning to work will be yet another change. Many will have to readjust to the noise and interaction with others the working environment brings and while some people thrive with this, others may have been moved from their ideal state of quiet and calm into an assault on their nerves.

A culture change will be needed

While most employees will embrace these agile working benefits, there are some who may not! While implementing casual areas with hot desking solutions can be great for making the best use of your space, some employees can be reluctant to embrace change, and it can be difficult to break old habits. To combat this, department managers need to be fully on board and briefed to communicate to their teams why the changes are happening and the positive impact it will bring not only to the workspace, but people processes and ultimately, productivity.

Firming up the logistics

While the clue is in the title – a form of flexibility – some structure will of course be needed to be put in place. Businesses will need to ensure that they have enough space for certain numbers of staff to be in the office at any one time – you can’t risk staff turning in and having nowhere to sit.

In addition, consideration needs to be given to diaries and planning. If staff need to be in for crucial meetings or project work, it is key that this is scheduled well ahead.

Likewise, there is a risk of work taking longer than it should due to miscommunication, human error, or staff becoming side tracked. For this reason, clear processes need to be put in place from the outset.