By Patrick Gallen, Partner, People and Change Consulting, Grant Thornton

Flexible working as a concept has developed in recent years through both its implementation, development and acceptance within organisations. This is primarily due to an increased desire amongst employees for a greater work-life balance and technology has made this practice possible.

This desire has manifested itself in UK legislation; the right to request flexible working arrangements has been in existence since the Flexible Working Regulations were introduced in 2014. These regulations allow an employee to request flexible working hours providing that they have worked with the company for at least 26 weeks.

Agile working is the natural progression from flexible working, as it aims to enhance working practices and organisational structures to a level where business is as dynamic and responsive as possible.

It can be defined as a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimise their performance and to do their best work.

Agile working principally allows for increased focus on customer collaboration due to a more avant-garde approach to customer service, which is far more resilient. Increased levels of agility in the workplace allows for improved communication and interactions, both between employees at all levels, and to potential or existing customers.

Fundamentally, a change to an agile working model allows for the utilisation of working solutions, rather than grand scale plans, and thus is more responsive to change.

Agile working can increase the efficiency, and more importantly, the client satisfaction rate of an organisation when implemented correctly.

In terms of its implementation, before any work is carried out, a comprehensive understanding of the business and workforce needs is required, followed by an effort to align the leadership of the organisation to the merits of agile working.

Once implementation begins, it must start from the base of the organisation to the top, one business unit or operation at a time. What’s more, there must be cooperation between business and HR leaders within the organisation, which will ensure a seamless vision as to what the future agile organisation will look like.

However, an agile organisation is only as agile as its component parts. Firstly, it requires an agile culture, which demonstrates leadership, attitudes and behaviours which support agility within the business explicitly.

Secondly, the working practices of an organisation must be adjusted so that people are able to work when and where it is appropriate for them and their units. All of these aspects must be supported by an equally agile workplace, which relies on IT, telephony, policies and spaces, which are all designed to enable people to work as effectively as possible.

Agile working can fail or be less effective without a supporting culture and workplace to match it. However, overall, agile working allows for improved customer collaboration, increased working adaptability, effectiveness and efficiency.

Agile working can also result in reduced costs, improved productivity and provides the possibility to review the business operating model to sustain longer-term growth in a complex and volatile business environment.