An Explainer for Flexible, Agile & Activity-Based Working

Flexible Working, Agile Working, and Activity-Based Working (ABW) are three of the most commonly heard phrases when it comes to popular trends for modern work practices. And yet, they are also some of the most misunderstood. These terms are often confused for each other or, in some cases, are used interchangeably. 

As more offices make the switch to hybrid workplaces, it’s for certain that we’ll be hearing these terms more often. But what do they mean, exactly? How is Flexible Working different from Agile Working? What does Activity-Based Working have to do with either of them?

There is considerable overlap between these three words that have been inextricably intertwined by years of misuse. However, we can see the distinct differences that lay between them by understanding the disparate concepts from which they originate.

This short explainer will help clear up the differences between Flexible Working, Agile Working, and Activity-Based Working. We’ll show their influence on office interior design and tell you what you need to know in order to create the office of your dreams. 


Flexible Work

Long before the pandemic occurred, many businesses were already looking at ways to help employees achieve professional goals through non-traditional methods. 

What it is

Flexible Working is an alternative work pattern or schedule that is arranged by a company to benefit a specific employee. 

Flexible Working operates outside the confines of the 9–5 workday and the standard office cubicle. Instead, this work model empowers employees by giving them control over the time and location of their work. 

What it’s good for

This style of work can signify part-time work, job sharing, working during off hours, or working from home. It is often associated with workers that have families and are responsible for looking after their children. 

Flexible Working is often viewed as a benefit to an employee that is provided at a cost to the employer. It allows workers to attain a better work balance that makes allowances for their other responsibilities. Under this work model, companies retain traditional business practices that are used with and for other employees and clients; this means that Flexible Working is a practice that businesses use sparingly.

And although it is an important characteristic to have for your office, a “flexible workplace” isn’t a trend of its own. This term may be used to describe how an office can suit a variety of purposes, but doesn’t have the same significance as other terms on this list when it comes to defining workplace trends. For this reason, a “flexible office” is often commonly used to describe the other terms in this explainer.


Agile Working

Compared to Flexible Working and the way it applies to specific employees, Agile Working is a company-wide phenomenon that affects all employees. 

What it is

Agile Working is a work model that connects people and processes in a way that allows businesses to achieve higher productivity and performance. 

This type of work model grants the freedom to all workers in an office to undergo or implement whatever methods they need in order to get the desired results. Workers in an agile office have the autonomy to work whenever and wherever they want. By providing perks that are normally associated with executives, this work model helps keep workers engaged with their jobs and creates a professional environment with the effect of nurturing and retaining its talent.

What it’s good for

Agile Working is ideal for creative and collaborative industries such as IT. It sparks creativity and promotes innovation by fostering a dynamic work environment. On the other hand, a distinct disadvantage of this work model is that it has to be accepted by all its employees; as well, upper management needs to be committed to adopting this entirely new way of doing business.

At this point in this explainer, Agile Working starts to share a lot of similarities with the next term. But before we explain how an “Agile Workplace” is a lot like an “Activity-Based Workplace”, this would be a good time to explain a similar work concept called “Hot Desking,” another hot office trend that gets lumped into the mix but is not like either one.

What it is

Hot Desking is the practice of assigning temporary workspaces to full-time employees on a rotating basis. Instead of returning to the same cubicle everyday, Hot Desking provides workers with a workstation only when they need it. This work practice benefits offices with employees that work from home part of the week, and would like to conserve space. 


Activity-Based Working

Like Agile Work, Activity-Based Working is all about tailoring workplaces to serve the needs of its workers. It’s a creative way for businesses to raise their productivity to a higher level.

What it is

Activity-Based Working derives its name by being focused on creating the most positive circumstances that will aid the fulfillment for each activity that needs to be done, whether it be delivering ideas/content or sharing knowledge.

Difference between ABW and Agile Working

For all their shared traits in providing worker freedom, ABW differs from Agile Working in its scope. While Agile Working gives workers the freedom to complete their individual tasks however they want, ABW gives teams of workers the autonomy to achieve group goals through processes and office environments that facilitate open communication and collaboration for improved results.

Office design features

To accomplish this, the ABW work model requires a wide range of dedicated facilities for specific activities, something that may be equally shared by Agile Working. 

For this reason, Activity-Based Workplaces and Agile Workplaces will be equipped with features such as:

  • Open-plan layout: These trendy layouts serve as the canvas upon which a collaborative work environment is created upon. And because ABW and Agile Workplaces don’t often operate at 100% worker capacity, these expansive environments actually conserve space and use fewer resources, often making them friendlier to the environment.
  • Low-level furniture: Although they may seem more suited to a cafe, this type of furniture is great for accommodating informal discussions and allowing workers a chance to sit back and relax during a busy day
  • Informal meeting areas: These are important to provide a chance for teams to meet and collaborate at anytime, sometimes taking the form of casual furniture that resemble kitchen tables or picnic tables for outdoor settings
  • Standing desks: These types of desks can accommodate the needs of someone who needs to quickly check their email, or someone who needs to write a lengthy blog. 
  • Breakout areas: This sets aside space where staff can relax and discuss ideas
  • Chance encounters: Chair settings are placed at strategic meeting points to help facilitate impromptu meetings to promote team collaboration

By setting up an office designed with these features, you can help your team reach their goals, be it through Activity-Based Working or Agile Working. 

Through trust, empowerment, and a shared sense of responsibility, some companies have incorporated these work models into their workplace to great success. By understanding your needs and making the appropriate choice for your office, you too can introduce a work model to your business that gives you the results you are looking for.

Are you looking to upgrade your office? Do you want a workplace that facilitates collaboration? Want your workers to work smarter in a smart work environment? Contact the office interior design specialists at Sensyst today!