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What's in a name?

Flexible, Smart, Agile ... what should we call the new ways of working transforming the workplace?

That the world of work is changing is undeniable.  But how should we refer to the new and flexible working practices that are evolving?

There are many words and phrases used to describe the changes: Flexible Working, New Ways of Working, Agile Working and Smart Working are the most commonly used phases.  For aspects of the new ways that use technology to work beyond the workplace there are words and phrases like Telework, Telecommuting, eWork, Location Independent Working, Workshifting and several others besides. 

And sometimes flexible working is presented as being synonymous with ‘Family Friendly Working’ to emphasise the role of these new ways in assisting work-life balance. Often these are linked with options like maternity and paternity leave. This is quite a dominant mode of thought in some of the HR literature, academic research and some government policy areas, but it is really too narrow and lacks sufficient business focus to be widely accepted.

So at the outset, I think I should begin by outlining what it is I mean by the term Smart Flexibility.

Flexible Working and Smart Working  

Flexible working’ in an organisation encompasses:

  • a range of flexible working practices
  • changes to the way work is carried out and services are delivered
  • changes to the environments in which work is carried out.

Flexible working practices typically fall into 3 areas:

  • Flexible time options – such as flexitime or variable hours, compressed working week (doing 5 days work in 4, or 10 days in 9, etc), annualised hours, part-time working, job share, term-time working
  • Flexible location options – such as mobile working, home-based working, working seamlessly from other company sites or from client sites, working from local ‘work hubs’
  • Flexible contract options – working with contract staff, agency staff, freelancers, teams of associates.

These options of course are often combined. For example having staff working at different times and in different locations; or having ‘virtual teams’ combining permanent staff and associates or contractors working in a range of locations.

Smart working’ is a term currently in vogue to describe the range of changes enabled by greater flexibility combined with greater use of information and communication technologies (ICT).  This combines flexible work options with changes to the way work is organised and delivered, in particular streamlining processes using ICT.  This is often necessary to liberate the business from the constraints of place, time and paper and allow staff to work more flexibly.

Working environments will also change.  Typically this involves moving away from both cellular offices and serried ranks of workstations in open plan offices. These are replaced by desk-sharing solutions, plus touchdown areas for mobile staff, project areas for teamwork and breakout areas for informal meetings.  Remote offices – including home offices – may be part of the new working environment.  The place you work assumes less importance, and for many staff the office is the network.

How it all fits together – Smart Flexibility

Though some people have attempted it, I don’t think it’s possible to make sharp distinctions between terms such as Flexible Working, New Ways of Working, Agile Working and Smart Working.  There are not hard and fast but rather overlapping definitions in what is a fluid and fast-changing world.  All these terms in most instances can be used interchangeably, because in practice they are talking about the same thing.

Where people sometimes try to draw a line is between what they see as the more technology-enabled forms and the more family-focused forms, or between the more business-focused and the more employee-choice-focused forms.  To me these distinctions are not always especially helpful.

What we have is a broad canvas of evolving working practices and changes to the way businesses operate.  Changes to technology, processes and management thinking are crucial to these, as well as a wide range of other social changes that I’ll be looking at in Chapter 1.

These changes can all be characterised as increasing flexibility, whether for the employee, the organisation, or both.  They can also be characterised as being ‘smart’, in that they are supported by a range of smart innovations that enable the organisation to operate in smarter and more flexible ways.

Figure 1: The context of Smart Flexibility

Smart Flexibility - Business Transformation

Figure 1 sets out three overlapping areas of innovation:

  1. ‘Flexible Working’ as often somewhat narrowly conceived in HR policies, i.e. a range of employee choices around where and when to work that can be requested by employees
  2. Business Transformation activities – at least the ones that have a particular impact on or relationship with changing the way we work
  3. Work Anywhere possibilities, which describe forms of flexible working that critically depend on technology-enabled business transformation.

This book is about looking at all the forms of working involved and the directions one needs to tke to maximise the benefits.  ‘Smart Flexibility’ is a composite term which I hope signifies this combination of flexible and smart (or agile) working practices.

‘Smart Flexibility’, then, is about all the forms of working that fit into the ‘Flexible Working’ and ‘Work Anywhere’ boxes.  And in implementing it in a comprehensive and strategic way, it really has to be strongly grounded in a strong understanding of the business transformation opportunities that underpin it.

Smart Flexibility is also about delivering measurable benefits across the ‘Triple Bottom Line’: benefits for business, for people, and for the environment.

So to take Smart Flexibility from theory to practice is not just about coming up with the right policies and practices.  It requires an integrated approach that looks at people, property and technology, and needs to be grounded in a strong understanding of the business needs of the organisation and of the wider context of economic, social and environmental change.

And that’s what my book is about – working more flexibly, and working smarter to make your business and the world a better place.


Wordlcloud for Flexible Working terms

January 2013


A business-focused approach to flexible working

This article is taken from the Prologue to Andy Lake's new book Smart Flexibility: Moving Smart and Flexible Working from Theory to Practice.

Smart Flexibility is a business-focused approach to flexible working and business transformation - it aims to deliver beneftis across the Triple Bottom Line.

Here Andy Lake explains why he settled on the term Smart Flexibility in his new book.























Need help with change?

If your organisation needs support for change, contact us at Flexibility.  We can help you devise programmes or troubleshoot programmes that are hitting the buffers.

Contact Andy Lake on 01223 304792 today.

Further details of our support services are here.






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