Agile working has been used by organisations for at least five years, but defining it can be a challenge given it’s such a broad principle. At its core, agile working can be understood as a tool for removing barriers so employees can work smarter and more efficiently. Characteristics of agile working include flexibility, autonomy, and a focus on activity and outcomes rather than the place of work.
Agile working arrangements can include policies to allow employees to work when, where, and how they like. Reducing traditional limitations and barriers relating to task performance could be an example. Other examples include flexitime and telecommuting. For example, you might work in the office for a few hours before collaborating in a café with your teammate. You could then spend the rest of the day back at the office or at home.
Alternatively, you may have a flexible ‘working away from the office’ arrangement with your workplace. You could work in a local co-working hub, which is said to be the future workplace for entrepreneurs and small businesses, for a set amount of days each week, and then be present in your organisation’s primary offices for the remaining days.
Employee autonomy can be a common element of agile working strategies. Staff members are trusted with the flexibility to reach goals, quality standards, and milestones set by line managers. They tend to have far wider scope to choose how they reach given goals, limited only by compliance requirements and guidelines decided upon by management.
Agile working strategies can also be seen in stated outcomes: the goal can be to optimise performance and provide best-in-class value in work outcomes. Desirable outcomes can include exceeding customer expectations, minimising costs, reducing physical office space needs, and driving sustainability. Responsiveness, efficiency, and effectiveness across the organisation can also be goals of agile working environments.
Agile work environments might make use of efficient communications, information technology tools and project management resources to enhance flexibility and productivity. These tools might include chat and collaboration tools like Slack, virtual whiteboards for sharing information, and IT booking systems for assigning hot desks and working spaces.
Agile working strategies are focused on the activity or the work you do rather than the place you do it. This could mean an organisation will allow employees to work wherever they want as long as milestones and goals are reached.
Agile working is intended to be transformational. By providing flexibility in regards to time (when), location (where), role (what you do), and source (who does it), you can drive stronger performance and quality outcomes.
Agile working can be understood by what it’s not. Unlike many workplace policies and rules, by nature agile working is not prescriptive. Its key principle is giving employees choice and flexibility in the dimensions of working, in order to empower employees to do better.
Having the right technology, talent, and policies is essential to successful agile working, but so is the right environmental design. Rooms and spaces should be leveraged to support flexibility, efficiency, productivity, and collaboration. The goal is to provide employees with the right workspaces to support all types of activities.
For example, you might provide employees with individual hot desks in quiet areas for solitary work, along with conference rooms and open spaces for collaborative projects. The design of workspaces and offices should be adaptable enough to support changing working arrangements, according to your staff’s needs, throughout the day. In particular, the office space provided needs to be properly equipped to allow employees to use the space as efficiently and productively as possible.
Agile working strategies differ from flexible working arrangements in terms of aims, drivers, and scope. Flexible working is usually concerned only with working time and patterns, and the location of work, and so it is limited in focus. The scope of agile working is far greater.
The two also differ in objective. Flexible working is usually implemented specifically to improve conditions for workers, while agile working takes into account business performance considerations as well as employee conditions. Agile tends to be more focused on business performance outcomes than on employee working arrangements.
While flexible working is usually negotiated on a one-on-one basis, agile working strategies are likely implemented across the board in an organisation. For example, an organisation with flexible working policies could invite employees to apply individually for the option to work from home one day a week, or to work longer hours one day to make up for half a day’s work one day a week. They would then need to negotiate with their line manager to determine the specifics of the arrangement.
In an agile working workplace, however, employees are subject to the same agile working rules and conditions. Employees don’t need to obtain specific permission from management before they take advantage of agile working principles. For example, any employee is allowed to book their hot desk of choice, determine their own working schedule from day to day, and work at home or at the local café as long as they hit their targets. While flexible working is an exception to the rule, agile working is the general rule in the organisation.
Another vital distinction, as noted above, is that agile working is focused on business outcomes while flexible work is concerned with employee well-being and work-life balance. Agile working is therefore broader in focus, and flexible work concerned mostly with the employee. Agile working might use technology tools, along with employee choice in the “whens” and “wheres” of work, to achieve better business outcomes. Enhanced productivity, lower overhead costs through reduced office-space requirements, and higher motivation might be some of the outcomes.
The goal of flexible work is usually centred on employee well-being and convenience. A successful flexible-working arrangement would be measured by employee satisfaction only. By contrast, agile working success is measured by business outcomes, whether this includes revenue growth, higher profits, overhead savings, and/or productivity.
While flexible working is easily implemented, agile working represents a completely different style of working requiring total commitment from employees and management. Flexible change might involve only changes to working time and patterns, and changes to work location. By contrast, agile working could change everything from employee schedules and work locations to collaboration methods and culture.
It’s easy to implement flexible working; all you need is the right technology tools to allow for remote work and a calendar to track employee schedules. With agile working, however, you’ll need new workplace designs, schedule management, and cultural change. The barriers to implementation are much higher and you’ll need stringent planning to make implementation a success.
Agile working has three key elements: employee discretion, performance goals and standards, and physical space. Organisations can support their employees by providing them with the right technology hardware and software tools, and by providing them with a supportive physical working environment.
Agile working gives employee’s discretion – subject only to compliance requirements and any rules imposed by management – on when, where, and how they work.
Agile working strategies are often highly defined by the performance goals and standards. Employees have considerable flexibility and autonomy – as long as they reach these goals and output standards. This could mean teams and employees can work whenever they like and clock fewer hours as long as they reach the projected sales or output targets.
The physical environment is a crucial element of an agile working arrangement. The working environment should support productivity and space efficiency. While typical offices allocate space based on seniority or hierarchy, agile workplaces concentrate on the efficient use of space that supports both collaborative working and concentration. Such an environment is likely to have these key elements of an agile office:
Agile working can be suitable for any type of organisation, but service businesses could benefit the most from agile working. Some industries, such as retail, manufacturing, healthcare and nursing, might not be able to implement agile working to the degree a pure-services organisation might be able to. However, you could probably introduce elements of agile working into most jobs. Organisations such as BT (telecommunications), PwC (advisory services), and EC Harris (engineering consulting) have successfully used agile to improve their working arrangements and workplaces.
Beyond industry, organisations suited for agile working arrangements can include businesses that are looking for ways to reduce overhead costs and improve productivity. If you can introduce activity-based workplace design to your business, you could use agile working in your office. Businesses will likely need to introduce agile by department, operation or level rather than across the organisation, depending on the functionalities, business goals, and requirements of the department concerned.
When deciding whether your business could be suited to agile, it’s useful to look at the roles in your departments and operations. You could have some roles that are more location independent while others are more time independent. Regardless of your industry, these roles could benefit from agile working arrangements, where you provide staff members with flexibility on time or location or both.
Roles including researchers, CEOs, writers, and artists tend to be location-independent roles. A CEO can direct their company by working with line managers while they are travelling around the world. A researcher can conduct their research from home, on field, and in the lab. These types of occupations are also likely to be time independent. This is because their job inputs tend not to require fixed working hours.
Other location-independent roles include telephone salespeople, call-centre staff, and IT support crew. Due to technology tools, these roles can be completed at home and outside of the office. Some organisations might prefer these roles to be remote because of the resulting overhead and property savings. However, these roles tend to be highly time dependent. Call-centre workers need to be available during fixed hours, and telephone salespeople tend to work fixed hours as well. IT support staff are usually allocated shifts when they’re available for troubleshooting queries.
If you have time-independent roles in your organisation, you could also benefit from agile working strategies. Examples of time-independent roles include lawyers, plumbers, van drivers, and social workers. These occupations tend to allow the worker discretion in the hours they work. Plumbers can determine their own working hours, and lawyers can choose when they consult with clients. However, these jobs are often also location dependent, which means it’s a challenge to provide these employees with freedom in deciding where they work.
Roles unsuitable for agile working arrangements are both time-dependent and location-dependent roles. Examples include sales and retail assistants, wait staff in food services, teachers, and firefighters. Not only do these roles require fixed hours; they also require the employee to be in a fixed location during those hours. If you have roles like these in your organisation, you’ll find it challenging to implement agile working for these staff members.
Any organisation seeking to implement agile working arrangements will need to weigh up the potential benefits and assess possible challenges. Benefits of agile working include increased efficiency, innovation, and attracting and retaining talent.
While agile working comes with many potential benefits, these need to be balanced against the possible challenges. Challenges of agile working can include effecting cultural change, staff resistance, and managing performance.
It’s not only organisations who benefit from agile; agile working can be a win-win proposition for businesses and their employees. More freedom, higher productivity, and better work-life balance could be some of the outcomes for individuals and team members in agile-working environments. However, a high level of trust and performance-focused culture is more conducive to achieving great results from agile.
Having the right technology tools can be instrumental in agile-working success. The tools you use to effect and manage your agile-working strategy can range from cloud services to swipe cards for space access.
Agile working can empower your organisation to achieve goals ranging from staff retention and productivity to lower costs and staff satisfaction. These positive outcomes can contribute to a stronger culture and healthier bottom line. As long as you plan for your agile-working strategy and stay aware of the potential challenges, agile working could help you achieve all the common organisational goals.
Higher productivity and efficiency, space savings, and lower property overheads are some of the elements of agile working that can contribute to an improved bottom line. Whether your organisational goal is to grow profits and boost revenue, agile working arrangements can support them. Research suggests businesses can save tens of millions of dollars with agile working arrangements such as desk sharing. PwC, for example, believes co-location practices and flexible working has allowed it to increase profits by 15%. EC Harris also accounts for a jump in profit to flexible-working arrangements, with their net profit margin leaping by 13%.
More engaged staff members, higher customer satisfaction, and better utilisation of team skills are outcomes that can also directly lead to a stronger bottom line. Agile working can drive flexibility and innovation, both of which are outcomes that contribute to a stronger bottom line. Research also suggests that flexible working – which is encompassed in agile working – is associated with stronger overall organisational performance.
Productivity could be a driver of a stronger bottom line. For example, surveys of employees suggests as much as five productive hours a week could be gained if they didn’t have to commute. This could translate to thousands of dollars saved in productivity each year. Employees could be as much as 20% more productive with agile-working arrangements.
Consumers value businesses that behave ethically, and ethical business could have a most positive brand reputation if they demonstrate they achieve social- and community-related goals. Agile-working practices are also linked to reduced carbon footprints for individuals and organisations, which means it has social and environmental benefits. This can enhance your company’s credibility and corporate-social-responsibility reputation.
Business continuity is an ongoing goal of organisations. Disruptions, whether due to technology or other factors, can impact revenue growth, sales, and morale. Agile working can be supportive of business continuity, allowing you to recover quickly, react flexibly, and respond creatively to unexpected events and situations.
Your organisation’s most valuable resource is your staffing team. Agile working can allow you to retain valued employees and attract the best-in-class talent for your industry. Being known as an organisation that’s committed to quality and offers staff flexibility and space to be innovative can support staff retention. PwC, for example, believes its flexible-working arrangements have driven down its turnover rate, resulting in just 12% turnover employee rates in one year.
Along with allowing you to stay competitive in the market, retaining valuable staff members allows you to avoid the considerable costs of turnover while building a reputation that boosts your brand. You’ll minimise the costs associated with losing valuable knowledge and talent, and you’ll be able to save time and expense on conducting recruitment campaigns.
Agile working can impact your enterprise in a broad range of positive ways.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind potentially negative impacts of agile working if your agile-working strategy is undertaken unsuccessfully.
Making the leap into agile working requires a detailed plan and the right tools. Whether you’re implementing it for a team, a whole department, or your whole organisation, your agile-working initiative should be designed to meet the unique requirements of your organisation. Give your staff the right technology tools to support work processes and collaboration. Reduce ambiguity by defining performance standards. Make sure you have management buy-in across the department or team, and guide staff with policies.
As you shift to an agile-working environment, you’ll need to facilitate the organisation’s conversation about transitioning to agile working. As the organisation’s leadership, you’ll be helping your managers with overseeing the change, and they in turn will need to know how to manage employee expectations.
Your USB port and cable are likely one of your most widely used connection tools. From charging phones and transferring content to connecting printers and computer accessories, the USB is an essential connection cross-platform technology that’s used by Mac, Windows, Android, and all other operating systems.
The humble USB port has come a long way since its first inception over two decades ago, and USB-C or Type C is the latest version supporting the fastest USB 3.1 standard*. This latest generation USB standard has been described as the ‘one port to rule them all’ and, as USB-C is generally recognised as the standard of the future, it’s well worth getting to know this new technology better.
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, which is an industry standard term for short-distance digital data communications. USB-C cables (and ports) reflect the latest connector standards as agreed upon and developed by the USB Implementers’ Forum (USB-IF), a group of industry leaders such as Apple, Intel, Dell, and Belkin. Over time, USB-C will likely replace the previous types – which include USB-A, USB-B and USB Mini-B – to become the standard.
The USB-C cable can be plugged into any USB-C port on your computer, smartphone or other device to charge the device or to connect and transfer files with another device. If you don’t have a USB-C port to connect the device, you can use an adaptor to ensure your USB-C cable can be plugged into your notebook computer or smartphone, and then use your USB-C cable as you would any other USB cable.
To charge your phone or device using an USB-C cable, you just need to have a compatible wall charger into which you can plug your USB-C cable for power.
In short, a USB-C cable is just an updated type of your current USB-B or USB-A cable. USB-C cables and ports have been used in smartphones and tablets since 2015.
USB-C ports are commonly found on notebooks, desktop workstations, network adaptors, broadband and wireless modems, printers, and a whole range of other devices. These are simply outlets that let you use USB-C cables to connect to other devices and gadgets or power sockets, whether it’s for expansion, power charging, file-transfer purposes, or some other function.
For example, the latest notebooks computers most likely have more than one USB-C port to allow you to connect multiple peripherals such as keyboards, mouse, printers, and so on. A USB port can facilitate wireless USB technology; for example, you might have a receiver that you plug into the USB-C port to connect a wireless mouse.
USB-C ports are much smaller than USB-B ports. At just 0.84 cm by 0.26cm (compared to 1.4 cm by 0.65 cm for USB-B ports), the USB-C standard allows for a much smaller, compact port. The compact size of this new standard allows technology device manufacturers to design smaller and thinner phones, notebooks, and other gadgets.
USB-C can be used for anything ranging from connecting computer peripherals such as printers, mouse and keyboards to transferring data, and charging gadgets and batteries. Smartphones, tablets and game consoles can integrate USB-C ports and cables for power charging, and for expansion or connection purposes.
While the USB-C looks very similar to micro USBs, it’s actually a different type of connector standard, with USB-C ports and cable plugs being slightly thicker. There are other differences of note. Unlike micro USB and earlier generation USB cables, the USB-C cable does not have an up or down orientation, so you no longer have to worry about checking whether you’ve got it the right way up, or be concerned about flipping it the right way when you’re ready to plug in your phone for charging. Another convenient feature is that both ends of the cable are exactly the same, so there’s no more worrying about getting the right end of the cable the first time around either.
USB and the latest type of USB-C have been adopted by the masses, probably because they allow for much faster data transfer than older technologies, such as serial or parallel ports. And while FireWire and Ethernet connections can support faster data transfer than USB, these standards currently do not yet support power across the wire, and wide adoption has not happened for these connections standards.
Since USB is already the most common notebook port and connector by far, it’s likely that USB-C, by virtue of being the latest version of USB, will see the same widespread adoption. In fact, there are many signs that it’s already being widely adopted. For example, Apple in its 2015 release of the 12-inch MacBook that had been designed for the device to have just one port for charging, video output, data, and peripherals – and the port was USB-C. Since then its MacBooks have added more USB-C ports. Other devices such as the HTC 10, LG G5 and Google Pixel all use USB-C ports. And new smartphone manufacturers such as OnePlus are already incorporating USB-C ports into their phones.
As mentioned earlier, there is no up or down side to the USB plug and both ends of the cable are the same, which make USB-C cables and ports more convenient to use. But USB-C is also smaller, thinner, and lighter than the other USB types; and compliant devices will typically support faster speed transfers – the USB 3.1 standard.
Other differences include the fact you’ll be able to charge devices more quickly than with previous USB types, and you’ll most likely be able to support higher quality audio and video as well, due to the faster speeds.
We often hear about specifications such as USB 3.1 and USB 2.0, so how do these differ to USB-C or USB-B? The former refers to version, whereas the latter refers to type.
The later the USB version, the faster the data transfer speed.
Note that later USB versions are usually backward compatible with earlier versions. And just to make things more complicated, there are also USB power delivery levels to consider, but this is usually reflected in the USB version. This means USB 3.1, the most current version, can deliver greater power output (of up to 20 volts and 5 amps) than older versions.
If you’re not already convinced of the advantages of USB-C, then you will be when you’re made aware of its bi-directional-power capabilities. In plain language, this means the cable can be used to send or receive power, and a peripheral device can be used to charge a host device, so you could use your phone to charge a tablet or another phone, for example. Convenience aside, what this could mean also is that you end up with just a few USB-C cables for all your charging, expansion, and transfer requirements, rather than the multitude of cables you probably have now.
It’s hard to imagine a world without USB’s ubiquitous cables and ports, but USB has had its share of challengers. There have been various competitors or alternatives to USB and USB-C in the past, and these include Thunderbolt, Lightning, and FireWire. However, none of these have ever achieved USB’s widespread adoption – at least not yet.
FireWire was a standard used mainly by Apple starting in the late ‘90s. FireWire’s advantages included the fact that it allowed you to easily connect dozens of devices using just the one port, and it could be used to transfer data in both directions at the same time, unlike USB. FireWire also tended to be faster than the USB standards that were being set at the time. However, FireWire was more expensive to implement and Apple initially required licence fees to be paid to use the standard.
Thunderbolt is mostly used in Apple’s computers, though it’s developed and backed by Intel. Ultra-fast and also supporting bi-directional data transfers, Thunderbird continues to be developed, but it probably won’t ever achieve the ubiquity and mainstream adoption that USB has. Like FireWire, it’s more expensive for manufacturers to implement, since additional chips and controllers have to be used.
The most likely challenges for USB going forward are probably wireless technologies that can support what USB does today. That means wireless data transfers, power charging, and connecting of devices. Many options already exist in this area, and they range from cloud services and near field communications, to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. However, current wireless technologies probably aren’t yet a serious threat to USB simply because of speed: even USB 2.0 is faster and more reliable than many wireless technologies.
And as for power charging, while there are wire-free charging standards being developed, there are many competing technologies and many of these chargers themselves use USB. Given all this, it’s likely that USB-C will dominate the port and connectors landscape in the coming years, just as previous USB types have in the past.
Some concerns have been raised about the smaller design of USB-C and how it could cause the cable to be more fragile in everyday use. Another possible issue is the USB-C standard being somewhat unregulated. The difficulties of regulating the standard has led to poor quality and even dangerous accessories on the market, which have resulted in damage to devices when connected. Amazon, for example, has banned certain USB-C cables from being sold in its stores and specified that only compliant products are sold.
The USB-IF has released a new protocol in response to these issues, and it remains to be seen whether the new protocol – one that outlines a way for devices to authenticate USB-C devices or chargers before accepting data or power – will be widely implemented.
If you’re wondering whether you need to go out and buy physical adapters and hubs to allow USB-C-only devices to connect with devices that use earlier versions of USB, the answer is probably not just yet. The widespread adoption of USB-C that will likely take place will happen gradually, so you’ll have plenty of time to switch. And as it is likely to occur incrementally, you’ll probably need to start buying adapters only when you buy a new device and find that it’s not compatible with your other devices.
Similarly, there’s no need to make the presence or absence of USB-C ports a key priority when shopping around for products unless you want to achieve something with your devices that only USB-C can help you achieve. It’s probably the case that larger devices such as computers will include both USB-C and older USB types for a few years more, thereby allowing a gradual transition for consumers. Google’s Chromebook Pixel, for example, features both the new USB-C ports and the older USB types.
Now that you know everything about the upcoming USB-C standard, you’re well prepared for the widespread adoption of this standard that’s likely to occur in the coming years. What’s important to note from all this is that you should be keeping an eye out for the USB version on any new devices you purchase, whether it’s a new smartphone, notebook, or other device. When shopping around, check that cables are included or that you have compatible cables or adapters that you can use. Doing this can help you save time and adjust to the switch to USB-C in the market, which is likely to be gradual.
If you’re looking for a high quality USB-C product, look no further than the range provided by Targus. Our business accessories are designed for the modern worker, featuring everything from stylishly ergonomic laptop shoulder bags to device docking stations and privacy screens.