Is flexible working better for productivity? - Blog | Workplace
23rd March 2017

Is flexible working better for productivity?

Mobile data services are achieving higher and higher speeds, enabling workers to be more flexible and thereby increasing productivity. But is it the case for all workers?

There are obviously many industries where flexible working simply doesn’t work but, in one of the largest global workplace surveys of its kind, 83 per cent of respondents said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity.

83 per cent of respondents said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity.

Results from the research with 8,000 global employers and employees, conducted by Vodafone, also showed that 61 per cent said it had helped increase company profits.

The report, titled ‘Flexible: Friend or Foe?’, found that SMEs had been overwhelmingly convinced about the business benefits of flexible working.

The survey questioned employers from small and medium-sized businesses, public sector organisations and multinational corporations in 10 different countries. It found high-speed mobile data services was one of the biggest contributors to this shift in attitude, by allowing employees to use their own devices to work from home and still connect to the organisation.

A large proportion (61 per cent) of respondents said staff now use their home broadband to access work applications, while 24 per cent said employees use a mobile data connection via their smartphone, tablet, or laptop with a broadband dongle.

Vodafone Group enterprise chief executive Nick Jeffery said:

“Our research reveals a profound and rapid shift in the modern workplace. Employers are telling us that flexible working boosts profits while their employees tell us they’re more productive.”

Not only does allowing flexible working boost company profits, the survey also suggested it boosts corporate reputations too. The data revealed 58 per cent believe flexible working policies have a positive impact on their organisation’s reputation.

But flexible working is not the answer for everyone. The research also showed that some employees felt the growing availability of flexible working options is having a detrimental effect on the atmosphere in their office. It found 31 per cent of British workers thought the traditional office culture was in danger of being lost, with workers over the age of 55 most likely to say that flexible working is having an adverse effect on team spirit. This is very hard on a growing sector of workers – on the one hand companies are trying to encourage more mature workers with experience, but on the other hand flexible working is taking away the reason lots of us go to work – to form communities and social relationships.

Coming from a workplace where home working or flexible working was certainly frowned upon, I can see the benefits of both. In my experience the main reason flexibility improved productivity was because employees felt trusted to get on with their job if they had flexibility – and it was this trust that boosted their productivity and made them feel more empowered in their work.

What Workplace members think

When we talked to the members of Workplace Manchester many of the freelancers and Entrepreneurs stated that one of the main reasons they left the corporate environment was because they wanted or needed more flexibility for work. This meant often working very hard during term time and taking more holidays to cover childcare in school holidays, or being able to working alternative hours and places to be able to care for elderly parents. One of our members is studying and so set up a consultancy so he could earn a living but be free to study or be available for exams when needed. Another member works in Manchester but lives in Amsterdam and so works over 12 hours a day in Manchester to get the job done, enabling them to spend more time at home.

Flexible working can be good for many reasons and needs and, again, it is the honestly and choice that people found important. Many said they worked harder now than in corporate life but enjoyed it more and felt as if they worked less because their free time was when they needed it.

In America, the largest controlled trial of flexible working found that over a 9-month period, employees who had flexible working patterns;

  • achieved more
  • were off sick less often
  • worked longer hours
  • were happier in their work

It found that employees who were placed on a flexibility program were both happier at work and less prone to burnout and psychological stress than their colleagues who were on fixed time and day contracts.

Employees who were placed on a flexibility program were both happier at work and less prone to burnout and psychological stress.

This study divided workers in to two groups. The first were trained to have more control over their work and asked to focus more on outcomes rather than the time spent working. They were then encouraged to put their learning into practice. They might change their day so more work was done from home, or reduce the number of meetings that they attended.

Managers in this group were also given specific training to ensure that they encouraged employees to have good work-life balance and strong professional development. When this group was compared with workers who were not allowed flexible working, they found that they were far more empowered and supported by their boss, whilst also having more time to spend with their families. They also reported higher job satisfaction levels and felt less stressed than their colleagues.

The researchers believe that the key to securing these benefits is to make flexible working a key choice and a positive part of the culture rather than the old stigma that these people were “having it easy at home”. Traditionally workers have felt that they need to be seen in the office to get on and that if other positions within the company are not able to have flexible working, it is favouritism. Managers have also believed that unless they are micro managing employees then work does not get done. In this research, it was proved that this is not the case and a focus on results rather than time in the office gave a clear result that more work was achieved through this trust and empowerment.

The key to securing these benefits is to make flexible working a key choice and a positive part of the culture

Again, in this survey as with the Vodafone survey the same was discovered that some people felt isolated and lonely when flexible working was enforced. The result seemed to be to either make flexible working for everyone and do plenty to encourage group networking and communication between employees or make it a choice so people could keep a traditional working pattern and have the benefits of the social interaction of coming in to work. Both areas need to be addressed to make sure that both the business and social benefits of work are met.

There is a challenge here to manage everyone’s expectations which might need some thinking through but is achievable. The main word that came out of both surveys was “choice” and having a happy mix for everyone… is it just that we all want our cake and eat it or can employers accommodate this to the good of everyone? It would be good to hear our member’s views on this.

AUTHOR: Jane Schofield
TAGS: flexible working productivity