More than half of UK employers to offer flexible working by next year

The UK is on the verge of a ‘flexible working tipping point’, according to a new report, with many employers offering staff more choice of where to work.

According to predictions in the Working Anywhere report from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, more than half of organisations in the UK will adopt flexible working practices by 2017. By 2020, they expect that number to be over 70 per cent.

The Work Foundation surveyed 500 managers from medium to large organisations across the UK to find out more about mobile working and the attitudes towards it. They found that no longer is mobile working restricted to a small minority and in fact the demand for flexible working options by individuals is high. This is consistent with a survey from Samsung in 2014 that reported nearly 30 per cent of their interviewees would trade a pay rise for flexible working.

The Work Foundation report found that mobile working was the norm for more than a third of respondents and a third of the organisations that they worked in. And more than half of managers and organisation will have adopted this way of working by 2017.

Recent surveys suggest that the demand for mobile working is high, but it will come down to personal circumstances and the nature of the job to determine the potential for individuals to work flexibly and/or remotely. The Centre for Economics and Business Research found that 83 per cent of people who did not currently have the option to work remotely would do so if they had the opportunity.

It’s also been suggested that about half of the British workforce want flexibility in their jobs – either in their working hour or their location. And this option certainly seems to have benefits beyond job satisfaction and productivity.

One survey respondent told the Work Foundation: “I love the chance to work remotely - it lessens my commute, I concentrate much better in a quiet environment at home, it has improved my relationship with my partner as I used to work very long hours and days away from home. Also, I run a very small team, just one other who I trust to work remotely and we communicate even better than before.”

There are of course concerns about flexible working leading to an ‘always on’ culture, where employees feel pressured to respond to emails around the clock. But the report is clear that this is not necessary. “While some of the concerns may be justified, it is important for individuals and for their organisations to manage this stress through policies which enable personal choice to overrule expectations,” the report’s authors write. “Importantly, mobile working does not need to equate to an “always on” culture.”

Another concern that some have about the adoption of flexible working is the diminished sense of belonging that some might feel. “No matter what age; people have a need to connect with a team to generate a sense of purpose, to nurture self-esteem, to strengthen social bonds,” one member of the Work Foundation expert panel said. “Research by Gallup and others show that having a ‘best friend’ at work fosters a sense of personal safety in a complex world and also induces productivity.”

However, technology enables employees to be present and able to collaborate without having to be in a set place and respondents to the Work Foundation’s survey showed “little evidence of the ‘disconnect from the team’”.

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