A global survey of 8,000 employers and employees reveals that 75 per cent of companies worldwide have now introduced flexible working policies to enable employees to vary their hours and use the latest technologies to work from home or on the move.
The survey performed by Vodafone is one of the largest of its kind into working practices around the world. Entitled ‘Flexible: Friend or foe?’ it draws on responses from small and medium-sized businesses, public sector organisations and multinational corporations in 10 countries.
A striking number of respondents – 83 per cent – reported an improvement in productivity, while 58 per cent believed that flexible working policies had a positive impact on their organisation’s reputation. Likewise, 61 per said their company’s profits had actually increased as a result of flexible working practices.The rapid adoption of high-speed mobile data services, fixed-line broadband and cloud services is playing an integral role, according to the report, with 61 per cent of respondents using their home broadband service to access work applications and 24 per cent using a mobile data connection via their smartphone, tablet or laptop with a broadband dongle.
When it comes to barriers to adoption, the survey also explored the reasons why 20 per cent of respondents said their organisation had not yet implemented a flexible working policy. The results mainly centred around cultural challenges.
Of those organisations with no policy in place, 33 per cent of respondents thought it would not suit the culture of their organisation, 30 per cent were concerned about friction between employees working flexibly and those who did not, 25 per cent believed that work would be unfairly distributed between flexible and non-flexible groups of employees, while 22 per cent believed that employees would not work as hard if allowed to adopt flexible working patterns and technologies.
However, even in this group, respondents were aware that flexible working could deliver benefits – 55 per cent of employers without flexible working policies in place agreed that employee morale would improve if these were introduced, 44 per cent said they believed productivity would improve as a result, and 30 per cent believed profits would increase.
Regional and generational variations
The survey also found some differences in attitudes towards flexible working in different countries and among different generations. Regionally, 71 per cent of Spanish employees surveyed used their own smartphone to work flexibly outside the workplace, compared to 38 per cent in the UK and 27 per cent in Germany.
While only 8 per cent of UK employers said they would be concerned about employees not working as hard as a consequence of flexible working policies compared with 33 per cent in Hong Kong. In Germany, 52 per cent were not aware of their company’s security policy regarding flexible working, compared to 23 per cent of those in India.
The survey also found marked differences between age groups in the workplace. The new generation in the workplace is instinctively adopting technologies such as cloud services, advanced messaging and video conferencing that are central to flexible working, says the report.
Researchers found that 72 per cent of 18-24 year olds believed that flexible working would improve the quality of their work. However, that proportion fell to 38 per cent among respondents over 55.
“Vodafone’s 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. Central to all of this are the new technologies that are reshaping every sector, from high-speed mobile data networks and fixed-line broadband to the latest collaborative cloud services. We truly are in an era when work is what you do, not where you go,” commented Vodafone Group Enterprise Chief Executive, Nick Jeffery.