23 February 2016 15:15

A new report produced by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation, and commissioned by Citrix, has revealed the UK is on the verge of a flexible working ‘tipping point’ – when working away from the office becomes more common than working solely from a desk, 9am-5pm.

The Work Foundation hosted in-depth interviews with academics, business leaders and the public sector to glean insights around the theme of flexible working, revealing 2017 as the time when over half of organisations in the UK are likely to have adopted flexible working. It also predicts that over 70 per cent of organisations will have followed suit by 2020.

The paper – ‘Working anywhere: A winning formula for good work?’ – was supported by research with 500 managerial level employees within medium to large businesses. It revealed that there is still much to be done to address attitudes towards flexible working, ensuring employees are working smarter, rather than longer.

While growing numbers of organisations are predicted to adopt flexible working practices in the near future, the report indicates that there are still a number of issues to be addressed if employees and businesses are to fully reap the rewards of working away from the office.

For example, more than a third (37 per cent) of managers believe implementing mobile working will result in them working longer hours, one in five (22 per cent) say it makes them feel disconnected from their team and 28 per cent felt it could block them from overseeing the work of others.

Alongside this, a quarter (24 per cent) claimed all work in their organisation is currently carried out in the company premises, suggesting a cultural barrier blocking working ‘on the go’ that requires a change of mind set to overcome.

The report also reveals that managers believe implementing flexible working will create significant work for the HR department with three quarters (75 per cent) claiming it will be challenging for their organisation, 84 per cent believing it will require changes to performance management and over four in five (82 per cent) even believing it will require changes to employment terms and conditions. 

The Work Foundation highlights four principal reasons why organisations should take steps to develop and implement such policies with their employees: increased productivity, improved employee wellbeing, talent attraction and retention, and reduction in accommodation costs.

The study suggests the most successful forms of mobile working will be achieved when the benefits to the organisation and the individual are aligned and enshrined in a formal agreement. As a result, implementing flexible working requires three key commitments:

  • Leadership: Chief Executives and board members should set an example with their own approach to mobile working and wellbeing. In doing so, they should set out to lead cultural change in which employees are measured on outputs rather than visibility - building trust across the organisation.
  • A new approach to people policies: More than 50 per cent of survey respondents believed the adoption of mobile working would require changes to terms and conditions and performance management. These policies should be transparent and visibly agreed with staff, with focus on outputs and outcomes rather than ‘presenteeism’ and hours worked.
  • Careful planning: The introduction of new technology and new ways of working takes time, careful planning and implementation. It is critical to ensure that individuals are comfortable with their technology and recognise individual preferences.

Jacqueline de Rojas, area VP Northern Europe, Citrix, said:  “Employers have a key role to play if the UK is to fulfil its potential as a digital nation, ensuring that the right technology is in place and by appointing inspirational leaders to encourage a smart, flexible approach.

“Creating a more balanced and productive workforce requires a change of expectations from employers – taking the focus away from physical presence in an office and instead placing the emphasis on delivery, productivity and trust.

“We are on the cusp of real, positive change – not only improving the lives of employees but enhancing business performance as well.”

Dr Cathy Garner, director of Lancaster University’s Work Foundation and report author, said:

“The evidence is showing a clear trend towards a more flexible way of working in the UK as the hurdles are overcome by fresh innovations in technology and people management.

“We believe that employees and their employers will benefit from the ‘virtuous circle’ created, whereby improved job design, work organisation and trusting relationships lead to healthier, happier and more productive workplaces.”

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, said: “A successful mobile working strategy will incorporate a mix of influences - cultural, social, personal, technical and economic – and its adoption can only be enabled, and must never be enforced by an organisation.

“By enabling a culture whereby working anywhere is the rule – rather than the exception – employers immediately put trust at the heart of their company ethos – a key to providing a happier and more fulfilling relationship with its staff.”