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Flexible working: the bigger picture

Flexible working is good for both employee and employer.’s David Langhorn believes businesses need to do more.

The value of flexible working to businesses and employees alike has been widely known for some years and was well documented prior to the flexible working legislation coming into effect in 2014.

In fact, research conducted by RSA and Vodafone UK in 2013 revealed that the UK could realise cost reductions and productivity gains of up to £8.1 by optimising its approach to flexible working.


The Flex Factor, based on a national survey of 2,828 employees and employers, finds that employees estimate they could gain on average five productive hours per week (for instance from commuting) through better ways of working. While the majority (77%), of UK employees work in organisations that offer some kind of flexible working, more than one in ten (13%) who want to work flexibly aren’t being offered it, or don’t know they can ask for it. 

A study by the LSE showed that employees who can work from home are more productive than office-bound colleagues: they are less distracted, save time on commuting and are grateful for the flexibility. However, it is employees who split their time between office and home who are happiest in their jobs.


Although flexible working practices are mutually beneficial for businesses – through financial and productivity gains – and for employees, most businesses have yet to fully adopt them.

Just before the legislation was introduced, almost half of UK companies were not providing employees who work remotely with the technology they need for the job. But that’s not the whole story. Businesses need to do more if they are to reap the benefits of flexibility, such as retaining and attracting employees who are increasingly demanding better ways of working.


A cultural shift, fundamentally changing the way business and the workplace are perceived, is essential and will ultimately determine how effective a business’s approach to flexible working is. The key to this is the perceived relationship between employees and employer. Trust that work is being done, openness to change and the organisation’s commitment to adopting more flexible working arrangements: these are essential tools for creating a positive psychological contract.


One of the key ways involves giving employees the freedom to work the way that suits them best – completely throwing away the traditional nine-to-five mentality. The emphasis is now on how businesses can empower their workforce to work where, when and how is best for the individual and the job.


To boost employee freedom while also ensuring productivity there are numerous flexible working options that businesses can offer, beyond merely providing the right technology, such as:


  • Working from home or another location
  • Flexitime, staggered or compressed hours
  • Collaborative workspaces 
  • Hot-desking

Vodafone UK for example, invested significantly in changing workplace culture, empowering employees to work from anywhere. These changes led to a 20% boost in productivity and operational cost savings.

The evidence confirms that businesses currently not championing flexible working need to start looking at the bigger picture.

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