The benefits of flexible working are well known – happier, less fatigued workers; being able to access new pools of workers; and being legally compliant. While the number of people benefitting from flexible work arrangements in the UK has risen five-fold over the last twenty years, according to the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), demand remains high and many workers are frustrated by lack of flexibility in their current job.

Research by the TUC, for example, has revealed that despite workers having the right to request flexible working arrangements in the UK since 2002:

  • 30% of requests for flexible working are turned down
  • 58% of the workforce can’t have flexible working arrangements
  • 64% of those in so-called ‘working class’ occupations can’t have flexible working arrangements
  • 28% of people say wanting more flexible working arrangements was one of their main reasons to start looking for a new job.

Research by KnowYourMoney echoes these findings, with their study showing that 3 in 10 workers left a job in the last 12 months because they wanted greater flexibility.

This is problematic for UK PLC because more than half the rise in employment in the past year has come from people aged 50-64 moving back into the workforce, with many of these being mothers returning to work after their children have left home. Female employment is at an all time high (72%), with around three-quarters of mothers of dependent children working. But while flexible working practices have focused on working parents, these policies appeal across the age ranges and to both sexes. Older workers often want to work fewer hours, or to reduce their commuting; younger workers (age 18-25) may want to study, travel or pursue other interests alongside their career.

Jellyfish Training’s survey of 2,000 UK professionals found that 44% of UK employees now cite flexible working as the most important element of a job. Thirty-seven per cent said they would consider taking a pay cut in return for more flexibility.

These issues are not limited to the private sector. Parts of the public sector are particularly vulnerable to changes in the demographics of the workforce. One in three women in the UK are employed in the health, social work or education sectors. These sectors also have an aging workforce:

  • 37% of education workers are over 50
  • 36% of health & social care workers are over 50.

Such sectors are challenged with retaining experienced staff, but also attracting sufficient young workers to replace those reaching retirement age. The demographics bite twice here, because as the population ages more workers are needed in sectors such as health & social care simply to stand still.

With workers wanting more flexible working, and businesses eager to find new pools of workers to engage, flexible working and homeworking are again becoming hot topics.

Although both have been talked about for the last twenty years, the opportunity is far from played out. The TUC in particular (along with the Labour opposition) is calling for far more flexibility. But it’s important to remember that it’s not just workers that benefit from these type of arrangements. Companies benefit too, as well as the environment.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) says around 4.3 million people now work from home. A report by Lenovo  and Cebr states that if 57% of the UK workforce spent the time they currently spend commuting doing additional work there would be a £20 billion boost to productivity.

This is an area where the UK is lagging behind many of its European neighbours. In the Netherlands, for example, only 47% of the working population still work in a traditional centralised environment, whereas around 87% of UK workers are doing so. Jobsite Monster.co.uk calculated that if the UK doubled its number of homeworkers there would be a profound effect on our environment:

  • there would be millions of fewer car journeys – 374,931 fewer cars on the road in Greater London and 275,213 in Greater Manchester
  • London would save 420kg of CO2 equivalent per homeworker per year, but in more rural areas with longer commuting distances and less public transport options the amount of CO2 saved would be even higher – as much as 1,548kg in Wales
  • on average, each additional homeworker would save the CO2 equivalent of 44 fully grown trees per year.

The key enabler to successful homeworking is the technology that the comms sector provides – such as smart phones, high-speed broadband and Cloud computing. Software can help make workers more productive and more collaborative while working from home, while also keep information secure. However, enterprises need to think long and hard about how they resource and staff; while B2B service providers seeking to benefit from this trend need to offer hybrid home-business packages as standard, and become far better at bundling SoHo products with their connectivity.

Some have been pioneers in flexible working and homeworking and can use the knowledge gained to help their enterprise customers make the transition. All of them need to consider how they help their business customers who are currently navigating new resourcing patterns.

Types of flexible working

  • Flexible hours or shifts
  • Homeworking
  • Term time hours
  • Flexible working
  • Job share
  • Part-time
  • Condensed work weeks
  • Annualised hours (seasonal working)
  • Staggered hours
  • Phased retirement

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa is the Chief Analyst at Omnisperience and has over 25 years' experience in the telecoms and technology markets. She is an expert on SME and enterprise telecoms, and has considerable vertical market expertise. Her research focus lies in helping B2B telecoms firms become more commercially successful by better understanding and meeting their customers' needs. She is a judge of the GSMA Global Mobile Awards (GloMo's) for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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