Small businesses ‘are better at meeting flexible work demands’

Small businesses better meet employees’ demands to have greater flexibility in deciding when and where to work, according to a European study by Microsoft.

Flexible working at home


The study, commissioned by Microsoft Corp and conducted by consultants Vanson Bourne, interviewed 1,500 workers across 15 European countries on their attitudes towards flexible working. It revealed that even though the majority of office workers want to work more flexibly, the larger the organisation, the less likely its employees are enabled to do so.

Half of the people participating in the study said they lacked access to the most basic technology tools that would enable them to work away from the office. While about one-quarter of employees in small businesses regularly work away from the office, only nine per cent of staff in companies with 500 or more employees do so, it found. However, small organisations were the most likely to allow flexible working, with more than two-thirds doing so; one-third had a policy and technology support in place. Eighty per cent of respondents that work for a large organisation do their overtime at the office, compared with only 61 per cent of those who work for small businesses and one quarter of employees in large organisations cannot access the technology and systems away from the office, while only 16 per cent in small businesses face that problem.

The study also shows that the impact of flexible working goes far beyond employee satisfaction. It found:
  • 56 per cent of flexible workers believe they work more productively away from the office, and 48 per cent say this is because they can fit their work around personal commitments.
  • 73 per cent of workers in Europe think their lives would improve if they could work more flexibly, but less than one third of businesses provide guidelines on flexible work. Four in 10 employees said the option of flexible work would influence their decision to accept a new job.
“Organisations that will be successful in the future are those that break down the barriers between people, workplace and technology and establish a culture of trust,” said Klaus Holse Andersen, vice president of Western Europe for Microsoft.“ This means empowering people by providing them with a workplace that facilitates flexibility, self-direction and engagement and enabling them with the technology and tools that help them to be productive wherever they are. To bring the vision of a new world of work to life, leadership teams need to establish a culture that is focused on what individuals achieve, rather than how long they spend in the office.”

According to a recent white paper from Microsoft UK’s Hybrid Organisation initiative, barriers to new ways of working often occur in the middle layers of business. Another barrier is technology – only 19 per cent of employees questioned said they find their IT team “very helpful” in providing technology support for flexible working. In addition, more than half of all workers said they don’t have access to a company laptop or mobile email device. Some 43 per cent of all office workers and one third of those working for a large enterprise use either a personal laptop or mobile device for email access. Microsoft says the lack of mobile technology may explain why 68 per cent of employees who work overtime each week do so from the office.

The study also found:

  • More than half of office workers have caregiving responsibilities that impact their working hours, with children (39 per cent) and pets (23 per cent) listed as the main reasons.
  • Despite the recognition of the benefits of flexible working, 36 per cent of respondents have never worked away from the office (43 per cent of females and 29 per cent of males).
  • Businesses in Austria, Denmark and Sweden are leading Europe when it comes to offering staff flexible working opportunities — 77 per cent allow staff to work flexibly.
  • In an ideal world, 63 per cent of workers would choose a mixture of working both onsite and offsite.
  • Only 52 per cent of respondents fully trust their colleagues to work productively away from the office
  • Four in 10 said the option of flexible work would influence their decision to accept a new job, led by Austria (55 per cent), Spain (50 per cent) and Switzerland (49 per cent).
  • One of the top reasons people want to work flexibly is to avoid their commute.

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