Survey identifies barriers to creating flexible work culture

Nine out of ten feel they can reduce office space and at the same time increase productivity through new ways of working, but three major barriers stand in their way – the cost of change, senior managers not recognising the business case and cultural resistance, according to a BT survey.

The survey of 650 UK professional services executives shows that, when asked about their organisation’s approach to working flexibly, a significant minority (nearly one in four) of staff in accountancy firms said their senior manager was not supportive because they did not trust teams to use the time out of the office well.

Over 90 per cent of lawyers, accountants and management consultants believe a regular presence in the office is essential for career progression. However, half the senior knowledge workers surveyed believe better collaboration technology and new ways of working could boost their staff productivity by 20 per cent or more.

The survey indicates that legal firms seem slower in adopting workplace innovation. Within this sector, 65 per cent of respondents said less than 10 per cent of their office space is dedicated to collaboration – such as meeting rooms, break-out zones or informal gathering points – and 62 per cent believe the major barrier to the implementation of flexible working in their organisation is that “it would not sit comfortably with our culture” – the highest of all the sectors surveyed.

Emer Timmons, President of BT Global Services UK, said: “The professional services sector has become vital to the UK, doubling in size over the past two decades and contributing 10 per cent to national economic output. Our survey suggests that some of these firms need to look more boldly at using collaboration technology to unlock new ways of working. Old-fashioned attitudes such as spending time in an office to boost the chances of promotion means many organisations are holding back progress and missing out on the potential 20 per cent increase in staff productivity.”

BT has also published an economic report looking at cost trends for professional services firms since the early 1990s.

It reveals firms have been spending an average of £37,000 a year on bought-in goods and services for every person employed. The relative share of some costs have been consistently rising (e.g. IT software, legal services), some steadily falling (e.g. property, telecomms) and others rising then falling (e.g. travel, advertising). Despite price rises, the relative importance of energy costs has not changed significantly.

By comparing changes in employment, earnings, profit and output, the report assesses the relative ‘pain’ felt by different professional services firms during the recession. The ‘Pain Index’ shows information services, real estate and legal firms have been the most successful at adapting, with the most successful firms pursuing aggressive cost management strategies, outsourcing non-core activities and reducing property costs in their efforts to protect profits.

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