A new survey commissioned by Microsoft Corp and conducted by Vanson Bourne shows that the majority of business leaders across 15 Western European countries are very optimistic about the business and employee benefits of flexible working practices but have yet to implement a strategy for making new ways of working a reality. Although businesses increasingly grant employees flexibility about when and where to work, the biggest barriers for employees include the right technology access and managerial guidance. Full flexible working is a reality for only a minority of knowledge workers in European businesses.
The study among business leaders indicated the following:
- The Western European countries in which businesses are most likely to allow their employees to work flexibly are Germany, the UK and Norway; the countries in which businesses are least open to flexible working are Belgium, Portugal and Italy.
- More than three in five (62 per cent total) of all organisations are convinced that it is important to offer flexible working benefits in order to attract and retain talent. More than three-quarters (77 per cent total) of managers believe that enabling flexible working increases employee productivity by 46 per cent.
- Reflecting this positive attitude, it is no surprise that 82 per cent of European businesses report allowing flexible working, and 63 per cent of these businesses record they have policies and guidelines in place in their organisation.
- Yet, when this is compared with the employees’ view, the picture looks very different: only 64 per cent of employees report the opportunity to work flexibly, and less than one-third receive guidelines (29 per cent total.
- And while more than seven in 10 organisations (71 per cent total) that enable flexible work allow employees to use their own personal device for work purposes, only 17 per cent of businesses provide a combination of basic technologies to enable more flexible work styles, such as a laptop, a smartphone and a remote connection to the company network.
In an increasingly tough economic climate, and without a management and technology strategy in place to fully enable flexible work styles, business leaders risk losing out on the multiple benefits of new ways of working, such as real estate and travel cost savings, productivity gains, and the ability to attract and retain talent.
“Businesses that will be successful in the future will be those who break down the barriers between people, workplaces and technologies and empower their employees to be productive and creative wherever they are,” says Klaus Holse, vice president, Microsoft Western Europe. “If European businesses want to fully reap the benefits of flexible working, they need to make information, interaction and access readily available to all their knowledge workers. IT is a catalyst for new ways of working, but competitive advantage increasingly comes from letting employees use technology in the way they want to. This requires a business culture that puts people first.”