Businesses have grasped the benefits of flexible working but are failing to provide the technology and policies to support it, according to a pan-European survey by Microsoft.
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It is all very well talking about flexible working but companies are not matching the talk with actions, according to the study. Flexible working is seen as attractive to potential employees and a way of improving productivity, through always-connected staff.
Microsoft’s New World of Work for Business Decision Makers survey, which quizzed 1500 business leaders across Europe, revealed that 90% of UK businesses now allow flexible working.
But a lack of investment in the right technology and poor communication of polices to workers are holding back the benefits.
“With 90% of UK businesses allowing flexible working, there is little need to convince businesses and employees about the benefits of flexible working, but there is greater need to invest in the technology that enables flexible working,” said the Microsoft study.
“Businesses must allow their IT departments to deploy the services which make flexible working a reality rather than a hyped-up concept.”
Flexible working requires a combination of mobile hardware, secure networking as well as software that enables workers to collaborate.
But the survey revealed that only 34% of UK businesses provide basic technologies such as laptops and remote connection to the company network to enable more flexible work styles. Only 44% of business decision-makers have invested in collaborative technology, such as instant messaging or videoconferencing software.
Meanwhile, businesses are failing to communicate their policies to staff. The survey found that while 60% of business leaders say flexible working polices and guidelines are available, 70% of workers are unaware of their existence.
Another major mismatch is that while 66% of managers believe flexible working increases employee productivity, only 9% of companies have a method to measure productivity in relation to flexible working.
Steve Tassell, head of unified communications at Microsoft UK, said the survey revealed a gap between the perception of employers in regard to the flexible working on offer and what is actually being provided.
Microsoft is part of a consortium of suppliers, employers and trade bodies which is providing education about flexible working.
The Anywhere Working Consortium, as it is known, has members including Business in the Community, Microsoft, Regus and Vodafone. It is supported by the Department for Transport, Transport for London and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Next week (27 February) the organisation is running the Anywhere Working Week, when it will provide additional guidance about flexible working.
This year’s Olympic Games in London is set to inject urgency into business plans to enable flexible working. With transport networks expected to be congested, many employees are being advised to work from home.