We have been commissioning research on workplace trends for over 10 years. This research, which canvasses the opinions of over 20,000 senior managers and business owners, explores the increasing trend in flexible working around the world. This report reveals how businesses are adapting to this change, one of the most significant developments in working practices for decades.
Download the full report here.
It would be impossible to talk about remote working without acknowledging the role of technology as a key enabler of mobility: business people are able to work outside one of their main office locations, or indeed outside of an office at all, thanks to ubiquitous Wi-Fi and mobile devices such as smartphones, tablet computers and even trusty old laptops. Without these devices, business people would have to constantly return to their office to send an email, talk to their colleagues, check a document, or print off files.
Technology on the go
The speed at which technology has evolved means that not only are business people able to take their work around the city as they hop between meetings, or home in the evening, but they are also able to carry out these tasks and remain cost-effectively connected with their team or management. This is thanks to solutions that have made even telephoning seem cumbersome and old-fashioned.
Examples of these solutions are: instant messaging, which replaces the act of having to lean across a desk to ask a colleague a quick question; or VoIP, that allows users to cost-effectively call or video-call from their devices. Yet all these solutions are predicated on one key ingredient: a strong and fast internet connection. Without this, mobile working is severely limited.
The Millennial effect
Another key driver of remote working is the changing workforce: as generations grow up and expect to be able to communicate cheaply and rapidly from anywhere in the world, it follows they expect this to also be the case in the professional arena. A whole host of literature is available analyzing and outlining the different attitudes toward work:life balance that younger generations (starting from Millennials) are introducing and making the norm in the working world.
Specifically, a generation that is aware of the impossibility of going technologically off-grid is clamoring to be able to enjoy the reverse phenomenon, and to freely carry out their work tasks from any location they choose.
The changing face of the workforce
It’s not just younger generations, however, that are demanding and enjoying a more flexible work environment. Older workers who are forced to (or choose to) delay retirement are also better able to combine their personal life with continued workforce participation if they are not required to face a grueling daily commute.
This latest survey also shows that today’s workforce is increasingly composed of freelance workers, consultants, and part-time workers who actively seek out the opportunity to work more flexibly.
Flexible working and its benefits
From spending more time with loved ones to reducing commute times and finding more time to relax, workers prefer flexible working for a host of reasons. For many, it has now become a key differentiator when faced with a choice between similar jobs.
This is an important aspect to consider for businesses seeking to acquire top talent, as today’s workers are reporting that it’s not only salary that makes a difference. Add to this the fact that our research reveals how flexible working improves concentration levels and productivity, and the business case is made.
As more and more workers demand to work flexibly, and with all the technology available to enable them to do so productively, it is hardly surprising to find that businesses are marrying their need for greater agility (rapid response to market changes) with helping workers achieve greater personal happiness and work:life balance.
This research shows that the trend toward the use of flexible work locations instead of fixed leasing arrangements doesn’t only concern SMEs, but is actually applicable to all types of firms.
Regus and the workplace revolution
Businesses are more responsive when they take a more flexible approach to managing premises, and when they hire more consultants and freelance workers. This enables businesses to be better placed when embracing growth, and more prepared to navigate choppy waters should they arise.
In short, today’s workplace is becoming radically different from the one demanded by the previous generation – a phase-change compared to twenty years ago. This reflects the composition of a workforce which is now richer in flexible working roles, and more open to valuing employees on performance rather than face-time. As the working world evolves, Regus is at the front line, taking its pulse and helping businesses grow and prosper.
The working world is being dramatically propelled into the future by a potent mix of new technologies and the demands of a workforce that is increasingly calling for a better work:life balance. In fact, over 50% of workers now report that they work outside the main office 2.5 days a week or more.
But where are business people carrying out their work if they are not in the main office? Almost a third report they work from different locations in the same city, and a quarter say they are working from other cities, suggesting that business people are finding they need to remain productive while on the move.
Homeworking and its pitfalls
Only 36% say they work exclusively from home when remote, and it’s easy to see why. Workers report that working from home is seriously damaging to productivity, and doesn’t convey a professional image as family members, pets and household noises disturb calls and concentration levels. More importantly, workers report that at home they are unable to access key office equipment and a reliable, fast internet connection.
Although working closer to home helps business people improve their schedule and see more of their families, they would clearly rather not work within the home, and report that working remotely is ideal to help them be closer to client meetings.
The importance of technology
One of the main enablers of flexible working is, of course, technology. A number of apps allow workers to remain connected and productive at all times and from devices like laptops, tablet computers and smartphones. Similarly, business people are making more use of solutions that let them access files and desktops remotely through Cloud applications.
Technology already provides these workers with all they need to stay connected with their teams, and access their files and documents wherever they are. Specifically, VoIP calls and instant messaging apps are increasingly used by on-the-go workers to cost-effectively keep in touch with coworkers and staff. All that is required to make them feel like they are in the office is a fast internet connection.
And management agree, reporting that rather than rely solely on expensive and invasive IT to track productivity, workers should simply be having regular meetings and catch-up phone calls.
The rising voice of the workforce
The other key driver of flexible working is worker demand: as businesses report that they are seeing more consultants and freelancers populate the workforce, it is hardly surprising that the need for flexible workspace is also expected to continue growing.
Combine this with the need to find a better work:life balance (voiced by Millennials and the increasing number of people adapting their working habits in order to remain in employment beyond pensionable age), and you have the perfect recipe for a more mobile workforce.
But businesses stand to benefit too, with firms of all sizes expected to embrace the demand to work more flexibly and to promote agility by reducing fixed office costs and avoiding fixed leasing arrangements.
Flexible Working – the Global Context
Reports confirm that today’s workforce is radically different from that of just twenty years ago. Not only have new technologies enabled ways of working that would have seemed impossible just a few decades ago, but the speed of reaction required by every worker – as well as the sense of being always connected and available over email or telephone – has given rise to a greater need for work:life balance, and for workers to carve out personal time in a world where professional and leisure ‘spaces’ have become increasingly confused.
From mobiles to work mobility
Smartphone penetration in the UK now stands at a staggering 91% for 18-44 year olds, and over 70% for Belgian, Dutch and German adults. France falls slightly behind the EU average at 61% and is closer to the Chinese 62%, but still remains well above 50%.
It is therefore unsurprising to find that apps specifically designed for mobile use are becoming increasingly popular, and at the same time further driving flexible work by making it easier for business people to remain productive and connected with their teams when on-the-go.
In 2015, global mobile app revenues amounted to $69.7 billion, and mobile apps in 2020 are projected to generate $188.9 billion in revenues via app stores and in-app advertising. This signals that more and more users will be downloading and making daily use of these tools. Users prefer apps to mobile sites, and spend 90% of mobile time on them rather than on browsers, as confirmed by Flurry Analytics (June 2015).
Why connectivity matters
And yet all these apps and solutions, including VoIP, instant messaging, video sharing, remote access to servers, desktops, and the Cloud, all rely on a fast and solid internet connection.
Unfortunately, the speed and quality of internet connection varies greatly, and impacts workers’ ability to be productive and efficient remotely.
In January of 2016, the British Infrastructure Group revealed that 5.7 million broadband customers in the UK had internet connections that do not reach Ofcom’s acceptable minimum speed of 10Mbit/s, and around 3.5 million of these are based in rural areas.
In the EU, studies have shown that average speeds of broadband are actually 75% of those advertised. It would follow that working from home cannot be as efficient if workers are located in rural areas.
The impact of bad connection
Without a suitably fast connection, it is impossible for businesses to provide workers access to servers in the Cloud or to desktops. VoIP and uploading of documents on file sharing devices are also cumbersome and waste time if the IT infrastructure isn’t up to speed.
In the EU 19% of enterprises used Cloud computing in 2014, mostly for hosting their e-mail systems and storing electronic files. 46% of firms used advanced Cloud services for financial and accounting software applications, managing customer relationships, or to run business applications. Brazil’s Cloud computing market revenue was $217 million in 2012 and is expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2017, while 66% of businesses in Latin America are adopting Cloud technology.
The connected generation
Given the evolving technological landscape, it follows that Millennials and Generation Z, who have grown up accustomed to using technology in everyday life and remaining connected 24-7, are applying the same speed of communication and reactivity to their professional life.
A study by Bentley University shows that 89% of Millennials regularly check emails after work. With that said, being constantly connected has a trade-off: Millennials want more freedom of location, and 77% report that flexible work would make them more productive. As Millennials will compose 50% of the workforce by 2020, it is important for businesses to become attuned to their needs or risk paying the hefty price of replacing them, which averages $25,000 according to a USA report.
The shifting global retirement age
It is not just younger generations making their mark and driving the quest for mobility in the modern workplace, as older workers who are willing (or obliged) to remain in employment beyond retirement age are also demanding more flexibility.
The OECD report that in the 55-64 years age bracket, 56% of people are now employed, compared to 48% in 2014. In Germany, employment rates for older workers are 67% for 55-59 year olds. Most importantly, however, is a significant shift in the workforce composition of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, as between 2004-2014 the increase of older employees who are beyond retirement age has been above OECD average.
Flexible by choice
Another USA report confirms that more and more workers are choosing not to become employees, but to retain their freedom as freelancers or consultants. The study shows that more than one in three workers in the United States are setting their own hours and becoming their own bosses. 42% reveal that they chose this path to have more flexibility.
Research in Canada confirms that freedom of choice is a game-changer in work:life balance, as having a flexible schedule that enables individuals to choose when their work day starts and ends is associated with slightly greater satisfaction. Truly, 79% of employees with a flexible work schedule reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their work:life balance, compared with 73% of those whose schedule was not flexible.
The result: a better lifestyle
One of the key drivers for all workers to demand more flexibility is to improve their quality of life, be it by reducing their commute to spend more time with loved ones, work out in the gym, or simply to get more sleep.
Regus research has shown that 27% of workers regard their commute as a ‘waste’ of time, so it is hardly surprising that Indian workers who commute an average 38 minutes each way, compared to the global average of 33 minutes, should be concerned about winning back some personal time and choosing where they work from.
Japanese workers also face a lengthy commute (39 minutes each way on average) and the OECD reports that in Japan the share of people working very long hours is higher than average. 28% of workers in Mexico work long hours, well above the OECD average of 13%, highlighting the importance of reducing commute times and regaining work:life balance in this country. The same concern also applies to Australian workers who have been found by the Australia Institute to produce $110 billion in unpaid overtime every year.
Remote working today
- Over half (54%) of global respondents now confirm that they work remotely 2.5 days a week or more;
- Only a minority work exclusively from home (36%) when remote;
- Workers report that they mostly need to work from different locations around the same city (32%), or from other cities (25%);
- This suggests that the need to remain active while traveling to and from business meetings is driving interest in working remotely;
- Among the most popular locations for remote work, apart from the home office, a fifth of respondents (20%) select business centers;
- Only 13% report working from noisy cafes when on-the-go;
- A key interpretation of these findings is that the face of the global workforce is changing, along with its needs;
- Global business people report that over the past two years they have seen more consultants (30%), freelance workers (29%), and part-timers (22%);
- Workers demanding a better work:life balance and more freedom to choose their own hours and location, combined with businesses focusing on being more agile, have no doubt contributed to increasing the number of freelancers and consultants;
- Interestingly, business people also report older workers are remaining beyond pensionable age (13%);
- These new types of workers are almost certainly a factor in the growing percentage (66%) of respondents who expect to see an increase in the demand for flexible workspaces, be them business lounges, co-working spaces, short-term offices, or drop-in centers.
The global proportion of business people who work outside one of their company’s major office locations for half of the week or more has now reached over 50%. This signals an important shift from a workforce that is predominantly office-based to one that is at least partially mobile.
Remote working days
Many businesses have introduced a remote work day for employees, especially those with families. Although these workers cannot be thought of as ‘remote’ employees, they nevertheless reveal that up to a fifth of their working week is not carried out from a central company office.
A few hours here and there
Yet, with each week a lot more workers carry out a few hours of work remotely, whether because they are taking their laptop home to finish something off in the evening, carrying out conference calls as they move from one meeting to another, or even simply catching up on emails as they commute back home on a busy train.
At the other end of the spectrum, only one in ten are ‘pure’ remote workers who remain out of main office premises for the entire week.
Where people work, and why
The research investigated the topic further, and looked into the physical location where work is being accomplished when out of the company’s main offices, finding that only a minority work exclusively from home (36%). Rather, employees suggest that they work remotely in order to remain productive while traveling to and from meetings within the same city or in other cities (57%).
Choice of location therefore mostly falls on business centers and cafes. However, these are regarded by many as too noisy and unproductive, as revealed by Regus research in 2013.
New demands for a changing workforce
This clear shift in working habits towards greater flexibility is in part dictated by the changing needs of a new workforce. Compared to the previous year, global business people report that they are seeing more consultants and freelance workers, as well as older workers who are choosing to remain beyond pensionable age. These employees expect greater freedom and flexibility, ideas that are certainly contributing to the popularity of mobile work.
On the one hand, more and more workers are demanding a better work:life balance, and choosing to go freelance or part-time so as to choose their own hours and location. On the other hand, returning mothers and older workers are keen to remain in the workforce while still juggling the demands of family and their own health.
These new types of workers are almost certainly responsible for why 66% of respondents expect to see an increase in the demand for flexible workspace, be it business lounges, co-working spaces, short-term offices, or drop-in centers.
Australia – 48% of business people in Australia work remotely half the week or more
Belgium – 17% of Belgian business people work from a business lounge when remote
Brazil – 81% of business people expect to see an increase in demand for flexible workspace in the next year
Canada – 11% of business people in Canada report that they work remotely all week
China – 65% of Chinese business people work outside one of their main office locations half the week or more 34% say they work within 20 minutes commute from their home when they work remotely
France – Whereas a fifth of French workers use business centers when remote, only 4% opt for cafes
Germany – 40% of German business people say that when remote they are working from different cities in the same country
India – 81% of business people say they expect demand for flexible workspace to grow in the coming year
Japan – 60% of Japanese workers expect demand for flexible workspace to increase in the coming year
Mexico – 63% of business people work outside one of their company’s main office locations 2.5 days a week or more
Netherlands – 19% of Dutch workers use business centers when remote, but only 2% opt for cafes
South Africa – 28% of South African business people say that when remote they are working from different cities in the same country
UK – 28% of business people say they are seeing more consultants than a year ago
USA – 14% of business people say that they work remotely all week
The limitations of home working
- Global respondents confirm that working from home puts productivity at risk: 45% confirm they find it hard to concentrate;
- This could be due to demands for attention by family members (48%), but also to difficulties accessing key office equipment (30%);
- A slow or unreliable internet connection (22%) is also a hurdle encountered by home-workers;
- But respondents also reveal that another key issue with working from home is background noise: 40% say family and pets disturb phone calls;
- Household noises such as the doorbell ringing, the washing machine, or the dishwasher (29%) are also a distraction and sound unprofessional to callers
- A fifth of respondents find not being able to access sensitive company documents to be a set-back;
- In spite of this, working closer to home could improve productivity (64%) by slashing commute times;
- Work:life balance would also benefit (54%) as workers could spend less time traveling, helping workers juggle personal and work demands;
- It follows that relationships with loved ones could benefit (23%) from additional time freed-up from pointless commuting;
- 18% even think that flexible working improves health;
- From a business perspective, working closer to home while still being in a professional location provides continued access to technology (31%), and helps forge useful business connections (31%).
Business people globally confirm that working from home is not ideal, and report that serious hindrances include noise, lack of office resources, and difficulties focusing on professional matters. One in ten also regard the financial cost of setting up a home office and running it to be an obstacle.
Many of the issues involved with working from home can be defined as ‘psychological,’ as they depend upon the worker’s ability to separate their mind from household concerns. And yet, other issues are of a more practical nature, and are hard to resolve without serious investment in a fully equipped home office that is removed from areas of the home affected by distracting household noises from children, dogs barking, washing machines, and doorbells.
Poor connection in rural areas
Unavailability of a fast or reliable internet connection is of course a major inconvenience, and one that can only really be overcome by workers that live in well-served urban areas reached by, for example, fiber optic broadband. Remote areas and countries where infrastructure is lagging behind are shown to struggle more with the issue.
The perfect middle ground
On the other hand, working outside the home, but closer to home, could afford the answer as respondents report that it helps to increase productivity and improve work:life balance.
Slashing commute times is therefore not only seen as a business benefit by allowing workers to spend more time at work, but because it also allows them to get home, or wherever they need to be, earlier.
It follows that relationships with loved ones could benefit from this additional free-time, and less stress could also lead to improved health and happiness. Workers also report that being in a professional setting closer to home allows them to network and access technology without having to spend hours on travel.
How it benefits your business
Businesses will be particularly interested in seeing how likely productivity is to improve with the introduction or extension of flexible working. The results reveal that more than half of respondents across key geographies consistently believe there to be a correlation between flexibility and productivity, with peaks in India, Brazil and South Africa.
Australia 32% of Australian business people report that a slow or unreliable internet connection is one of the main obstacles to working from home
Belgium 61% of Belgian workers say that working closer to home could help improve their work:life balance
Brazil 74% of Brazilian business people say that working closer to home improves productivity
35% of employees report that family relationships are improved by working closer to home
Canada 49% of Canadians say they find it hard to concentrate on work issues when working from home
China 61% of Chinese workers say that children or family demanding attention are an obstacle to working from home
France 34% of French workers report that working closer to home helps them network
Germany 61% of German workers say that children or family demanding attention are an obstacle to home-working
India 49% of Indian workers report that household noises such as the doorbell ringing, the washing machine, or the dishwasher are an obstacle to working from home
Japan 61% of Japanese workers say that working from home makes it difficult to concentrate on work issues – 56% say that working closer to home helps improve productivity
Mexico 72% of Mexican workers say that working closer to home helps improve productivity
Netherlands 33% of Dutch workers say that working closer to home helps them manage their travel schedule more efficiently
South Africa 33% of South African business people say that a slow or unreliable internet connection is an obstacle to working from home
74% of South African workers say that working closer to home improves productivity
UK 27% of business people say that a slow or unreliable internet connection is an obstacle to working from home
35% of UK workers say that working closer to home helps them access office equipment while on-the-go
USA 65% of USA workers say that productivity is improved by working closer to home
The role of technology
- Business people globally are responding to the need to remain connected 24/7 by using more remote work-enabling apps such as Skype (60%), Whatsapp (65%), and Facebook Messenger (51%).
- Since January 2015, Whatsapp has overtaken Skype in popularity among business users (were 54% and 60%), probably due to the introduction of VoIP and video calls;
- Important differences do need to be taken into account at a geographical level, with 98% of Chinese workers saying they had used WeChat over the last month, and 70% of Japanese users reporting they had used LINE;
- 86% of workers report that managers and staff should use instant messaging and the telephone to remain in contact;
- As flexible working becomes more and more a part of business people’s way of life, key tools enabling remote working are also gaining popularity: In January 2015, Dropbox, the most popular solution, was used by 56% of workers, but by 63% a year later;
- Similarly, Google Drive was used by 43% of workers, but is now used by 50%;
- Business people globally report that the move to remote working is strongly driving the adoption of universally accessible “Cloud” applications (89%). Almost a quarter (24%) had used server access in the Cloud in the previous month;
- 40% had used videoconferencing, highlighting the importance of achieving face-to-face interaction in a more mobile world;
- It is therefore not surprising that they find access to fast Wi-Fi or broadband to be most important in their ability to work remotely (84%);
- Remote access to the server is also an important factor (37%);
- Only 66%, however, think that their business should use IT systems that track and measure their productivity, favoring more traditional monitoring techniques such as monthly meetings (82%) and phone calls (81%);
- The second factor most likely to impact remote working is having an efficient smartphone (45%); only 26% say the same of a tablet computer, suggesting that smartphones are the preferred technology for workers on-the-go.
One of the key ways business people are cost-effectively remaining connected to teams and coworkers is through Instant Messaging and VoIP. Not only is this solution cheap and speedy, but younger generations have been using them in their personal communications for so long that transferring them to the workplace is only natural. In addition to this, 86% of workers believe that managers and staff should use instant messaging and the telephone to remain in contact. Specifically, workers are using Skype (60%), WhatsApp (65%) and Facebook Messenger (51%).
Compared to January 2015, WhatsApp has overtaken Skype in popularity among business users, probably due to the tool becoming even more versatile through the introduction of VoIP and video calls. In addition, many users are finding that creating groups for communications that need to go out to the whole team is very practical.
Important differences do need to be taken into account at geographical level, with 98% of Chinese workers saying they had used WeChat over the previous month, and 71% of Japanese users reporting they had used LINE.
Along with communications, mobile workers are also using more and more online tools to help them work remotely with more efficiency and productivity. Regus research shows that tools enabling remote working, whether by providing remote access to desktops or by making document sharing easier, are gaining popularity: Dropbox, the most popular solution, was used by 56% of workers in January 2015, but by 63% a year later. Similarly, Google Drive was used by 43% of workers and now by 50%.
The importance of staying connected
All these solutions share the fact that they require a stable internet connection, and as flexible working continues to become more the norm, it is not surprising that access to fast Wi-Fi or broadband impacts a worker’s ability to work remotely (84%).
Remote access to the server is also an important factor, but scores much lower, as access to the server also depends ultimately on a strong internet connection.
Mobile tech trends
Interestingly, mobile workers also clearly opt for having an efficient smartphone over a tablet computer or iPad to enable them to work .
Mobile workers are also strongly driving the take-up of “Cloud” applications capable of being accessed anywhere (89%). In fact, almost a quarter of business people report they had used server access in the Cloud over the course of the previous month.
How to manage a remote team
Although mobile working is becoming increasingly popular and is appreciated by both businesses and workers alike, the issue of tracking productivity when not in the main office is one that most firms will need to address at some point.
Only 66% of business people think that their business should use IT systems that track and measure levels of activity and productivity, favoring more traditional systems such as monthly meetings (82%) and phone calls (81%).
Australia 71% of Australian business people had used Dropbox in the previous month
34% say remote access to the server impacts their ability to work remotely
Belgium 52% of Belgian workers say remote access to the server impacts their ability to work remotely
Brazil 92% of Brazilian workers say access to fast and reliable Wi-Fi or broadband impacts their ability to work remotely
Canada 40% of Canadian business people had used WhatsApp in the previous month
China 98% of Chinese business people had used WeChat in the previous month
61% had used video conferencing
France 71% of French workers think that remote workers must be prepared to agree to use IT systems that track and measure their levels of work activity
Germany 94% of Germans report that mobile working is strongly driving the take up of ‘Cloud’ applications
India 84% of Indian workers think that remote workers must be prepared to agree to use IT systems that track and measure their levels of work activity
Japan 71% of Japanese business people had used LINE in the previous month
Mexico 67% of Mexican business people had used Google Drive in the previous month
Netherlands Only 47% Dutch business people think that remote workers must be prepared to agree to use IT systems that track and measure their levels of work activity
South Africa 97% of business people reported using WhatsApp the previous month
UK 62% of business people reported using Skype the previous month
51% think that remote workers must be prepared to agree to use IT systems that track and measure their levels of work activity
USA 61% of USA business people think that remote workers must be prepared to agree to use IT systems that track and measure their levels of work activity and productivity
Relishing remote work
- Business managers and directors from around the world report that they plan to allow their teams to work remotely between one and two days next year (35%);
- 11% would allow workers to work remotely the whole week;
- There are a number of reasons behind why employees report that mobile working is becoming more important. Specifically, 58% say it helps them be closer to clients or prospects for important meetings;
- 56% report remote working helps them concentrate, and that it improves productivity by providing a change of scenery and a way of avoiding ‘cabin fever’ (53%);
- Unsurprisingly, 55% say it helps them improve their travel schedule, while 46% believe it allow them to see more of their family;
- A third of firms report that they expect to see businesses of all sizes opting for flexible work locations rather than fixed-term leasing contracts;
- 28% expect the trend to specifically concern small firms;
- The main driver is expected to be the need to reduce fixed office costs (51%), followed by workers demanding to work closer to home (43%);
- Another key reason to opt for flexible working conditions is to avoid fixed leasing arrangements (37%) that hamper businesses’ ability to expand and contract rapidly.
Team managers and directors across the globe report that they plan to allow workers to work remotely either one or two days a week. This is roughly aligned with worker demand, suggesting that there is no particular struggle between management and workers for flexible working, and rather that it is understood and appreciated on both ends.
Just over one in ten employers, however, will allow workers to be remote for the entire week.
The business perks of remote working
The personal and business benefits of mobile working number among the many reasons it has become mainstream. In particular, business people report that it improves their travel schedule, and helps them be physically closer to clients and prospects. Their concentration also benefits, as a change of scenery often helps them regain focus. As a result, productivity also increases.
Workers report that flexibility also has a positive effect on morale, and helps employees be closer to their family. Flexibility enables these employees to get home earlier and participate in activities, such as the school run, that a lengthier commute would have made impossible.
A growing business trend
With businesses reporting all these benefits, it is hardly surprising that flexible working is expected to continue in its growth trajectory over the next year and longer. A third of firms (34%) report that they expect to see businesses of all sizes opting for flexible work locations rather than fixed term leasing contracts; 28% expect the trend to specifically concern boot-strapped small firms, but 18% think it will be large firms divesting expensive assets and moving staff to more flexible locations.
While the main driver is, of course, the reduction of fixed office costs, many businesses have made agility a key part of their business plan. As such, they are choosing services and solutions that allow them the flexibility to expand and contract rapidly in response to market changes.
Australia 50% of Australian workers think cost reduction will be one of the main drivers of flexible working in 2017
Belgium 53% of Belgian business people say that workers demanding to be closer to home will be one of the main drivers of flexible working in 2017
Brazil 52% of Brazilian business people say that workers demanding to be closer to home will be one of the main drivers of flexible working in 2017
Canada 53% of Canadian workers agree that flexible working helps them attend events and training sessions
China 55% of Chinese business people say flexible working helps them get away from a noisy office
72% of Chinese workers say flexible working helps them improve their travel schedule
France 61% of French business people say workers’ demand to work flexibly will be a main driver in 2017
Germany 45% of German businesses report that wanting to be more reactive to market changes will be a main driver in 2017
62% say flexible working helps them be closer to clients and prospects
India 70% of Indian workers say that flexible working improves their productivity with a change of scenery
Japan 36% of Japanese workers say businesses wanting to be more reactive to market changes will be the main driver for flexible working in 2017
Mexico 35% of Mexican business people expect more businesses of all sizes opting for flexible work locations rather than fixed term leasing contracts
Netherlands 40% of Dutch business people expect more businesses of all sizes opting for flexible work locations rather than fixed term leasing contracts
South Africa 51% of South African business people say avoiding fixed leases will be a main driver for flexible working in 2017
UK 33% of UK business people expect more businesses of all sizes opting for flexible work locations rather than fixed term leasing contracts
38% of workers say the need to scale staff numbers flexibly will be a main driver for flexible working in 2017
USA 50% of business people say demand from workers will be a main driver for flexible working in 2017
Conclusions – looking to the future
It is clear that the workforce and workplaces of today are quite different from those of twenty years ago. It is not just technology that is facilitating this metamorphosis (even though its role has been revolutionary), but also people, as new attitudes and mind-sets have spurred growing demand for promoting agility and more flexible work.
The changing business model
Business people’s priorities are shifting, as more and more businesses are becoming open to valuing employees on performance and productivity rather than actual in-office face-time, meaning a mobile workforce is evolving quicker than ever.
With progressing technology and the increase of available products on the market, business people are able to remotely carry out the same tasks they previously would have performed in a permanent office.
Cloud applications let workers access files remotely, while VOIP calls and instant messaging apps are an easy and cost-effective solution to ensure all colleagues stay connected, benefiting businesses and workers alike.
Traditional management methods
More and more businesses are adopting a flexible mindset when it comes to managing remote workers, but their views on how to achieve good management are surprisingly traditional. Rather than simply investing in IT systems to track staff productivity, businesses reveal that conducting regular meetings (videoconferencing and in person) and telephone calls are proving critical. Instant messaging is also seen as a key way of keeping teams connected.
Flexible vs homeworking
While flexible working is becoming the norm and is widely regarded as highly productive and beneficial to client relationships, it is important to note that it should not be regarded as synonymous with home-working.
In fact, working from home carries several perils, as the distractions can be damaging to productivity, and household noises can create an unprofessional environment. Yet, working from a professional location that is close to the home is seen as ideal, as it allows workers to spend more time in leisure with their loved ones by cutting down commute time, thus resulting in a better work:life balance.
The two faces of the changing workforce
Millennials are making their presence in the business world known by their need to be able to cheaply and constantly communicate, no matter the location. This is a generation that depends on being connected by technology, so it is no surprise that they are looking to carry out their work tasks from wherever they choose.
On the other end of the spectrum, older workers occasionally choose to (or are forced to) remain employed for longer, so adopting a flexible working attitude can help them combine their personal needs with their employment responsibilities.
The necessity of fast, connected technology
The research shows just how wide-spread flexible working is becoming, and how fundamental technology is as an enabler of mobility. As the working world continues to evolve, with more and more flexible workers composing the workforce (such as consultants, part-time workers, and freelancers), businesses and their employees only stand to gain from embracing agility and breaking free from the mentality of fixed leasing arrangements.
Regus: expertise and experience
Over the past ten years, Regus has invested in analyzing working habits and behaviors in the business world. From where people work, to when and how they manage their work, Regus has also analyzed the demands of workers, what makes them tick, and how they try and reconcile the demands of their professional and personal life.
The future of flexibility
This survey, taken in tandem with strong growth and increased competition in flexible workspace provision, clearly indicates that demand will increase through to 2020 and beyond. This is an important indicator for businesses planning on managing their space efficiently, as it means that fixed desks in major office locations are at high risk of being under-occupied.
In September of 2015, a fifth of business people reported that reducing leasehold property under-occupancy was a key driver for flexible working, and 58% said they would be reducing overheads.
How commercial property will evolve
The commercial property world therefore appears to be on the verge of structural change, with mobile workers making a significant proportion of traditional fixed office space obsolete and inefficient. With more people working remotely for at least part of the week, businesses of all sizes will be faced with the option of paying for empty desks or cutting down on permanent office space and opting for more flexible solutions.
These agile options range from co-working spaces to temporary office locations, and even to business lounge membership for employees.
Building a new business model
In addition to this, 31% of business people in September 2015 reported that they would be hiring more freelance workers and less full-time staff. This result is confirmed by 29% of respondents, who report they are seeing more freelance workers compared to the year before.
Freelance workers are increasingly flooding the workforce, a trend aligned with reports suggesting that in a not-too-distant future the business-employee model will become obsolete, as workers will become consultants.
In the US, the freelance workforce grew to 55 million in 2016, up 1.3 million from 2015. In their Workforce 2020 report, SAP and Oxford Economics predict that the workplace in 2020 will be much more flexible, with 83% of executives planning to increase use of “contingent, intermittent or consultant employees in the next three years, forcing change on companies."
Over the next decade, the workforce is set to radically change, becoming agnostic in location. More and more types of flexible workers, such as freelancers, contractors, and part-time workers, will make the demand for large fixed office locations rare, and will instead drive the need for small, flexible office leasing arrangements, business lounges, co-working spaces, and professional meeting rooms.
Businesses need to be future-proofed for these changes in order to embrace agile work trends and more efficiently manage growth.
More than 20,000 business respondents from more than 100 countries were interviewed via an online survey during September of 2016. These were sourced from Regus’ global contacts database of more than 2 million business-people worldwide, which is highly representative of senior managers and business owners across the globe.
Respondents were asked about their views on the effects of flexible working on employees, management, and businesses. They were also asked about workforce composition, and how the workforce has changed and is expected to change in the future.
Respondents also provided information about the key remote work enablers and mobile work technologies they used in the previous month.
The survey was managed and administered by an independent organization.