Perspectives on Flexible Working – Microsoft

The new flexible working survey released by Microsoft (and produced in association with Vanson Bourne) contains some interesting insights.  The research is in support of Microsoft’s New World of Work theme, and dovetails nicely with their Hybrid Organisation work.  In the main, it aligns with what is already (but not widely enough) known and illustrates the People and Premises dimensions of flexible working.


That people belief they are more productive when working away from the office (56 per cent vs 10 per cent who feel they are less productive) is supported by academic research which has shown that actually are more productive.  I’ve spoken about Gajendran and Harrison’s research and the paper from MIT Sloan before.

For me, there were three particularly interesting findings:

  • 78 per cent of people feel that the ability to work flexibly is important when considering a new job.  For 23 per cent, it is important enough to request as part of the job offer.  For a further 17 per cent, flexible working was viewed as critical and a deal-breaker.  We’ve spoken about this before and it is part of a greater trend of people taking greater control of their lives, reappraising their relationship with their employers and recognising that “work” no longer means the edifice of an industrial revolution era office.
  • That Trust is a barrier to flexible working highlights the need for a change in culture and in management approach.  The research found that, across the 15 countries researched, only 52 per cent of people trusted their colleagues to “be productive when they work flexibly or away from the office”.  Most countries sat in the range 50% +/- 10%.  The UK (40 per cent trust) and Germany (at 38 per cent) sit at the low end of the scale.  For most roles, flexible working can only be really successful where an approach of management by objectives or outcomes is adopted rather than a traditional (and again industrial revolution inspired) command-and-control, presenteeism approach.
  • The headline finding, that small business are leading the way in flexible working is intriguing.  24 per cent of small business employees regularly work flexibly compared with just 9 per cent of those in large companies.  Access to appropriate enabling technology and remote access to information appears to be a major barrier to adoption.  It may be that small businesses are simply more agile, better able to adopt new practices without needing to redesign monolithic processes.  It may also be borne out of necessity and/or a more personal regard for (recognition of) personal needs. 

All in all, an interesting survey which adds to the debate.


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