Back to the office? Flexibility key to productive workforce

Forget the office mandate – new research from the Future Forum suggests that choosing when and where you work can create a better workplace culture and increase productivity

A new report by Future Forum analyses the link between flexibility and productivity, with results that might surprise companies with strict office return mandates.

In analysing a survey of 10,243 workers across America, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the UK, the report sets the record straight about hybrid working by suggesting that people who have the ability to control their own schedule are more effective in fighting off burnout, creating a better company culture and being more productive in the workplace.

Flexibility in focus

Future Forum is a research consortium coordinated by Slack which includes MillerKnoll, Boston Consulting Group and Management Leadership for Tomorrow. In its report, the impact of flexible working on workplace experience, work-life balance and productivity is highlighted. The report shines a light on the fact that an enormous 42 per cent of the workforce report feeling burned out, making it clear that for a lot of the workforce wellbeing is at a low ebb.

But rates of burnout are more likely to be reported by people that have little or no control over their schedules and who actively want more flexibility in their working life, suggesting that a lack of flexibility may be contributing to a wellness crisis among employees.

There is also a gendered dimension to this wellbeing crisis, with 46 per cent of women saying that they are burned out compared with 37 per cent of men. Younger workers are also reporting higher levels of burnout, with 48 per cent of workers under 30 reporting that they are experiencing burnout in work.

Ability to focus

Additionally, the report shows that workers with rigid schedules are 2.5 times more likely to be looking for work elsewhere in the coming year. And it isn’t just related to where you work – those with little or no ability to control the hours they work report 4.6 times worse work-related stress and a 2.6 times worse work-life balance.

But despite this clear correlation between worker satisfaction and a flexible time-schedule, 56 per cent of desk workers still say that they have little to no ability to adjust their hours.

Those with full flexibility over their working schedule and location report higher productivity scores and report a greater ability to focus on their work. A workforce with higher flexibility and wellbeing is more likely to be productive and motivated, making jobs with flexibility look more enticing and attractive to younger generations.

The report shows that, despite some concerns from management, those choosing their own schedules are just as likely to feel connected and in-touch with their colleagues as those working full-time in the office. Flexible workers were 57 per cent more likely to think that their company culture had improved over the last year than non-flexible workers.

Management lags behind

However, it seems like management has yet to catch up, with 27 per cent of mangers complaining of flexible working having a negative impact on company culture and many citing problems with productivity in relation to flexible working as a cause for an in-office mandate.

 ‘Even well-informed research hasn’t been able to shift the dial…’

This suggests that managers are stuck in old mindsets that prioritise the office over all else. Even well-informed research hasn’t been able to shift the dial. But in the coming year, more people will be looking for new roles that offer them the flexibility they need and this will perhaps force managers to reassess the level of control they give their employees over where and when they clock in.

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