One year on: New figures reveal minimal impact of flexible working legislation

High awareness of new legislation amongst small and medium business workers yet over half are still required to work from the office during business hours according to research from Microsoft

It's now exactly one year since UK government legislation came into force stating that all employees have the right to request flexible working. New research today shows that despite high levels of favourability for flexible working and over half (53%) of small and medium business (SMB) workers aware that it exists, uptake of the legislation has been slow.

Over a fifth (22%) of small and medium business workers have requested flexible working as a direct result of the law. However they are being thwarted by the fact that despite the legislation, a significant portion of British office workers (55%) are still required by employers to work from the office within designated working hours. Furthermore more than two in five (44%) said it is not possible to work remotely under any circumstances.

But the research shows high support amongst those that have taken advantage of flexible working with many pointing to benefits in their lives, in and out of work. For instance, over a third (35%) said it makes them more motivated, with a similar number (36%) also stating it makes them more productive. Over half (52%) said that flexible working makes their work/life balance easier to manage.

Other key findings include:

  • More than 80% of SMB employees that requested flexible working from their employers said it has made a positive difference to their working life
  • 31% said they noticed a ‘big, positive change’ in their working life after requesting flexible working 
  • There is more work to be done as one in three workers (33%) said that fewer distractions would help them be more productive
  • However, not all SMB employees are offered these benefits; 44% of respondents said they aren’t able to work remotely 
  • This impacts creativity - only one in ten (11%) employees have ever had their best work-related idea in the office.

Guy Blaskey, Founder of Pooch & Mutt, an SMB that has embraced flexible working comments: "Being able to work remotely is key to Pooch & Mutt's success and phenomenal growth rates. We are a small company and everyone has to multi task. This means we are often out of the office; working remotely, attending shows, visiting customers and pitching for new business. We always get feedback when we are out and about that we need to share with others in the office, and remote working tools allow us to do this easily."

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft UK said: “Business leaders should reimagine how workers operate. According to the Office of National Statistics, productivity levels in the UK are stagnant and lower than the start of the recession in 2007. There’s never been a better time to change since there’s a risk that firms are cultivating an environment that traps staff in process and red-tape instead of giving them the opportunity to think and have the necessary head-space to be creative.

Coplin continues: “Only 11% of employees feel like they have good ideas in the office, and many spend the day doing administrative orientated tasks like trying to achieve ‘inbox-zero’. Instead of automatically assuming that work can only happen in the office, employers should focus on the work at hand, where it makes the most sense to complete it and then give employees the freedom and tools to empower them to be productive anytime, anywhere.”

About the research

Research was conducted on behalf of Microsoft by two research houses: research by Ispos Mori was carried out in January 2015 and surveyed more than 1,000 UK SMB employees. Further research by OnePoll was carried out in June 2015 and also surveyed more than 1,000 UK SMB employees on whether flexible working legislation has improved awareness and adoption.