By Daniel Hunter

According to a new study on flexible working commissioned by Microsoft, a massive 70 per cent of office workers say they can get ‘more done’ working away from the office and critically over one third (38 per cent) say they can be more creative when they are able to work flexibly.

Despite this, the research commissioned for the Anywhere Working Consortium suggests that flexible working is being held back by cultural barriers related to trust, with employees concerned about how colleagues perceive them when not working in the office, and a feeling that flexible working is only about ‘working from home’.

According to findings of the study, nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of the UK workforce believe there is a lack of trust within their organisation that remote workers will work ‘as hard’ as office-based staff. This was identified as the biggest barrier to anywhere working, with not having access to the right technology cited by just 24 per cent as an issue.

To coincide with Anywhere Working Week the Ipsos MORI study of UK office workers revealed that when working away from the office, employees tend to overcompensate in order to quash colleague’s negative perceptions.

Nearly half (47 per cent) make a conscious attempt to be extra visible by sending more emails and making more phone calls. Almost one in three (30 per cent) feel guilty about not being in the office, with nearly one in four (39 per cent) working longer hours to prove they are not ‘shirking from home’.

Yet, despite these challenges, the benefits of flexible work-styles can bring to businesses are clearly understood. More than 9 out of 10 people surveyed (92 per cent) were unconcerned about being distracted or less productive when away from the office. A similar number, (90 per cent) stated working away from the office ‘makes no difference’ in terms of collaborating with colleagues.

Similarly, the main drivers and motivators for anywhere working are focused around productivity and concentrating on getting work done, rather than reacting to travel issues, illness or company demands. Surprisingly, only 22 per cent cited childcare as the main reason for working away from the office.

This challenges perceptions around the main reasons why employees tend to work away from the office and goes against many flexible working policies which promote flexible work-styles as a means of accommodating parent’s responsibilities.

“People don’t need to be shackled to their desks to be productive or to collaborate with their colleagues. Work should be a thing you do not a place you go," Dave Coplin, Chief Envisaging Officer at Microsoft commented.

"Flexible working is more about choosing a location that best suits your requirements to get the job done. This can mean working from a variety of locations during the day, be that on the move, a shared knowledge hub, a coffee shop, a remote office or at home if need be.”

Philip Ross, CEO of workplace consultancy, UnWork.com comments: “The research indicates that when people are away from the office, they may well be more productive but feel paranoid they are viewed as absent and so do their best to be as visible as possible.

"There is a risk that workers will prioritise presenteeism over effectiveness and this won’t be the right approach for them or the organisations that employ them. The conversation should be about the work we do and how and where we can be most productive. Arguing about which single location is best misses the point entirely.”

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