By Daniel Hunter

Flexible working hit the headlines this summer as thousands of workers avoided travel into the Capital, but for 42% of professionals in small firms a new flexible workstyle is already business as usual.

According to new research commissioned by Regus, the world’s largest provider of flexible workplaces, these professionals work from locations other than their company’s main offices for at least half the week — specifically not just their home.

The option to work more flexibly helps them reduce the cost and stress associated with commuting and reclaim the hours lost in limbo between their work and home lives.

The research, which canvassed over 2500 UK professionals, found that firms with up to 49 employees grant the greatest degree of flexi-working to their staff. Medium-sized firms (50 to 249 employees) seem to adhere to a more rigid view of the workplace with only 27% of staff allowed to choose their work location for half the week or more.

Regus also found that over two fifths (43%) of flexible workers put in longer hours when they don’t have to commute every day, highlighting the link between flexible working and productivity. This is clear evidence that business is throwing off the shackles of rigid twentieth-century working practices and reaping the benefits.

However, many workers’ aspirations to reduce the frequency of their commute are thwarted by employer attitudes. 40% of medium-sized firms cited “company culture” as the main reason for single location working, implying the perceived need to be seen at their desk, compared to only 20% of small firms. Well over half (55%) of small firms report that they have all the tools and technology they need to work anywhere, a figure which is again far higher than medium-sized firms (38%).

It is noticeable that many firms in the South East have focused their Games flexi-working contingency plans on home working. However, this is often an unpopular and impractical option for staff. Many people miss the social interaction of the office and the clear separation of their professional and personal lives. Previous research has shown that less than 10% of professionals actually want to work from home.

For the two in five small business professionals who are genuine flexible workers, the key to success is having a choice of ‘third places’ — neither their home nor their office - such as local business centres, libraries and co-working hubs that allow them to avoid domestic distractions without a commute.

As well as bringing benefits to the employer, the research confirms that cutting the commute helps staff improve their work-life balance. 67% say they are spending more time with partner and family, and 60% are spending more time exercising and getting fitter.

One example of a small firm that strives to minimise commuting for its management and staff is Portsmouth-based business and education consultancy, The IBD Partnership.

“I know from personal experience that commuting is a mental and physical drain, and one that easily knocks work-life balance out of kilter and saps productivity," Raja Ali, CEO, commented.

"So with our staff we try to be flexible and work where, when and how it suits us to get the job done most effectively — whether that’s at home, in the office, at the local Regus centre or on the move. In my business, we no longer have a fixed desk for each member of staff, where they work all day every day.”

Steve Purdy, UK Managing Director at Regus comments: “Even without this summer’s events, London commuters — similar to other UK cities - are only too familiar with the stress, expense and long hours associated with relying on public transport infrastructure. Employers in the South East may find that the temporary changes they make this summer could lead them to reassess their attitude towards the fixed workplace in the future.

“Across the country, the number of professionals that are able to choose between different work locations is substantial. But there is still much progress to be made to help all workers benefit from more flexible conditions. This is especially true when the win-win benefits of slashing commutes are analysed.

“Traffic congestion is reported to be one of the major sources of stress,[2] so it is very significant that workers reveal that the time saved on commuting would be spent on health and wellbeing activities such as getting fitter at the gym and spending time with family. Confirming previous Regus research linking happier and healthier workers to greater productivity, more than half of professionals say they would devote at least some of the time saved on gruelling commutes to working more. So the benefits of flexible working are twofold, on the one hand workers are more relaxed and healthy and on the other they are also more productive benefitting the business too.”

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