By Daniel Hunter

A revolution in the workplace is well underway. Small businesses are rapidly converting to flexible working with 76% of workers saying that their company works more flexibly than it used to, compared with 67% of large business workers according to new research from global workplace provider Regus.

The research confirms that flexible working is not just the realm of large corporates, and in fact, small businesses have embraced flexi-working more readily than large

The research surveyed over 2500 senior business managers in the UK and it is believed to be the first time that independent research evidence has validated the causal connection between flexible working (time and/or place of work) and improved productivity / revenue generation.

Over two thirds (71%) of small businesses report that their productivity has increased as a result of flexible working practices, and 63% of SMEs also link increasing revenues directly to flexi-working.

Although small and large businesses are agreed that they generate more revenue working flexibly (63% of SME’s and 61% of large businesses), small businesses are more confident that they are more productive directly as a result of flexible working (71%) than large businesses (61%).

In the UK there has been a rapid rise in awareness of the benefits of flexible working, with O2 recently launching the country’s biggest ever flexible working pilot involving a quarter of its employees and Norman Baker MP calling on organisations to use the Olympics as an opportunity to implement a flexible working strategy. Importantly, flexible working is not synonymous with home-working. For many workers, a more practical option is a local ‘third place’ or co-working hub which allows them to avoid domestic distractions but does not involve commuting.

SME respondents also report that their staff are more energised and motivated thanks to flexible working (51%), perhaps indicating why they are able to become more productive and generate more revenue. Flexible working, by improving worker morale and health, is therefore also taking on the important role of talent retention, providing businesses with a valuable way of rewarding and attracting staff.

Other interesting findings for SME’s are:-

- 64% of SME’s responding declare that they work more on the move than they used to, pointing to the rise of mobile working.

- Over half of small businesses report that workers in their company feel healthier thanks to flexible working.

- 88% of respondents expect a surge in the number of people that go part-time at some point in their career path.

Raja Ali, Group CEO of Portsmouth-based business and education consultancy The IBD Partnership vouches for the benefits of flexible working, especially for a small business.

“In my view, the days are numbered for fixed assets in business — they are a millstone around the neck of the modern, agile and lean business," he said.

"Workspace is an example of an area of business where many firms still have a traditional approach but there is no reason why the ‘on demand’, pay for what you use model that is so prevalent these days can’t be applied to premises too. In my business, we no longer have a fixed desk for each member of staff, where they work all day every day. We work where, when and how it suits us to get the job done — whether that’s at home, in the office, in a local business centre or on the move. This makes us more productive and certainly has an impact on revenues — we are expanding in the economic downturn and our flexible workspace contributes to this.”

Celia Donne, Regional Director at Regus notes, “Technology and network improvements as well as worker demands for a better work/life balance have driven flexible working to become the norm rather than the exception. In the UK around two-thirds of MPs believe that more needs to be done to help organisations implement flexible working to stimulate economic growth,[4] this survey confirms the business case for flexible working revealing that global businesses see increased productivity and greater revenue generation as directly linked to flexible working practices.

“In addition to these benefits staff report feeling healthier, more energised and more motivated which in turn means that staff are happier in their jobs, more loyal and less likely to leave. As workforce expectations and demands change part-time arrangements are therefore becoming more common not only for freelancers, working mums and the working elderly, but also generation Y employees going straight into multi-job employment. ”

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