UK firms more open to flexible working, study finds

More UK organisations have shown openness to employees to work from home or part-time. Photo: Getty
More UK organisations have shown openness to employees to work from home or part-time. Photo: Getty

The majority of companies have become more flexible about employees working from home after the coronavirus pandemic reshaped the world of work.

Employers in the UK are more open to facilitate part-time working and other forms of flexible working as viable options for their business, a study by Cranfield School of Management and CBI Economics found.

Figures showed that the furlough scheme, which enabled firms to bring staff back to work on a part-time basis and furloughed the remainder of the time, has changed firms’ perceptions around working practices.

Of the 208 businesses surveyed in February, 45% said the use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has helped line managers learn how to design and manage part-time working more effectively.

Post-COVID, 62% of line managers in the research believed they were "more willing" to consider staff requests for part-time working.

CBI's survey also shows 96% of organisations were "more flexible" about where their employees worked, and 87% about how they scheduled their working hours.

Over half of respondents expect remote and flexible working to increase in their business over the next two years, 60% and 58% respectively. While 46% also anticipate part-time working to increase.

Read more: Work from home is the new normal in the UK

Office for National Statistics data found 26% of workers worked part time pre-pandemic, some to meet their employer’s needs, and others to better balance work and life commitments.

Recent analysis from the ONS revealed the proportion of workers who mix working from home with going into the office increased from 13% in February to 24% in May.

Anna Leach, deputy chief economist at the CBI, said: "We know that the future of work is a key priority for our members, who are conscious of their employees’ renewed focus on work-life balance and desire for more flexibility around the location and organisation of their work, against the backdrop of a very tight jobs market.

"These findings show that changes in working practices, and attitudes towards them, are very much underway. It is particularly encouraging to see that this shift in attitudes is associated with positive financial situations for companies, with the majority of the organisational representatives surveyed reporting that the financial wellbeing of their organisation was good or very good, and expected to remain positive over the next two years at least."

Read more: Number of people working from home triples since pandemic 

Clare Kelliher, professor of work and organisation at Cranfield, added: "The flexible element of the furlough scheme effectively marked a ‘forced experiment’ in part-time working for many employers that had little previous experience of part-time working.

"As is always the case with any enforced situation, it can be a very different story when life returns to ‘normal’, but these survey findings suggest that the practical experience of trying out part-time working has helped to overcome some of the perceived barriers for employers around its feasibility and how to implement it in practice."

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