Employers vastly underestimate savings of freeing up desks

Green economy

The latest salvo in the flexible working debate is a study which reveals that despite potential savings of around £34bn by freeing up desk space and working more flexibly, the majority of UK business leaders grossly underestimate what it is possible to save with two out of three (65 per cent) insisting they can’t lose any desks. According to a Vodafone UK survey one in five of those  surveyed thought that their employees remained rooted to the old principle that all employees should have their own desk space (21 per cent) and flexible working ultimately leads to employees taking advantage of the system (23 per cent).

The YouGov poll for Vodafone showed business decision makers who thought they could save  desk space through flexible working estimated they could lose on average 46  desks.  But they  vastly underestimate the value of those desks, citing an average saving of £441 per desk – not even 10 per cent of the £5,746 average cost of a desk in the UK.

In fact, based on respondents’ estimates of the number of desks they could lose those businesses  stand to save an average of £260,000 per year.

While the majority of business decision makers (77 per cent) agreed that they measure success by results rather than time spent in the office,  yet only one in five (20 per cent) thought that they  could get rid of desks through flexible working and more than a third (37 per cent) haven’t even considered flexible working as a way of cutting costs.

Jeroen Hoencamp, Enterprise Director at Vodafone UK said: “We need to get Britain working smarter and thinking about different ways of working. A potential saving of up to £34bn is staggering and  this  research  reveals  businesses  are  underestimating  the  savings  they  can  make  through reducing the number of desks they have.  Not only  that, only a fifth of businesses think there’s an opportunity to lose desks, demonstrating a lack of understanding of how working differently can cut fixed  costs.  New ways of working will also bring other  benefits such as improved productivity, increased efficiency and a happier workforce.

“In the current economic environment it’s vital that businesses make the most of opportunities to save money while improving business performance. The desk-bound, building-based work model no longer works for every business.”

The research reveals that working from home is the most common form of flexible working businesses allow, with almost half of companies (42 per cent) surveyed offering this. However,  despite many business leaders (63 per cent) agreeing that employees don’t need to work the traditional 9 to 5 and that flexible working leads to a happier workforce (62 per cent), nearly a quarter (22 per cent) still don’t have any flexible working policies in place.

Other key findings from the survey revealed:

  • Fewer than a fifth of businesses (18%) have a “hot-desking” policy
  • Employee attitudes are not a big barrier to implementing flexible working policies, with only 17 per cent citing employees’ reluctance to embrace flexible working as a barrier
  • 36 per cent of senior business decision makers believe reducing desk space would be inappropriate for their business
  • 33 per cent think reducing desk space would have a negative impact on collaboration/teamwork

Hoencamp added: “Companies that think their employees must always be present in their offices in order for them to work has been a bone of contention in recent weeks and it is good that the issue is being  discussed. This research reinforces that business leaders are open to new ways of  working but are blinkered to how it can be implemented on a day-to-day basis.

“The best solutions will differ from business to business but flexible working is more than just working from home. It’s about working from wherever you need to be, whether that’s from a café with a client, a customer’s HQ or during your commute. British businesses need to be agile and responsive, with the ability to work from anywhere,  if they are going to remain competitive.”

by Sara Bean