February 16, 2023
Flexible working drives productivity and stronger company culture
Future Forum, a consortium launched by Slack with founding partners Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll, and MLT has published the latest findings from its global Pulse survey, which suggest that flexible working plays a key role in fostering organisational culture and has a significant positive impact on productivity. According to the poll, flexible workers were 57 percent more likely to say that their company culture has improved over the past two years compared with those required to be on-site five days a week—and they cited flexible working policies as the primary reason their culture is changing for the better.
The Future Forum Pulse is a quarterly survey of more than 10,000 desk workers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. that has continuously run since summer 2020. The data reveals that employees with full schedule flexibility report 39 percent higher productivity scores than those with no ability to adjust their working hours. Employees with location flexibility (both remote and hybrid workers) report 8 percent higher productivity scores than those fully in-office—gains that can meaningfully accelerate work across a business.
“In the midst of economic uncertainty and a push to ‘return’ back to how things were in 2019, it is critical for leaders to figure out what works best for their teams today. The data shows offering flexibility not only boosts productivity and decreases turnover, but it also improves culture,” said Brian Elliott, the executive leader of Future Forum. “Giving employees choice in their day-to-day work while coming together in person with purpose is a highly effective way to drive employee connection and build trust.”
Although 25 percent of executives cite “culture is negatively impacted” as a top concern in offering employees more flexibility, flexible work policies—not only in where, but also when people work—are highly effective in deepening company culture, a continuing trend from last quarter.
Compared to the 35 percent of workers who are fully in-office, flexible workers are equally or more likely to feel connected to their immediate teams, their direct manager and their company’s values, the report suggests.
The office remains an important anchor for employees, but the primary purpose of office space is shifting. Many employees no longer see the office as a place for solo work. Today a majority of workers want to use the office to foster connection:
- 74 percent say they use the office for collaborating with coworkers/clients, building camaraderie, and facilitating in-person meetings
- 15 percent say they use the office for having a quiet space to focus on getting work done
Two-thirds of employees (67 percent) say they prefer a hybrid working arrangement, with the option to access a physical space.
Executives continue to cite declining productivity as their second most serious concern when contemplating flexible work. And yet, flexible work continues to be associated with higher productivity, with the greatest gains among workers with schedule flexibility, which is the ability to adjust one’s working hours.
How does schedule flexibility affect business results?
When compared with workers with no ability to shift their schedules, respondents with full schedule flexibility report:
- 39 percent higher productivity
- 64 percent greater ability to focus
Meanwhile, a lack of schedule flexibility dramatically worsens retention. Employees with immovable work schedules say they are 2.5 times more likely to “definitely” look for a new job in the next year.
Burnout remains a critical issue in the workplace. Forty-two percent of the workforce reports experiencing burnout—an all-time high since May 2021, when Future Forum started measuring this strain. Respondents who report that they are burned out at work are 3.4 times more likely to say they “definitely” plan to look for a new job in the next year than those who say they are not burned out. Women and workers under age 30 are the most likely to experience burnout.
How does access to flexibility affect burnout?
- Employees who are burned out at work report 23 percent lower productivity than those who are not burned out
- 53 percent of those who are dissatisfied with their level of flexibility at work say they are burned out compared with 37 percent of employees who are satisfied
- Employees with no ability to shift their work schedules are 26 percent more likely to say they’re burned out
Underinvestment in technology can also aggravate burnout levels. Workers who perceive their companies to be “digital laggards” are 31 percent more likely to report feeling burned out at work than those who say the companies they work for are innovators.
More findings, including steps executives can take to implement schedule flexibility, can be found in the full Future Forum Pulse report. Later this spring, Future Forum will release in-depth results from its quarterly survey, including analysis of emerging trends in desk workers’ experience.