Flexible working on the rise: Europe’s hottest spots

Phil Muncaster

Friday 4 August 2017

Remote and flexible working is on the rise across Europe. A perfect storm of technological advances, changing attitudes, and demographic and financial pressures are driving this transformation. But do the benefits actually outweigh the challenges associated with teleworking, and is the picture the same across Europe?

It’s been a long time coming, but all over Europe remote and flexible working is now a reality for many employees. Reliable pan-European stats are difficult to find. However, talent management software provider Cornerstone OnDemand commissioned IDC to poll nearly 1500 HR professionals and business managers across 14 European countries working in organisations with more than 500 employees. The resulting study reveals that three-quarters (74 per cent) of firms across the region allow home working.

In the UK, traditionally one of the slowest to react to workplace modernisation, the number of home workers has jumped by a fifth (19 per cent) over the past decade to reach a record 1.5 million, according to the TUC. What’s more, 73 per cent of employees in EMEA, versus 68 per cent in North America, claim attitudes toward flexible working are now “positive and widely accepted”, according to collaboration firm PGi.

“The structure of our economy and consequently our workplaces has changed significantly,” argues Phil Flaxton, chief executive of non-profit Work Wise UK. “Cultural, economic and social changes are affecting attitudes to how we balance or mix work and lifestyle, where increasing mobility and technology is shifting the acceptance or need for traditional office based, nine-to-five work patterns, to be replaced by more home-based, flexible ways and periods of work.

“[Employers] recognise that changing outdated working practices and implementing a smarter working strategy, such as home working, provides them with an opportunity to set a road map for real workforce transformation, creating benefits for their employees, themselves as well as contributing to the growth of the UK economy.”

Technology innovations have been key to driving this trend, with mobile devices and laptops, more powerful processors and larger storage, improved connectivity and cloud-based apps all playing their part. For technology specialists there are also platforms like GitHub and GitLab, which enable remote collaboration on development projects.

A perfect storm

The benefits of offering staff more flexible working practices have often been undermined by perceptions that teams work better in person and that those working remotely might be more tempted to shirk responsibilities. Yet the overwhelming evidence today points to flexible working as generating more productive, happier and healthier staff. A study from employee engagement firm TINYpulse, for example, found that 91 per cent of remote workers think they perform better when working away from the office. It can also help the environment, limiting commuter-related pollution, and reduce employers’ building-related overheads.

Many point to the need for more relaxed working practices as being driven by the millennial generation entering the workplace in numbers, but it can also help older employees stay in work longer, as well as benefit disabled staff and young mothers. The TUC claims that 35 per cent more women now work from home than a decade ago – the biggest rise of any group.

Flexible working can also help reduce the often-ignored but substantial mental health issues linked to workplace stress. Over 40 per cent of staff neglect other aspects of their life because of work, potentially increasing their susceptibility to mental health issues, according to a Mental Health Foundation study. Work-related stress costs Britain 10.4 million working days each year and could be combatted thanks to a healthier work-life balance, according to the charity.

Countries making strides

Europe has traditionally been more conservative than the US when it comes to teleworking, but this is fast changing. As the Cornerstone OnDemand study reveals, home working is increasingly common across the region, rising from 71 per cent in 2016 to 74 per cent this year. Those countries with above-average levels include Italy and Denmark (both 83 per cent), Belgium/Luxembourg (80 per cent), the UK (79 per cent), the Netherlands (76 per cent) and Sweden (75 per cent).

However, according to this particular study there’s still some work to be done in Austria (53 per cent) and Switzerland (63 per cent), while Germany (70 per cent) and France (72 per cent) also come in below the European average.

It’s pretty clear that the years to come will witness even more organisations embracing flexible working practices to reduce overheads, drive productivity and attract and retain the brightest talent. However, for workers looking to find roles right now in Europe, two good sources of information are Love Remote Work and Europe Remotely. For those looking more at destinations than organisations, try Nomad List, a continuously updated list of the best places to work remotely in the world, based on key factors such as transport, internet speed, Wi-Fi access points and more.

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