Business Essentials

Flexible working: What does it look like around the world?

Flexible working: What does it look like around the world?

Thursday, 02 April 2020

86% of us want it, 59% of organisations have it, 75% of employees say it boosts job satisfaction and 54% are more productive as a result.[i] The idea of flexible working is great, but what does it actually mean?


We go on a whistle-stop tour of the globe to find out how corporations big and small are translating flexible working into innovative realities for their workforces.


Is your organisation making flexible working possible in a way that others could learn from? Tell us in the comments below.



“Flexible working breeds efficiency,” says Vodafone Global Enterprise’s Commercial Director, Gary Adey. “If an employee is always within reach of customers, clients and colleagues then it doesn’t really matter whether they are at their desk, in a coffee shop between meetings or working from home.”


The telecoms giant’s approach to flexible working applies as much inside as it does outsides its offices in Berkshire, UK, where, since June 2014, all employees with 26 weeks’ service have the right by law to make a business case for flexible working. There is no formal seating arrangement – employees can log into any workstation they like, and there’s a blanket ban on hour-long meetings: ten-minute conversations are encouraged and employees can join in person or dial in remotely. These newfound efficiencies are thought to have saved Vodafone in excess of £11 million per year.


Having discovered that most returning mothers leave the organisation within their first year after maternity leave, Vodafone has extended its flexibility plan to include special measures for their female workers, who are now offered the chance to work 30 hours per week at full pay for their first six months after they return.


In Vodafone India, a scheme called Sunshine Wednesdays encourages employees to leave the office while the sun is still shining on the second and third Wednesdays of the month – a measure designed to encourage a watchful eye on work-life balance and planning the workday with a view to leaving at an hour that allows sufficient family time.



One of the issues with flexible working, research has shown, is that those who opt in often feel stigmatised or that opportunities are less forthcoming than they are to their fulltime, office-based colleagues. Rather than deal with flexibility requests on a case-by-case basis, credit card giant American Express has put flexibility at the core of its working practices, dividing the entire workforce into four groups.


Those in ‘Hub’ have roles while necessitate a fixed desk and daily presence at the office; ‘Club’ members divide their time between the office and offsite locations; those in ‘Home’, as the title suggests, work for at least three days per week out of a home office – set up with assistance from the company; and ‘Roamers’ are always on the road or working out of client offices and rarely at an American Express office.

Improved productivity (interestingly, productivity is highest among those in Club and Home) has saved American Express up to $15 million annually in property expenditure, savings which can be reinvested into ensuring that hot desks are better equipped and employee communications and events can be shaped around bringing together disparate groups. Surveys run regularly to assess the benefits and drawbacks of the system and adjustments are made accordingly.



In Japan – a country where the average office worker takes just nine of their 18 days’ annual leave and clocks up 173 hours of overtime a year – flexible working has yet to take hold. But some organisations are making tentative steps in that direction following proposed laws to end the work-'til-you-drop culture which is said to have played a role in as many as 2,300 suicides in 2014.


Trading house Itochu has imposed a ban on working past 8pm and pays a bonus on overtime hours to staff who instead start their working day earlier – a measure which has seen late nights fall from 30% to 7% and the rise of pre-8am starts jump to 14%. An on site crèche means that parents can drop their children off in the mornings and be home by 7pm for family time.



In 2013, one in five Australian workers made a request for flexibility. But the country’s work culture is still dogged by stigma around remote working and flexible hours, with 51% of staff worrying they’ll be perceived as lazy, 43% concerned about the potential negative impact on their careers and 38% fearful of resentment from co-workers.


Employers share their concerns: 49% have trust issues and fear that employees – who live in a country with 36,000 kilometres of coastline and year-round sunshine - will abuse the privilege, while 44% don’t have the infrastructure in place to be able to effectively manage remote workers.


Despite all that, there is a wealth of small businesses taking innovative measures to afford their teams the flexibility they desire.

[i] The Perspective Series: New Insights Into The UK Workplace, published by Circle Research in Partnership with Vodafone


Our Partners:

Sponsored by Specsavers Sponsored by NatWest