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Why are some nations more pro-flexible working than others? We talked to businesspeople in Japan and Australia to compare their perceptions
Earlier this year, IWG launched its 2019 Global Workspace Survey – an in-depth exploration of international attitudes to flexible working. More than 15,000 businesspeople from 80 countries were interviewed and asked about the key drivers for choosing flexible working, as well as the perceived obstacles to introducing it for businesses.
A key takeaway from the Global Workspace Survey was that flexible working is being embraced all over the world. IWG found that more than half of the international businesspeople surveyed work outside of their main office headquarters at least 2.5 days each week. And, encouragingly, 62% of the global businesses surveyed had a flexible working policy in place.
The study also highlighted some striking cultural differences in attitudes towards flexible working. In some cases, it highlighted that the new way of working had been widely incorporated into countries’ national business cultures. In other nations, IWG found there was desire for a more flexible way of working, but that there was still a way to go before it became more widely adopted.
Take Japan, for example, where 80% of Japanese respondents to IWG’s survey said that flexible working was “the new normal” – the highest response out of all countries surveyed. However, despite this, IWG found that just 32% of the Japanese businesses surveyed had a flexible working policy in place (just over half the international average of 62%). So, why this difference between the expectation of employees compared to reality?
According to the senior manager of a business development consultancy based at Regus Aoyama Place Canada in Tokyo, despite the appetite for flexible working from Japan’s workforce, there’s a perceived obstacle to making it an option for more people. Creating a flexible working policy that applies to everyone – when everyone has such different roles within an organisation – is seen as a challenge by management.
“It depends on the industry, the employee’s position and the amount of responsibility they have,” they say. “Companies face difficulties when it comes to applying a flexible working policy to various employee situations. It comes down to the complexity of management systems.”
At the same time, the client at Regus Aoyama Place Canada Tokyo says they are seeing a national shift in Japan towards embracing flexible working: “I think many companies actually recognise the movement is going to be new normal. They feel a flexible working system will reduce stress for every businessperson. In addition, individual productivity is improved by the focus that comes with working at optimum times. Public opinion will be influenced by more companies introducing flexible working, and more people – such as those experiencing burnout and young parents – will realise the benefits.”
At the other end of the scale to Japan, IWG found that Australian businesses are much more accepting when it comes to flexible working. Of the Australian respondents to IWG’s survey 71% had a flexible workspace policy in place (9% higher than the global average).
According to Oliver Leeb, Founder of 3am Ideas – a digital marketing agency for small businesses, and a Regus client based in Australia – flexible working is still far more widely adopted by smaller enterprises than large corporations, so there’s still room for growth.
“I think flexible working arrangements are still only in their infancy here in Australia,” he says. “While smaller businesses tend to have the ability to offer flexible working arrangements, changing the internal cultures of some of the big corporations will take some time yet.
“Digitally savvy companies are definitely adopting the ‘working from home’ option, but we’re seeing that mostly in the tech space where jobs are doing mostly through the computer and management can easily monitor how much time staff are spending on particular projects.”
At the same time, Leeb says that among his clients, flexible working is being embraced due to the fact it lets more people remove barriers to working – such as childcare. “We are definitely seeing the ‘working mum or dad’ concept being hugely popular,” he says. “The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released numbers stating that the percentage of dads using flexible work arrangements has doubled since 1996. That’s fantastic to see, and I believe as time goes on this trend will continue.”
Leeb describes how flexible working can be a tool for talent retention. “Once you have quality people working for you, you don’t want to lose them, and this is one way of retaining your talent,” he says. “Studies show that the appeal of financial incentives provided by an employer are usually very temporary. Providing a flexible workspace policy is a far more permanent, and probably cheaper, option for companies to offer.”
What other aspects of Australian culture are making it comparatively more pro-flexible working than other nations? “We’re lucky people here in Australia,” says Leeb. “We get to enjoy our amazing outdoors for almost the entire year, we all value family time and, most importantly, we’re laid back. I think it’s only natural that this culture also embeds itself into the workplace, starting at the management level.”
See more of the findings from the 2019 Global Workspace Survey