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14 November 2019
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Demand for flexible working opportunities and flexible space continues to rise, reports Herpreet Kaur Grewal.

02 September 2019 |  Herpreet Kaur Grewal

The number of people working ‘flexible hours’ has increased five-fold in the last two decades and it’s set to keep rising, according to a recent analysis of working trends by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).

In 1999, just 9.5 per cent of Brits worked flexible hours – but current statistics show that 54 per cent of UK workers now have the option to operate outside of typical nine-to-five office hours.

APSCo compared data from the 1999 Labour Force Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics and recent statistics published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in its 2019 report Working Lives. 

Despite this improvement to work-life balance, professionals still want more autonomy. The CIPD report showed that two in three professionals (68 per cent) would like to work flexibly in a way that is not currently available to them. And research from website DaddiLife highlighted how millennial dads wanted more flexibility to spend time with their children.

Older workers would also benefit from flexible working. It’s considered an important means to retain older workers, according to research conducted earlier this year by Canada Life Group Insurance.

The study showed that almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of survey respondents were planning to work past the age of 65. However, 41 per cent were concerned that health issues might make it difficult to work longer, with 14 per cent planning to switch jobs after 65 because their current job was too physically demanding (22 per cent) or too stressful (20 per cent). The response to Canada Life’s research indicated that flexible working (32 per cent) and appropriate workplace benefits (16 per cent) were the best ways to attract and support older workers, and could help to resolve problems such as a stressful or excessive workload.

But offering flexible working can also foster workplace equality. APSCo chief executive Ann Swain, said: “People with disabilities or caring responsibilities, for example, are often unable to commute to the office or work conventional hours; therefore, the option to work part-time, compressed hours or remotely is a necessity. As more employers begin to see the opportunities associated with flexible working, we can both boost diversity and inclusion, and help end the dire skills shortages which are impacting many sectors.”

Flexible space is booming

The corporate real estate market has also benefitted from the focus on flexibility, particularly as demand for co-working space continues to rise. The Asia Pacific region is expected to overtake the European, Middle Eastern, African and Americas regions by 2021, according to multiple flexible working experts.

Global Coworking Unconference Conference’s data partner, the Instant Group, predicted that the industry will have 33,072 flexible working centres globally this year, which will grow to 49,500 by 2022.

Growth in cities with more mature sectors such as London and New York will stabilise, but new regions will push industry growth.

The Instant Group said growth of the sector in Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America will be well above 20 per cent in the coming years, as new providers and investment drive up the quality of space.

Other forecasts based on estimates from Emergent Research / Global Coworking Unconference Conference data suggested similar patterns. The data predicted that the number of flexible workspaces would increase by 56 per cent in 2022, based on the average growth in 2018 and 2019.

Around 1,000 of the new openings were in the US.  

Yet year-on-year growth in the number of new spaces opening has slowed. Forecasts from 2019 showed a drop of around 22 per cent compared with 2018. The reason is that many operators are now focusing on increasing occupancy and profitability rather than large wholesale expansion. 

Nevertheless, there has also been a trend in growth per capita in less populated countries and states, such as Luxembourg, Singapore and Ireland.

Hybrid spaces

In 2018, more corporate clients were looking for flexible spaces. Research indicated that up to 40 per cent of individuals working within flexible spaces were employees of larger organisations and this trend is predicted to grow to 60 per cent by 2022. Consequently, shifts toward more hybrid spaces, and offering private space as well as traditional co-working, are predicted by industry experts.

The latest forecasts suggest that global flexible spaces will soon cross the 20,000 mark and reach 25,968 by 2022. A new co-working space opens in London every five days and in New York City every seven and a half days (for other cities, see list). Fast-growing US tech hubs including Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado were listed in the top five cities. 

Emma Potter