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Flexibility at work: Does software hold the key?

Published on 12/04/2023 by David Jani

In part one of our research into flexibility at work, we saw that small and midsize enterprise (SME) employees showed a strong interest in flexible hours, working from home, and a four-day working week. In this second look into our data, we consider how businesses can use tools like enterprise communication software, time-tracking software, and other organisational solutions to make this a reality.  

Worker works from home for an SME that allows flexibility at work with the help of a giant audio headset

The employment market and workplace expectations have changed greatly since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data collected in Spring 2022 from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) 38% of working adults had a hybrid workplace, whilst 23% of businesses used or intended to introduce homeworking as a permanent business model. 

Additionally, in our first look into our Flexible Working Hours and Four-Day Week Survey findings, we observed that 85% of employees whose companies did not have a four-day working week pilot or option wanted to try out this model, and 66% of workers who only worked from an office wanted the chance to work from home. 

Flexibility is in higher demand than ever. Not addressing these employee needs could put SME management at a disadvantage when trying to attract and retain talented staff members and reduce employee turnover.

To learn more about how companies can adopt these practices, we asked our sample of 1,047 SME staff who worked five days a week or more and did their job primarily using a computer how they feel about software that facilitates flexible work.   

Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the full methodology.

71% would accept more employee monitoring if it meant more workplace flexibility

Companies adopting flexible working practices commonly use employee monitoring software. These tools track employee computers and browsers to check staff use company resources as they should. 

These are not always popular with workers, however. We saw in our own 2021 Employee Monitoring Survey that 47% of UK SME workers surveyed said monitoring software negatively impacted trust. How would more monitoring affect employee morale in 2023?

Did you know?

Employee monitoring tools take many forms. They are usually designed to check the usage of computer resources such as browsers and applications. However, other functions can include observing screen activity usage, employee keystrokes, and tracking time spent at work.

These tools can also provide detailed analytics about employee productivity, and how company software is used, to understand where best to allocate company resources most efficiently. However, (as we saw in our findings below) they can give employees the impression they are being spied on, so must be deployed carefully.  

First, we saw that 71% of our sample would agree to extra monitoring in exchange for more flexible working arrangements. This suggests workers will tolerate additional surveillance as long as it's for a good reason or to offer something in return to employers in exchange for the additional freedoms.

Furthermore, when asked to highlight the positive effects of extra monitoring, our participants indicated several benefits. The most selected advantage, chosen by 42% of our respondents, was that it would help identify areas to improve and increase overall productivity. Yet, despite many positives being noted, 22% believed there would be no positive impacts on their work.  

: Graph showing the perceived positive effects increased employee monitoring would have

Employees accept workplace monitoring for more flexibility, but do they have concerns?

Despite many employees indicating clear benefits and a willingness to accept more monitoring for better workplace flexibility, workers still noted a negative impact on trust as a potential outcome. 

When asked to select the potential disadvantages of more monitoring: 

  • 48% of employees said it would increase their level of stress
  • 47% said they’d have less trust in their company (the same result was observed in our monitoring survey in 2021)
  • 40% indicated it would make them feel like their privacy is being invaded
  • 31% said it would demoralise them

Only 15% of the entire sample stated that using employee monitoring tools would have no negative impact on their work. 

The findings suggest that many employees would be prepared to give something in return for a flexible work arrangement from their companies, but there’s a catch. Accepting more workplace monitoring comes at the cost of more stress and less trust in their employer. 

Tips for SMEs

Companies should ensure they communicate the benefits that employee monitoring will create for their employees when implementing such a system. Gartner recommends taking a careful approach by adapting communications for staff members whose roles will be most affected by monitoring and enlisting managers to help convey this information.  

In some cases, it may be that employee monitoring is necessary to make workplace practices like hybrid working and flexible hours function and, when it is used, it must always be carefully rolled out to avoid these negative outcomes. However, as we explore next in this report, it is not the only way for companies to achieve these goals.  

89% of software users think it helps facilitate a flexible workplace

Despite the mixed picture seen with staff monitoring tools, many other types of software can help make greater flexibility at work a reality. In many of these cases, with much lower employee resistance.

In this survey, we considered four classes of programs that could be used to promote workplace flexibility:

Only 11% of our sample didn’t use any of this software at all. We, therefore, asked the other 89% who did use some of these tools about their experience and opinions of their use at work.

graph showing the use of flexibility boosting software tools in UK SME workplaces

One finding that stood out from this was that most respondents who used these tools felt they helped with work flexibility in terms of time and location. Here, 89% believed software played an important role in achieving this goal.   

Graph of opinions on whether software has a role in helping flexibility at work

All of the four types of collaboration software were seen as useful by most respondents who already used them. These were rated as follows: 

  • Collaboration software (useful according to 96% of respondents)
  • Communication software (90%)
  • Project management software (82%)
  • Performance tracking software (75%) 

The main benefits of software that can be used to promote flexibility vary. However, better intra-team communication was the most selected advantage from our sample, chosen by 50% of current users. Other top benefits included quicker access to tasks and information (38%), increased efficiency and productivity (36%), and enhanced team organisation and collaboration (36%). Less than 1% believed there were no benefits at all. 

Tips for SMEs

We observed in our 2022 report on employee wellbeing that 23% of respondents said company culture had worsened since the pandemic, mainly due to few in-person or remote social events. It’s essential to avoid the loss of engagement that may come from being a distributed team. 

Using the right software and defining an organisational culture strategy can help companies keep employees engaged when adopting flexible practices. Our guide to adopting positive cultural working practices in a remote workplace explains important tips for SMEs to consider when adjusting for hybrid and remote employees. 

On the other hand, this group cited some drawbacks of using this software, which included:

  • Fears of a lack of privacy (26% of respondents)
  • Reliability issues using software (24%) 
  • Too many notifications (24%)
  • Feeling more controlled by their company (23%)

This was similar to the findings we saw before with employee monitoring tools specifically. Again, the biggest concerns relate to privacy, although in these cases, the worries were not quite as high and certainly were much lower compared to perceived benefits.

When assessing these tools in terms of how likely they would help make a four-day working week, remote workplace, or flexible hours more achievable, we asked the sample of current users to share their views.  

Graph of opinions of how the software would achieve flexibility

According to employees using these tools, the most helpful applications for remote work were collaboration and communication software. For the four-day week and flexible hours, all four tools were seen as similarly useful to broadly the same extent as each other amongst the sample, although with more optimism expressed for achieving flexible working times. 

It was notable to see that project management software and performance and time tracking software were seen as the least helpful for workplace flexibility overall. In the latter case, over a quarter (26%) of software-using participants thought these tools would not help in achieving flexibility at work.

37% of employees that use flexibility-promoting software expect spending to stall

As we’ve already explored in our previous report, companies that don’t offer flexible work options, such as hybrid working, could lose out. Flexibility is a growing trend, as shown by forecasts by Gartner, which predicts 67% of knowledge workers in the UK are set to work fully remotely or hybrid by the end of 2023. 

With many more positions on offer with these conditions, SMEs should also consider staying agile and being technically able to move with the times to avoid being left behind when finding and keeping talented staff. Is this reflected in their current software spending?

We’ve seen some compelling cases where software can make a difference for companies becoming more flexible according to employees. However, it is employers that ultimately hold the purse strings and must evaluate the cost-benefit options.

Is there enough investment in software for flexibility?

Employers not only need to be on board with any shift to a more flexible workplace, they must also be willing to spend the money necessary to ensure the company is fit and ready for the change. To learn more about SME leaders’ attitudes toward this, we asked users of software that promotes flexibility whether they think their companies intend to continue investing in tools to achieve this.

Over a third of software-using participants (37%) believed their companies didn’t plan to invest in flexibility-promoting software during 2023. In total, only 35% of this group expected more spending over the next 12 months, and 28% said they didn’t know. It seems, therefore, that a high proportion of SMEs either aren’t planning much more software spending or aren’t making it known to employees.

Employees welcome flexibility-enhancing tools

Despite expectations of capped spending from many using software for flexibility, those who expected more investment or didn’t know if it was planned by employers positively reacted to the idea of more software spending at work. 

Graph of employee opinions on whether their companies should invest more in software

Almost four out of five in this group believed their company should spend more on software, seemingly giving credence to the idea that software could help companies achieve greater flexibility.

How software puts flexibility in reach for SMEs

As we’ve observed in both reports, there is a strong desire by employees who work primarily on computers five or more days a week to adopt flexible practices. In this second look at our flexible working hours and four-day work week UK data, we saw that software is a major consideration for businesses looking to achieve that.

We observed the following findings in this article:

  • 71% of employees we surveyed would be willing to accept more surveillance at work if it resulted in more flexibility
  • 89% of employees who already use software that can help boost flexibility at work think it helps achieve this goal in terms of hours and location
  • 37% of those who use this kind of software think companies aren’t planning to invest more in it in 2023
  • 77% of participants who expect their companies to spend more on software for flexibility welcome the increased investment

The orthodoxy of five days working fixed hours from a single location is becoming increasingly old-fashioned for white-collar companies. However, as this report shows, companies should consider software solutions to keep up with current trends. This is no easy task, but it is a journey that firms should start planning for, as there is a long road ahead. 

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The data for GetApp’s Flexible Working Hours and Four-Day Week Survey was collected in February 2023 and comprises answers from 1,047 respondents. We selected our survey sample based on the following selection criteria:

  • UK residents
  • Aged between 18 and 65 years old
  • Full-time employed in a company with under 250 employees
  • Working five or more days a week
  • Using a computer at work

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

David is a Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate. He loves traveling, cooking and F1.

David is a Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate. He loves traveling, cooking and F1.