In one of the largest global workplace surveys of its kind, 83 per cent of respondents said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity.

Results from the research with 8,000 global employers and employees, conducted by Vodafone, also showed that 61 per cent said it had helped increase company profits.

The report, titled ‘Flexible: Friend or Foe?’, found that SMEs in particular had been overwhelmingly convinced about the business benefits of flexible working.

The survey questioned employers from small and medium-sized businesses, public sector organisations and multinational corporations (MNCs) in 10 different countries. It found high-speed mobile data services was one of the biggest contributors to this shift in attitude, by allowing employees to use their own devices to work from home and still connect to the organisation.

A large proportion (61 per cent) of respondents said staff now use their home broadband to access work applications, while 24 per cent said employees use a mobile data connection via their smartphone, tablet or laptop with a broadband dongle.

Vodafone Group enterprise chief executive Nick Jeffery said: “Our research reveals a profound and rapid shift in the modern workplace. Employers are telling us that flexible working boosts profits while their employees tell us they’re more productive.”

Not only does allowing flexible working boost company profits, the survey also suggested it boosts corporate reputations too. The data revealed 58 per cent believe flexible working policies have a positive impact on their organisation’s reputation.

However, Vodafone’s research also revealed that 20 per cent of respondents said their organisation had not yet implemented a flexible working policy. It found some stereotypes about home working remain stubbornly ingrained. For example 22 per cent believed employees would not work as hard if allowed to adopt flexible working patterns and technologies. Another concern was that work would be unfairly distributed between flexible and non-flexible groups of employees, and that there would be friction between employees working flexibly and those who do not.

Country variations also exist, with 71 per cent of Spanish employees reporting that they use their own smartphone to work flexibly outside the workplace compared with 38 per cent in the UK and 27 per cent in Germany. More positively though, UK bosses were least likely to think British flexible workers were slacking off. Only 8 per cent of UK employers were concerned about employees not working as hard because of flexible working policies compared with 33 per cent in Hong Kong.

In 2013, joint research by Vodafone and RSA concluded UK businesses could realise cost reductions and productivity gains of £8.1 billion by optimising their approach to flexible working.

However, flexible working still remains a divisive issue. Research last month by Direct 365 revealed staff think the growing availability of flexible working options is having a detrimental effect on the atmosphere in their office. It found 31 per cent of British workers thought the traditional office culture was in danger of being lost, with workers over the age of 55 also most likely to say that flexible working is having an adverse effect on team spirit.

The latest research itself found 33 per cent of respondents believed flexible working would not suit the culture of their organisation.

Personnel Management, Peter Cruish, 9th February 2016