While the chief executive of a global Internet company may recently have banned company employees from home working, new research by global workplace provider Regus shows that half the world's workforce is now productively enjoying flexible working.
The 2013 Regus Global Economic Indicator reveals that professionals who are chained to the office desk will soon be the minority. Regus' research, canvassing over 26,000 business managers across 90 countries and regions (including 234 from Hong Kong, 851 from China, 106 from Taiwan and 189 from Singapore) found that 48 percent now work remotely for at least half their working week.
In Hong Kong, the figure is lower, at 36 per cent, while in China, the proportion is higher, with 53 percent of executives working flexibly for at least half the week. Both Taiwan and Singapore sit just above the global average, at 46 and 45 percent respectively.
Some chief executives may worry about motivating and managing staff at a distance.
But in the Regus survey, 58 percent of Hong Kong respondents and 59 percent of Chinese respondents said they believed effective management of remote workers was perfectly achievable, given appropriate training. In Taiwan, the figure rose to 71 percent. All of these are higher than the global average of 55 per cent.
"Flexible working is a winner for all concerned when the management team takes the lead," said John Henderson, Chief Finance Officer, Regus Asia-Pacific. "The business people we speak to believe that trust and freedom play a key role in remote management and, once in place, the benefits are clear for all to see: greater productivity, improved staff retention and lower operating costs."
Regus' survey shows that 41 percent of companies in Hong Kong, 63 percent in China and 72 percent in Taiwan use specific efficiency-monitoring reporting systems – overall, considerably higher than the global average of 37 percent.
The use of video calls is also a popular way for managers to communicate with their teams across greater China: 71 per cent in of mainland companies and 82 per cent in Taiwan use this method to stay in touch.
US health insurer Aetna, a leader in its field, has implemented training courses to familiarise both remote workers and their managers with effective flexible working methods. Of Aetna's 35,000 employees, 14,500 do not have a desk. This is in line with a global study by enterprise mobility technology vendor Citrix, which revealed that, by 2020, organisations in Hong Kong will have reduced office space by over 10 percent, and will provide just over seven desks for every ten office workers.
The flexible work experience can hold particular appeal for younger workers.
Thirty-four percent of respondents in Hong Kong and forty-nine per cent in both China and Taiwan believe that junior employees become more responsible through remote working.
In addition, there is a perception that flexible working is shaping a new kind of interaction between line managers and their teams. Thirty-eight percent of respondents in Hong Kong and Singapore, fifty-six per cent in China and fifty-nine percent in Taiwan think that remote management helps maintain more professional relationships.