New research by Chwarae Teg demonstrates that while Welsh businesses are starting to embrace different ways of working, there remains a need for further information about the range of approaches that are possible and support to implement these.

As part of our Agile Nation 2 project, which is funded by European Social Fund and the Welsh Government, Chwarae Teg has commissioned research into these modern working practices to better understand how they’re perceived and implemented by businesses in a number of the priority sectors in Wales.

For 25 years, Chwarae Teg has been working for a Wales where women achieve and prosper. Whilst progress has been made, it’s commonly known that barriers continue to prevent women from playing a full and equal role in our economy and society.

Women commonly find job opportunities in low paid, part-time roles, are underrepresented in certain sectors, and are notably absent from leadership positions. Gendered, traditional roles affiliated to women, such as ‘the primary carer’, continue to affect women’s career paths, and prevent them from fully participating in economic activities while managing their out-of-work responsibilities.

A range of actions are needed to overcome these barriers, but first and foremost it’s important to review how we work and organise our workplaces.

Traditional work culture and working patterns based on strictly defined working time and place create barriers for anyone to achieve a better work-life balance. This is felt even more acutely by women who are trying to balance work with caring responsibilities and can prevent them from reaching their full potential.

On the other hand, modern working practices – an umbrella term used to describe ways of working which are different to the conventional full-time, nine-to-five, five-days-a-week working pattern – such as flexible or agile working can significantly increase female employment, staff-satisfaction and productivity in general.

Through a literary review, and a series of surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups, our new research explores the uses and attitudes towards these modern working practices in Wales, specifically in the Construction, Energy and Environment, Financial and Professional Services, and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sectors.

Overall, 14 businesses and representative bodies were interviewed, 76 businesses responded to the online survey fully, and 20 businesses attended the focus groups.

“Lots of employers want to offer flexible working…”

The research shows that flexible working and working from home are the most common examples of modern working practice in use, but newer approaches, such as “Results Only Working” are yet to be discovered by the majority of employers.

Employers voiced a number of challenges to implementing MWP such as resistant attitudes, unsuitability of remote working for the nature of work, difficulties in communication, loss of team atmosphere, failure to meet clients’ expectations and insufficient infrastructure.

However, participants were largely in agreement that modern working practices are both effective and appropriate for Welsh businesses and the economy, and provide better staff satisfaction, productivity, retention and work-life balance.

The research shows that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing modern working practices. Each business needs to find the most appropriate way for them. However, we did find that businesses of a similar size or from the same sector often adopted similar approaches which can offer guidance to others.

The research explains that small businesses are more likely to assess flexible working requests on a case by case basis, while large businesses tend to have formal policies, and are equipped with better technological resources to facilitate options such as agile working.

…Flexible working can become business as usual

The results of our research demonstrate that the needs of business are varied. While there are shared benefits, challenges and approaches that can provide a roadmap for most, there is a clear need for more tailored support for businesses to identify how modern working practices can work for them.

This report provides an insight into the perceived benefits and challenges of modern working practices in Wales. It is our hope that it will serve as a useful guide for businesses, policy makers and organisations like ourselves so that we can work together to change workplace cultures in Wales and ensure that modern working practices become business as usual.