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Chas Moloney, Marketing Director, Ricoh UK& Ireland

We live in a world defined by convenience, where new technologies are developed with the sole aim of making our lives more efficient and productive. With online shopping simplified to the click of a button at Amazon, and personal banking authentication requiring no more than one spoken word with Barclays, everyday tasks both at home and in the office are now easier, quicker and – some might argue – more enjoyable than ever before.

With such obvious progress on the technological front, businesses are now well-placed to offer their employees tech-enabled, flexible working – allowing them to choose where they work and how they work, on whichever device they choose. Indeed, this is something that the government has been championing since 2014, with the introduction of new legislation to grant every employee the legal right to request flexible working, regardless of their personal circumstances.

Despite these developments, it seems that corporate attitudes towards flexible working are lagging worryingly behind, preventing many workers and businesses from taking full advantage of the opportunity they present – a fact that the latest research from IT services company, Ricoh UK, can attest to.

Polling 1,249 knowledge workers across the UK, the research – conducted in partnership with YouGov – shows that a culture of ‘presenteeism’, where employees work longer hours at their desk in order to secure positive endorsement from management, dominates British business. Unsurprisingly, it is young professionals – digital natives accustomed to using mobile and tablet devices at home and in the office – who are impacted the most by this out of date working etiquette.

The research reveals how young workers in particular feel pressured to compromise their own working styles in order to meet the expectation that they should be present in the office at all times. As much as 67 per cent of 18-26 year olds have admitted to ‘faking’ the extent of their workloads by staying late at the office beyond their contracted hours in an attempt to get ahead.

Against this backdrop, working away from the office is viewed unfavourably – to the extent that 39 per cent of young professionals believe it could damage their career progression. Nearly half (41 per cent) also feel that their bosses favour staff who work over their contracted hours in the office, showing how a culture of fear is permeating British business from the top down.

In this digital age, when we can book a taxi through an app on our mobile phone and then connect to free Wi-Fi when we’re in it, it’s nonsensical that such outdated, legacy working practices continue to thrive. If we are to avoid a generation of demotivated, disillusioned workers, British business leaders must take urgent steps to equip the next generation of young professionals with the technologies that they are both familiar with, and can actually aid their working lives.

The research suggests that young people see a direct correlation between digital skills and success, with a third (31 per cent) calling for the government to grant funding for the provision of technology to empower a more digitally-driven British workforce. A further 47 per cent also believe the government should connect businesses with technology experts to help them roll-out more tech-enabled working practices.

Supporting employee development with tech-driven working plans tailored to their individual preferences is something that Ricoh, a global IT services company, is committed to. We invest in technology so our staff can work flexibly on their own terms, either by hot-desking in the office, or working from home around personal appointments. Of course, this improves employee engagement, loyalty and wellbeing, but we also believe that it helps people to work more productively and efficiently.

However, investment in new technologies is only half the battle when helping organisations to adopt a more flexible approach. If we are to free British businesses of a legacy ‘presentee-ist’ culture, the youngsters believe that this must be complemented by a total change of mind set. Ricoh’s research reveals how 49 per cent of young workers want the government to ensure businesses are clear on their employer obligations to provide access to this style of work, while 58 per cent think the government should educate employers more about the benefits of flexible working.

While the government’s introduction of flexible working legislation was applauded two years ago, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure these good intentions are followed-through into practice. It is only by continuing to challenge cultural ‘norms’ and investing in a truly tech-enabled workforce, that we will be able to help our young professionals reach their full potential and secure Britain’s digital economy for generations to come.

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