Every morning, waves of people commute into the world’s cities and return home at the end of the day. The chance to do things differently is an elusive dream for many. But in Finland, it’s reality.

The country has been at the forefront of flexible working for years. Since the mid-90s, the Working Hours Act has empowered Finns to adjust their working day by starting or finishing up to three hours earlier or later.

Versatility has since become part of the culture. According to a 2011 global survey, 9 out of 10 Finnish companies offered their workforce flexible-working options.

New laws for working in Finland

Now it’s taking the idea a step further. New legislation, which will come into force in early 2020, will make the average 40-hour working week… well, even more flexible.

Employees will be able to decide when and where they work for at least half of their hours. As well as fitting their job around childcare commitments or exercise sessions, most full-time workers will be able to “bank” time off and use it to take extended holidays.

Daily treks into the city could become unnecessary as the new rules facilitate a choice of working remotely.

Remote working has many benefits, even if it poses some challenges for coordination.

It allows companies to attract talented employees who live in more remote areas. And studies show that allowing people to fit work commitments around their home life boosts productivity.

Image: Statista

More than 80% of respondents told an International Workplace Group survey of 18,000 professionals in 96 different countries that flexible working hours increased their productivity. More than half thought the experience made them more efficient and increased job satisfaction.

Image: International Workplace Group

A study of UK workers by HSBC found flexible working hours motivated almost 90% of people to be more productive. Versatile working conditions were seen as a greater productivity incentive than higher pay. Poor work-life balance was cited as the reason why almost two-fifths of respondents left their last job.

Similar results were found by a study of 16,000 employees at a Chinese travel agency, where volunteers were randomly assigned work-from-home or office-based tasks. Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University, who led the study, found the productivity of home workers increased by 13% over their office-based colleagues, due in part to shorter breaks and fewer sick days.

Beating the daily grind

Awareness is growing of the economic and psychological benefits of maintaining a sound work-life balance. It seems Finland’s secret is out, as other countries adopt more flexible approaches.

Australia has introduced legislation making it easier for employees and companies to agree flexible hours, work location and work patterns, for example. The Australian HR Institute points to mutual benefits for employee and employer, including improved staff retention, worker longevity and less need for time off to deal with domestic matters.

In the UK, just 6% of people do a traditional 9am to 5pm working day, according to a YouGov survey of 1,800 workers. Pay was seen as an important part of what makes a “good job”, but a sociable and friendly environment was found to be just as important. Flexible hours and work patterns were considered nearly as important as pay.

Image: YouGov.com

Greater access to wifi and cloud-based communications have created new ways of working, but attitudes to alternative work arrangements are also changing.

Technology and the growth of temporary workspaces have helped introduce greater flexibility into the previously rigid employment landscape.