Will flexible working policies drive cities to be fully 24/7?
Flexible working policies have rapidly increased in popularity in the last few years. What started as a means of giving parents and carers more flexibility is now integral to employment benefit packages and critical for firms vying to attract top talent. But with more workers becoming accustomed to choosing the hours they work, will cities themselves follow suit and truly operate round-the-clock?
The UK Government outlines eight types of flexible working arrangement and according to Timewise, 63% of full-time employees have made the most of these and work flexibly; and 87% claim they would like to or already work flexibly. While 72% of workers aged over 55 years would like access to a flexible working policy, 92% of 18-34 year olds want such policies. But we expect that by 2040, when the 18-34 year old cohort is 40-56, demand for flexible working provisions will be even higher than it is today and this will be accommodated by firms.
This increasing desire to work flexibly will certainly influence whether or not cities become 24-hour operations with continual access to buildings and services. But most workers cite managing their work/life balance as the key benefit of flexible working followed by the need to manage commuting costs or study commitments. Younger workers also cite leisure as an important factor in the flexibility they seek at work.
A common driver for flexible working is employees’ desire for free time during standard working hours rather than a yearning to work throughout the night. And those employees who work from home tend to seek out face-to-face contact with colleagues to remain connected with their teams, which typically happens during standard working hours. These factors, along with the issues and stress related to working nights, mean that in 2040 flexible working policies are unlikely to have driven round-the-clock access to buildings and services in cities.
And while we might envisage that younger workers would seize the opportunity to get to the office a little later in the day in order to sleep off any partying they may have done the night before, this is not the case: Home Office statistics show that, despite the introduction of ‘24 hour licencing’ in England and Wales in 2003, demand for late night refreshment is more gradual than ever. So while it appears we have not yet transformed into nocturnal workers, flexibility will be the key for British businesses in 2040.
Figure 1: Change in 24-hour premises licensing
Source: Home Office
Since 2008, the number of premises offering late night refreshment has increased by 14%, or around 1.5% per year, to 211,000 in 2017. The number of premises offering 24-hour alcohol sales has risen by only slightly more (16%), mostly as a result of a significant increase in late night supermarkets. The number of hotel bars with 24-hours licences has actually dropped by 23% since 2010 and there are now only 800 bars in the whole of England and Wales with such licences. Although the overall trend is clearly towards more late-night opening, at the present rate of change, we would expect around a 30% increase in 24-hour premises by 2040. Extensions to the operating hours of public transport (especially London’s Night Tube, which got 7.5 million users in its first year) might accelerate this otherwise gradual trend.