The UK government has called for a “national shift” to flexible working in order to boost productivity and open up more job opportunities to women and those living outside of major cities.

New research published by the government-backed Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and jobs website Indeed showed that offering flexible working in job ads could increase applications by up to 30%.

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The research, which analyzed nearly 20 million applications in the UK, indicated that greater transparency in job adverts would add at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy per year.

Following the publication of the results, Liz Truss, the UK Minister for Women and Equalities, said flexible-working arrangements should be made a standard option for UK workers, adding that doing so would help level-up the country while boosting both the productivity and morale of workers.

“Our commitment to flexible working is based on our desire to open up employment opportunities to people regardless of their sex or location,” said Truss.

“The fact is that for many jobs there are invisible restrictions that hold people back – like the need to live in high-cost accommodation close to the center of cities or maintain working arrangements that are very hard to combine with family or other responsibilities.”

“We now have the chance to break down these barriers and boost opportunities for everyone.”

According to the UK government, almost 40% of employees worked from home in 2020.

Since then, appetite for flexible working has grown amongst both employers and employees, with several companies having announced permanent shifts to remote or ‘hybrid’ working arrangements.

The study by BIT and Indeed found that 9 in 10 job-seekers wanted increased flexibility, whether that meant working remotely (60%), flexible hours or ‘flexitime’ (54%), or reduced hours (26%).

Flexible working can be particularly beneficial to women, who Truss noted were more likely to have childcare or other commitments in the home that make working traditional 9 to 5 office roles more challenging.

Flexible roles boost applications

In the first stage of testing by BIT and Indeed, 200,000 job postings and over five million job applications on were assessed to determine the impact of job postings that advertised flexible-working options, as well as the number of applications flexible roles received.

When employers were asked to consider whether roles could be offered flexibly, the number of jobs advertised as being flexible options increased by 20%. Flexible-working roles also attracted up to 30% more applicants, the study found.

The second round of testing was performed on a sample size of almost 500,000 job ads, involving over 14 million job applications.

It found that prompts led to a 16.5% increase in jobs offering flexible roles, and a subsequent 19% increase in applications.

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Minister for Women, Baroness Berridge, said: “We continue to see the benefits of flexible working, now more than ever. These findings add to existing evidence showing how both men and women stand to benefit from working from home and returners programmes.

“Our work with Indeed has proven how much benefit there is for employers in advertising flexible roles and how doing so will help to normalize flexible working.”

Various studies indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote working have widened the talent pool and encouraged employers to look further afield when considering new candidates.

According to a US study of 608 managers and 401 employees by Infosys and Milken Institute, 88% of companies said their talent pool widened in 2020. Meanwhile, 84% of employees saw increased job opportunities from other geographies because they were able to work remotely.

Respondents also felt they were more productive while working remotely, even as their workloads increased. At the same time, managers surveyed by Infosys and Milken Institute reported feeling highly confident in their employees’ ability to be productive while working from home.

Deepa Somasundari, senior director of strategic projects at Indeed, said that because workers had experienced the benefits of remote working during COVID, there was an “increasing expectation that jobs are designed with this in mind.”

Somasundari added: “For employers, this means reconsidering the notion that flexible work is a benefit, and instead acknowledging it as a better way of working that could positively impact the lives of women, and therefore society as a whole.”