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An article from Accountancy Age about how accountancy firms are leading the way with productivity through embracing flexible working. 

Back in the mid-90s, economist Paul Krugman famously wrote, "Productivity isn't everything but, in the long run, it is almost everything." This sentiment was echoed following the Chancellor's Autumn Budget last month with many commentators pointing to productivity - or rather the UK's lack of it - as the root cause of our economic woes. Or more specifically, how raising productivity - through improved working practices or investing in technology - should allow profits and wages to rise and therefore boost the economy.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that for many years UK productivity has steadily risen, but since 2007 it has plateaued and is now falling. This prompted HSBC to look behind the figures to see what businesses can do to address the challenge.

The findings from our study of UK workers and business leaders clearly demonstrate the huge importance workers place on flexible hours and work-life balance when it comes to being more productive in the workplace. Nine out of 10 workers (89%) believe flexible working motivates them to be more productive at work.

In fact, workers rate the opportunity to work flexibly as being more likely to motivate them, and ultimately increase their productivity than financial incentives. What's more, flexible working has become so important that almost one in five (18%) cited a poor work-life balance as the reason for leaving their last job - ranking higher than limited opportunities for a pay rise.

The good news is that accountancy firms are leading the way when it comes to flexible and remote working. Our study showed they are the most likely of any sector to offer flexible working with 41% of accounting and finance employees saying the option is available to them. As a result, more than half (55%) say it motivates them "a great deal" - one of the highest satisfaction rates across all industries.

We've seen these statistics bought to life by the increased appetite our accountancy customers have to invest in the kind of technology needed to enable staff to work remotely, flexibly and collaboratively with colleagues and clients. This ranges from simply bringing in more mobile devices so employees can work flexibly and in different ways, to seeking bank finance to fund investment in the systems and infrastructure needed to securely work remotely.

The result of this is that productivity levels for the wider professional services sector, which includes accounting and legal firms, are the highest for any sector - and by a long way. The ONS calculates productivity as output per worker or output per hour worked and puts it at £68.10 for the professional services sector - more than double the national average of £32.20. From this we can see that businesses that offer flexible working are also likely to be more productive.

The link between flexible working and productivity has a lot to do with the changing demographics, desires and ambitions of the typical accountancy firm workforce. This has seen many firms adapting the way they attract and retain talent to focus on millennials, typically regarded as those born between 1980 and 1999.

And with predicting that millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce by 2025, they're a generation that cannot be ignored. As a cohort, they have become renowned for being motivated by "softer" factors. Whereas previous generations may have hoped for a work-life balance, millennials expect it and the idea of controlling their own working hours and location is critical. Trust plays a big role in this and is very important to millennials. Flexible working isn't just what you might call "lip service trust", it's "true trust" to be able to do your job diligently regardless of location.

It's perhaps not surprising that accountancy firms have heeded the words of economist Paul Krugman when it comes to productivity, but in leading the way when it comes to flexible working, the sector is recognising the needs of today's workforce. Accountancy firms are now reaping the benefits by creating happier and more productive workplaces.

Simon Adcock is Head of Professional Services for HSBC.