The old 9 to 5, five-day-a-week routine is, if not dead and buried, then at least fast falling out of favour. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of full-time employees work flexibly today, according to flexibility experts Timewise; ONS data, too, shows that more than a quarter (26 per cent) of UK employees work part-time.

But cultural attitudes towards flexible and part-time working arguably still have to play catch-up. While the broad perception may be that it's the preserve of mothers with childcare responsibilities, this is quite far from the reality - and, it's been suggested, not all that helpful for women.

Timewise research found childcare was in fact not the most common reason given for working flexibly or choosing part-time work: only 35 per cent of part-timers who would prefer to continue working part-time cite caring responsibilities as their reason, compared to 36 per cent citing general convenience, 40 per cent wanting to enjoy leisure time or study and 48 per cent looking for the catch-all "work/life balance."

Sarah Ellis from south-west London is among the growing portion of the workforce whose reasons for going part-time had nothing to do with motherhood. She was 32 and had not yet had children when she asked to reduce her hours from five days a week to four in her role as head of marketing strategy at Sainsbury's three years ago. Her reason? She wanted to devote the fifth day of the working week to her side project, a start-up called Amazing If, which helps people access training and coaching to boost their careers.

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Since 2014, all employees have had the legal right to request flexible working - not just parents and carers. But Ellis was not without trepidation when she made her case to her company.

"I was going for an internal promotion at the time and I worried there was going to be a perception that I would rather be working on my own business and was only at Sainsbury's because I had to be," she says. "I did a whole PowerPoint presentation on why it was a good thing, explaining how it was complementary, not competitive."

She had managed to show about two of her slides before her boss was convinced. "She said, 'Sarah, I totally get this. This is about you having another outlet and it's part of who you are. It can only be a good thing for everyone.'"

That was three years ago; since Ellis, now a 35-year-old mother-of-one and managing director at a creative agency, changed her way of working to devote time to a separate enterprise, she believes the idea has caught on. "I felt I was going out on a limb, but once I did it, actually two or three people asked to work part-time. One of them wanted to do it so he could run his street food cart [on the side].

Flexible working also allows workers to focus on their side projects. Photo/Getty Images.
Flexible working also allows workers to focus on their side projects. Photo/Getty Images.

"Sometimes you need role models. I was in a big FTSE 100 company and you're going out there and being quite game-changing in your mentality but I think [the company] was quite intrigued."

The decision, she says, was "the single best I've ever made."

Sinead Jefferies, 42, has also enjoyed the benefits of flexible working since she and her husband Jon moved to France in 2015. She now works mostly four-day weeks remotely as a director at Chime, a London-based research company, but from the comfort of her 14th century French townhouse in the Dordogne. About once a month, she travels to London for meetings and to catch up with her team.

So why did she choose to reject the traditional working model? "For a better life," she explains. "We were both commuting in and out of London from Hampshire for four hours a day and spending long hours in the office. 'Life has to be about more than this,' we said. 'But why are we talking about doing something different one day when we could do it now, while we're still young and can make the most of life?'"

It's taken some time to resettle, but their quality of life has undoubtedly improved. "We've eliminated the time and cost involved in commuting," says Jefferies, a mother of two children aged five and one. "And we have lots more time together. My husband and I can go and get a coffee together before we start work and we're not always rushing."

They've also used the extra time and space in their lives to run a gite over the last few summers, an undertaking that has brought its own pleasures. "It's been really good to be able to do something like that for ourselves; to have something we're in control of rather than just being in the corporate world," says Jefferies.

The preference for flexible working is strong among both men and women, say Timewise, with the vast majority (84 per cent) of male full-time workers either currently working flexibly or saying they want to, compared to 91 per cent of female full-time workers.

Flexible working also lets parents spend more time with their kids. Photo/Getty Images.
Flexible working also lets parents spend more time with their kids. Photo/Getty Images.

Rob Forkan, 31, who created the footwear brand Gandys with his brother, says of his hours: "There isn't a working pattern. Every week is different, which makes things fun, and it's the same across the team. To come up with the ideas and stories behind our products, getting out there and seeing the world is really important. We can't be sitting behind a desk 24/7. Once a month I'm somewhere new."

The rejection of a full-time desk-based lifestyle helps him and the team come up with fresh ideas, he believes. And instead of feeling exhausted by the daily grind, as he once did, he now feels energised.

Although he still works occasional long days to make up the hours, the pay-off is a working life with horizons stretching further than the office's four walls.

- Telegraph