100 days and counting until the 2012 Olymics

In case you missed the endless alerts earlier this week – there’s only 100 days to go before the Olympics (well 97 days actually at the time of writing).

If the latest press reports are to be believed, there are still a fair few businesses out there who are ignoring the dire warnings and have put no plans in place whatsoever to combat the expected disruption.

Now whether the situation will be as bad as its being painted remains to be seen, but whatever your views about the hype, London 2012 does provide a great opportunity to test the water on flexible working.

O2 has led the way with a recent one-day flexible working pilot when the entire workforce at its Slough HQ were asked to work away from the office for a day. According to a report in HR Magazine, more than 2,500 people managed to operate successfully from home, with only 125 ‘mission critical’ staff left in the building.

A poll found that 88 per cent of employees said they were at least as productive as on a normal day at the office, with 36 per cent claiming to have been more productive than usual. The experiment also led to a decrease in CO2 emissions (achieved by the reduction in commuting) and 2,000 hours of travel time was saved.

O2 will be sharing the results of its pilot with the wider business community in an attempt to shore up the business case for flexible working – not just during exceptional circumstances like the Games, but on an on-going basis.

There’s no doubt there are some real bottom line advantages to enabling people to work more flexibly. Employees are less stressed and more productive, the business is better equipped to respond to customers outside the confines of the 9-5 and more likely to hang on to talented staff who might otherwise head out of the door in search of better work-life balance.

SMEs, however, are sometimes reluctant to travel too far down the flexible working route. They are concerned about setting a precedent (if we let one person do it everyone will want to), worried about how they will manage people they can’t see and concerned that communication will break down and the work just won’t get done.

There are of course many small businesses who do need people to be physically present during set hours, because that’s what the nature of their business demands. But advances in technology have now made it perfectly feasible for businesses of all sizes to take a fresh look at their working practices.

There are now sophisticated networking tools, for example, that allow people to collaborate on projects virtually and performance management software that helps managers ensure their teams stay on track.

Part of the reluctance to embrace these new ways of working is down to lack of knowledge. SMEs are often not aware of the technology that is now available and are under the misapprehension that it will be complicated and expensive. They also have limited knowledge of the full range of flexible working options and how these can be applied to different job roles.

The biggest issue, however, is probably around trust – and that’s something that requires a real mind-shift on the part of managers. Those who are rooted in the traditional ways of working find it hard to get away from the idea that if staff are left to their own devices, they will fritter the day away on Facebook or in front of the telly.

Speaking as a home-based worker myself, I would suggest the opposite is probably true. Trust people to get on with – and they will repay you with commitment, loyalty and a job well done.

Is your business planning to experiment with flexible working over the Olympics? Tell us about any contingency plans you have put in place.

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