In advance of the Olympics, businesses were warned that increased pressure on London’s transport network would necessitate home and remote working.
In June 2011, then transport secretary Philip Hammond encouraged employers to consider allowing remote working, and pledged that the government would allow “significant numbers of people to work from home during the Games”.
Not everyone was convinced of the strategy. On the eve of the opening ceremony, London mayor Boris Johnson described remote working as a “skiver’s paradise”. He added, “We all know [working from home] is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again.”
In the run-up to the Olympics, businesses remained divided. According to a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) survey, 50% of firms nationally intended to allow their employees to work from home during the Games.
So what happened in the event? There was certainly extra pressure on the London transport network. According to figures released by Transport for London, more than 60 million passengers used the Underground during the Games, 30% more than usual and more than at any time in its 150-year history.
But did London businesses use remote working as a result? Research by remote working consultancy Portal found that – as predicted by the CBI study – around half (48%) of businesses allowed employees to work from home during the Games. And nearly two-thirds, it found, saw their business continue with little or no drop in productivity.
Portal also found that 41% of respondents had invested in new technology “allowing people to access email, video-conferencing and critical business systems”.
Just under a third of London businesses, Portal found, failed to make any plans for the Olympics, and over a third of those saw a “significant” drop in productivity. But for most organisations, it seems that remote working was one of many aspects of the Olympics that – to the surprise of some – just went right.