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.
Tony Grace, chief operating officer of Virgin Media Business, says the Olympic Games were a catalyst for more remote working in future
The trend towards remote working is on an upward curve. It’s never been easier for employees to set themselves up from home, in a library or in a coffee shop. We’ve seen more and more customers asking us about implementing remote working. In research we carried out, we found that more than half (60 per cent) of employees will be working from home in the next decade. The Olympics was a great opportunity for businesses that may not have been ready for remote working to dip their toes in the water.
Steve Seymour, technical director at Portal, says those businesses that planned ahead saw the least disruption during the Olympics
Businesses that did use remote working but didn’t plan ahead experienced a major drop in productivity. Those that planned to varying degrees saw productivity continue and business as usual.
A lot of businesses have remote working capabilities but not for all of their staff, so there was an addition of capacity to their remote working [capabilities]. The primary technology that business invested in [prior to the Olympics] was actually email. It’s the one that everybody assumes is accessible, but a lot of organisations didn’t make email available before this requirement came along.