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        An Olympic Opportunity for the UK to Embrace Flexible Working

        An Olympic Opportunity for the UK to Embrace Flexible Working

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          With the Olympic Games less than 36 days away, could they be the biggest incentive for UK business to finally embrace flexible working.

          The “Greatest Show on Earth” gets underway in less than 36 days’ time: all the planning and preparation reaches declared open. 

          Whilst many people eagerly await the Games, the UK business community seems rather more concerned about their impact on opportunities, transport and travel across the capital. Despite a high profile campaign to encourage businesses to plan ahead and work around the expected disruption, many businesses still seem ill-prepared for the Olympics. 

          Back in January, BT Business reported that 95% of UK business thought the Games would have a negative effect due to disrupted supply chains, higher costs and greater absenteeism. But with less than two months to go, there seems little progress according to a recent MWB Business Exchange survey of 430 businesses in travel “hot spots” around the City: 89% agreed that the Games would have an impact, 30% still had no contingency plans and only 11% had planned for staff to work from home.

          Given the current economic climate, perhaps UK business is understandably concerned about the Games’ impact: parallels have been drawn with the much hyped “Y2K disaster”. Yet this failed to materialise and most computers changed dates from 1999 to 2000 without anticipated global meltdown!  Additionally, there is considerable evidence from the Vancouver, which hosted 2010’s Winter Games that the long-term impact is both significant and valuable – two years on,  more than 49% of Canadian businesses wish that they had taken greater advantage of its opportunities.

          Whether your viewpoint is positive or negative, the Games will start on 27th July – so there is still time to plan around them.  Unlike the multi-nationals, Canary Wharf occupants and Government departments, small and medium businesses in and around London probably don’t need meticulous planning, stress testing and dry-runs to develop a successful and effective Olympics plan.

          Most simply need to think carefully about how, where and when the Games will impact their business and then plan accordingly.  Involving staff, customers and suppliers is essential, but the final plan doesn’t need to be complicated or excessively detailed.  However, it’s vital that everyone in the organisation understand what is happening, when and who to contact if problems occur.

          Flexible Working is the most obvious way forward: staggered starts, flexi-time, split shifts, working longer one day and shorter another are effective, viable alternatives to avoid transport hot spots,  closed roads and large volumes of people in the capital during the working day. Staff may welcome the opportunity to work differently or change their routines; finding it more convenient and as a result, they may become more motivated and productive.

          Fast Internet access, smart phones, laptops and tablets are now widely used devices, with many people preferring them to the more traditional desktop or laptop computer. The technology is certainly there to support flexible working, but the real driver for its success is the organisation’s attitude to implementing it.

          Whilst employees now have the legal right (in certain circumstances) to ask for flexible working, many companies still don’t whole-heartedly embrace it.  Although 96% of the private sector has at least one flexible working policy, it’s often not a priority. This may be a lack of trust or the perceived issues around managing a more dispersed team, but the evidence shows it brings major benefits. According to YouGov, 30% of UK employees think working flexibly improves their productivity and 43% said it reduced stress at work.  HSBC has also reported that its flexible working policies have resulted in a 300% increase in women returning to work after maternity leave.

          Beyond the personal benefits for staff, there are real financial incentives for moving to flexible working: fewer employees based in the office allows for downsizing: saving rental, servicing and associated costs.  BT has reported a £40m in accommodation costs alone as a result of its flexible working policies.

          For companies based in and around London, particularly those near Olympic venues, the benefits of can be very attractive and are still achievable – even at this late stage.  It’s vital to involve and briefing everyone about the company’s plans, how it will impact them and their customers and colleagues throughout the Games. 

          For companies looking to “trial” flexible working beyond home working, options include virtual offices and temporary relocation.  Once established a virtual office which allows all staff to access centralised online services regardless of their location may be the way forward.  Another option is relocating offices outside London for the Games’ duration. This allows teams to relocate, provides meeting rooms and head office facilities, but sees the majority of staff working at home or from other locations. These options have proven extremely popular, with serviced office provider, Business Environment seeing a 90% increase in demand for its virtual office services in the past four months. Demand for short-term office space in Business Environment’s Reading, Bristol and Milton Keynes centres has also reached record levels, as more organisations look to relocate temporarily.

          Flexible working can certainly offer many of London’s businesses an effective way of working around the Olympics.  Once the Games have finished, it will be fascinating to see how many organisations revert to their old ways of working – or retain and embrace their new found flexibility. Perhaps a more flexible working environment will be one of the Games’ real legacies for UK business.

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