Over a third of UK organisations believe that flexible working is the most important benefit that they have experienced as a result of the London 2012 Olympic Games, according to new research by Vanson Bourne on behalf of BT.
In a survey of 600 large organisations in both the private and public sectors, 34 percent said that flexible working facilities brought in for London 2012 are the greatest business legacy of the Games, with a further 10 percent citing upgraded technology.
Furthermore, 37 percent of respondents said that they now have more trust in their employees working flexibly, as a result on the Olympic Games.
Encouraging businesses in London to adopt flexible working practices was one of the government's key aims ahead of London 2012, to prevent the capital's public transport systems from becoming clogged up during the Games.
In 2011, transport minister Norman Baker MP helped to launch the “Anywhere Working” consortium, to provide online training in technologies that enable flexible working, such as video conferencing and cloud document sharing, and allow organisations to participate in trials.
At that time, only eight percent of organisations with more than 1,000 employees planned to implement a flexible working strategy for the Games and, of those, 54 percent planned to keep it in place either permanently or on a trial basis after the Games, according to BT's research.
By the time London 2012 arrived, however, 34 percent planned to implement a flexible working strategy and 85 percent planned to keep it in place after the Games.
“As we saw in the business confidence results, managers now trust workers of all types to work flexibly. It's been proven,” said Graham Opie, director and co-founder of Vanson Bourne, who presented the results of his research at an event in the BT Tower today.
“It's been a difficult management issue for some years, and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) revolution and mobile communications in general have simply been pushing that forward. We have to see this as a watershed in flexible working.”
Opie added that the public sector was already ahead of the game in terms of flexible working, with 43 percent of public sector organisations surveyed claiming to have used technology to increase responsiveness and resilience during London 2012
Of those, 54 percent used a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to enable flexible working, 28 percent invested in more infrastructure and 38 percent used or invested in WiFi.
One organisation that was under great pressure to deliver an Olympic legacy was Newham Council, which was a host borough for London 2012. The council's CIO Geoff Connell promised that this legacy would include a more resilient ICT infrastructure and new flexible working practices.
This involved scaling up the council's remote access capability to 1,400 concurrent users, and implementing a 7:10 desk to people ratio for Newham's main building. The council also moved from 27 smaller offices to a major base at the Royal Docks, saving about £2m a year.
“The Olympics gave people who had never worked from home before the opportunity to try it out during the Games; managers learnt to manage by output rather than presenteeism,” Connell told Techworld.
“Our contact centre staff, who used to come into work every day, did their jobs from home and found they were more productive. I haven't seen them since – they never come back.”
Tim Jones, corporate partner at law firm Freshfields, added that companies that have flexible working policies are more likely to engage employees, and are also more likely to gain an edge over their competitors when it comes to attracting new talent.
“The Paralympics have also changed organisations' attitudes to disability in the workplace, and flexible working associated with that, so the Games really have been a catalyst for change,” he said.
Emer Timmons, president of BT Global Services UK, said that BT as a company has been working flexibly for years and, as a result, productivity has gone up 33 percent.
The company is now running a programme called “Powering up the professional worker,” which examines the opportunities provided by workplace innovation and technology to the professional services sector, and helps customers implement flexible working policies.