By Darren Beggan, Head of professional services at Excalibur Communications
The 2012 Olympics is set to cause both excitement, and perhaps pandemonium across the UK. This is not least true for businesses, which not only have the potential to harness significant benefits from the event, but must also plan efficiently to ensure business continuity during any upheavals that the event may cause.
For example, the high volume of people working near the Olympic sites is set to cause a number of traffic problems surrounding workers’ daily commute, although Transport for London is actively trying to reduce commuter traffic by 30 per cent during the games.
In addition, the Olympics, alongside other events such as Euro 2012 and the Jubilee celebrations are likely to result in an increased number of people wanting to book holiday at the same time, which may place further strain on businesses due to staff shortages.
Subsequently businesses must think about ways that they can effectively run as normal during this summer’s key events. Amongst the myriad of tactical changes that can be made, in anticipation of the Olympics and beyond, I believe the answer is flexible working.
The benefits of enabling staff to work from home are proven; during events such as the Olympics it can have a positive impact on morale as well as sickness and absenteeism levels.
Longer term, flexible working can also help a business reduce costs as well as its environmental footprint. For example, the biggest overhead for most small businesses is the cost of the office. If employees are working from home there is no need for growing businesses to spend valuable funds on bigger premises, and companies may also find that they can downsize their current offices.
A recent trial was held in Slough in which 3,000 staff worked from home for one day. The result was a saving of 2,000 commuter hours, resulting in more productive employees. Business costs for fuel and electricity were also saved.
Some businesses may be concerned over losing control of staff and employees becoming less productive as a consequence, but in reality companies don’t stand over their workforce - instead they have a level of trust. The trial in Slough also showed that people ended up working longer hours than usual, demonstrating that staff can be more productive when working at home.
However, to ensure ‘business as usual’ when taking a more flexible approach to working, it is vital to implement efficient internal and external collaboration. This is where technology comes in.
The advent of cloud computing, which allows colleagues to simultaneously share documents online, means that with an internet connection, a person can set up an office at their own kitchen table. There are a multitude of mobile devices which lend themselves to this way of working too — smart phones, net books and laptops are all web enabled.
To make the process even smoother, an employee’s office land line number and mobile number can also be merged, to ensure that communication is streamlined.
The implementation and growth of policies such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), means that many businesses have already begun to tighten the security of mobile devices. As more businesses begin to adopt flexible working patterns, and the usage of mobile devices increases, this will become even more important.
A number of businesses may be concerned that an upsurge in the number of people watching the Olympics via the internet will have a detrimental effect on them should internet access crash. To avoid this, internet service providers are considering applying data usage caps to businesses.
I believe that for many businesses, the Olympics will be an enabler for a step change, as many will realise the benefits of flexible working; particularly if it leads to the recruitment of quality staff, such as mothers returning to work from maternity leave who may not be able to work unless more flexible options are available to them.
However the businesses which work with their IT provider to prepare their technology accordingly will be the ones to reap the most reward.
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