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July 24, 2012updated 19 Aug 2016 9:28am

Government’s Olympic remote working lead not followed by private sector

A new survey shows few private sector organisations have remote working plans in place for Olympics, but do expect disruption

By Jason Stamper Blog

While civil servants began a programme of flexible working at the weekend that could last for up to seven weeks in order to avoid travel disruption and crowds during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it seems few private sector organisations are following suit.

A survey by YouGov of 500 decision-makers at small to medium enterprises (SME’s) for online collaboration and remote working firm Citrix, found that while almost half of SMEs expect some kind of disruption during the Games, only 21 percent have business continuity in place.

That contrasts with the government, which has already said that up to 150 Civil Servants from Whitehall will work out of Croydon during the Olympics to avoid travel troubles anticipated during the Games. They have been given remote access technology at The Croydon Hub, run out of the government owned Southern House, Wellesley Grove, and will work there during July and August.

The space, which cost the government under £6,000 to kit out, is expected to be used following the Games as part of an effort to provide flexible working options for the Civil Service.

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said: "The Olympic and Paralympic Games will be a great moment for this country – and we’re not going to let anything get in the way of that. On the busiest days up to 800,000 ticketed spectators will be making an extra three million trips in London on public transport. Needless to say, this presents a huge logistical challenge."

"This Croydon hub will help reduce pressure on London’s transport network during the Olympics," Maude added.

However with 435,000 full time equivalent posts in the civil service as at the fourth quarter 2011, it’s not clear just how many are allowed or encouraged to work flexibly or remotely. A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office had not got back to us by press time.

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However Action 17 of the Civil Service Reform document (Part 2) states that a new offer to staff should, "Create a decent working environment for all staff, with modern workplaces enabling flexible working, substantially improving IT tools and streamlining security requirements to be less burdensome for staff."

The document goes on, "During the Olympics, we will encourage more Whitehall civil servants to work remotely, whether from an office outside central London or from home. This will require managers to focus on their outputs rather than their hours. We aim to use the experience to spread this approach more widely. This contribution to a better culture can be a key Olympic legacy."

"The Olympics therefore provide a case study for the introduction of more flexible ways of working and provide an opportunity to create a lasting change in the working culture of the Civil Service," it concluded.

Private sector lagging

However, it seems this sentiment has not spread to the private sector, as businesses are not putting a continuity plan in place, according to the results of a Citrix survey.

Almost half (41%) of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the London area expect to suffer disruption as a direct result of the 2012 Olympics according to the survey.

Only one in five (21%) SMEs have put in place a business continuity plan for the Olympics and even fewer (10%) are adopting new working practices to minimise potential interruptions. Only 58% of small firms are prepared to cope with the expected disruption, despite concerns about staff arriving late or not at all, distractions during working hours and meetings being cancelled.

"Despite the fact that so many anticipate Olympics-related disruptions, it is surprising that almost 60% of SMEs don’t think that any formal change to existing ways of working is either relevant or necessary," said Andrew Millard, senior director EMEA marketing, for the Online Service Division at Citrix.
Board-level directors are most nervous about potential impact, with more than two-thirds (67%) expressing concern, yet this is not matched by a higher-than-average level of business continuity initiatives in response. Sole traders expect their businesses to be least affected.

Of those businesses expecting some disruption, an overwhelming 87% believe productivity will suffer.

Another recent survey by Siemens Enterprise Communications found that 77% of public centre call centres are either already implementing or looking to introduce remote working capabilities, demonstrating public sector organisations are already active in enabling customer service and remote working to reduce costs.

As reported in June 2011, the need to find further savings in accommodation costs will provide the incentive for an increase in mobile and flexible working by the public sector, according to the programme director of a group working in this field.

Ken Eastwood of Public Sector Nomads, told the SmartGov Live conference that, while there has already been an effort to rationalise property holdings, the need for further savings in response to the spending cuts will make it more intense.

"A lot more could happen with accommodation," he said. "In year one of the Comprehensive Spending Review phase there have been a lot of brutal cost reductions, but the next three will also be very difficult. We are going to look at how we can share accommodation with public sector partners."

Eastwood, who is also assistant director at Barnsley metropolitan borough council, said that mobile technology is making it possible for an increasing number of organisations to reduce their office space and make greater use of "hot desking" and remote working.

He said the latter is likely to become increasingly important later in the decade, as rising fuel costs and the need to cut carbon emissions will lead organisations to question the wisdom of requiring staff to commute to work every day.






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