17 April 2012
People Management magazine recently reported on the results of
O2’s pilot homeworking day. The exercise was part of O2’s
contingency plans to deal with disruption and congestion during the
2012 Olympics, due to the proximity of its head office to the
Olympic rowing events.
Not only did the scheme save staff 2,000 hours
of lost travelling time, it showed that half of the reduced
commuting hours were spent doing ‘extra work’. This sounds like a
‘win-win’ situation with both employees and employers gaining, by
enabling staff to work from home.
Hailed by O2 as an ‘astonishing success’ it
has also provided a range of interesting data from the 2500 staff
who avoided working in the office on that one day. In brief the
- Staff survey showed 2000 commuting hours
saved, with 1040 hours spent doing ‘extra work’ – the rest of the
saving being applied to additional sleep, relaxation or family
- Nearly 90% reported no loss in
productivity, with 38% citing an increase;
- 12 tonne reduction in CO² emissions, plus
12% and 53% decrease in electricity and water consumption at head
- Instant messaging increased between
employees by 41% to keep staff in touch with each other.
Agile Working can involve working from home, but should be just
part of a package of measures to allow staff to work more flexibly.
Success is reliant upon the inter-relationship between people,
workplace, process and technology tools. People need to
want to work differently, but managers need to also
manage differently; being prepared to let go, trust and
move from managing by ‘presenteeism’ to managing by outputs.
The workplace may be the office, but not just
the traditional desk and meeting room; workspace needs to be
considered to fit the work being done, taking account of specific
needs and increased collaboration. And it’s not just the office or
working from home which provide the workspace of the future; more
and more people are working in the ‘third office’ - coffee shops,
libraries, railway stations, cars and trains (basically anywhere
where they can sit down for short bursts of activity).
Work processes, like people, no longer need to
be chained to desks. With technology supporting knowledge and data
management, remote working is more available to more processes
allowing more productivity away from the traditional workplace.
Continually improving network infrastructure is underpinning the
use of mobile technology; O2 invested time and resources into
upgraded software and supported this with enhanced training
activity. All four aspects of people, workplace, processes and
technology need managing together, and O2’s success was no
accident. The last three elements are essentially static and can be
adapted through the usual improvement cycle of plan – do – review –
modify, but it is the human element which requires careful
consideration. Engagement with the workforce can be the
differential between success and failure; capturing hearts and
minds, changing the mindset, reinforcing the behaviours are all
fundamental to implementing agile working.
Homeworking offers a potential alternative to
the workplace and has a number of advantages. But it is only one
part of the jigsaw and the workplace of the future must reflect
this. Homeworking can be ideal for certain job roles, but may not
be suitable to many as a full time alternative to the office.
Having the right infrastructure in place can be useful as a
business continuity measure to react to service disruption from
natural and unnatural emergencies (such as bad weather or power
failures) and as a way of providing flexibility for employees (such
as family or personal commitments) but freedom from the desk can be
a proactive measure to improve the business too.
O2 used this exercise as a risk mitigation and
the Olympics will be a good test of the robustness of many
companies’ systems, but agile working can open a door to many
opportunities to make savings, rationalise property, improve
profitability, enhance services and raise staff satisfaction;
new ways of working which will shape the future of the workplace.
As Ben Dowd, O2’s business director, remarked on the success of
their project “It demonstrates the principles underlying flexible
working really are the principles that will build the future of
work, and determine the way that people, technology and buildings
interact in the decades and centuries ahead.”
Kevin Lane (email@example.com)
is Senior Consultant with Capita Symonds’ Strategic Property and Workplace Projects