O2 hails success of home working pilot

The Boardroom

by Steve Evans| 03 April 2012

Workers were more productive, happier... and they saved money

It has long been thought that employees allowed to work from home regularly are happier and more productive - and the results of a pilot have confirmed that is the case. They are also richer, too.

Earlier this year mobile giant O2 closed its Slough headquarters for the day and asked its near 3,000 employees to work remotely, either from home or somewhere public such as a coffee shop. Only 125 mission-critical staff remained onsite for the day.

The pilot was partly a test to see how the company would deal if there was any major disruption during this summer's Olympic Games in London but also part of a wider flexible working policy, a policy that has already saved O2 over £3m.

The results of the day's experiment paint a glowing picture for the benefits of remote working. The vast majority (88%) of workers said they were at least as productive as on a normal day at the office while 36% said they were more productive than usual.

In total, O2 estimates 2,000 hours of commuting time were saved, with just over half (52%) of that time spent working.

Employees benefited as well: 14% of that saved commuting time was spent on family time, 16% on extra sleeping and 12% on relaxation.

Employees' wallets also benefits; O2 says a total of £9,000 was saved through not commuting to work.

To make sure O2's network would cope with the additional strain of having lots of people try to connect remotely, the company upgraded its Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology.

O2 also automatically redirected traffic between servers in the north and south of its offices to ensure that the load was spread efficiently and that there were no local bottlenecks.

At its peak, there was 162% of normal data traffic passing across the VPN, with no issues, O2 said. The IT help desk said it received the usual number of calls.

The company also accelerated the rollout of Microsoft's Lync unified communications platform. Meetings hosted on Lync that day were up 29%, with attendance up 25%.

"The success of O2's experiment extends much further than just allowing some of the workforce to stay at home and work," said Ben Dowd, business director for O2. "It proves that with the right thinking and planning, even the largest organisations can protect themselves from the most severe disruptions to their business."

"It demonstrates that 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. O2 is using these principles now, to build tomorrow's businesses today," he added.

However there were issues. The main one was that line managers found it difficult to manage their team remotely.

"Line managers are used to managing people they can see. Managing them remotely is a completely different thing. Our Pilot on 8th February didn't solve all of those problems, but it is a good start. We can do a lot more to support line managers in charge of remote teams, but we know it's not going to happen overnight. We're educating people about the whole future of work here and there's still work to be done, but we're pleased to say this is a fantastic start," said Dowd.

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