Networking

Olympic home working trial makes staff more productive, richer

More than 2,500 staff at telecoms giant O2 have worked from home to test their processes in the run up to the the London 2012 Olympics.

British businesses have begun getting their tech infrastructure ready for the London Olympics this summer.

With record numbers of people expected to work outside the office during the Games, businesses are testing whether their networks can handle the expected demand.

One of the largest trials yet was carried out by telecoms firm 02, which had more than 2,500 staff working from outside the office for one day in February.

During the trial, which saw almost one quarter of the firm's workforce vacate their offices, corporate networks had to handle a 162 per cent rise in VPN traffic and 29 per cent more video and audio meetings, while instant messaging was up 40.8 per cent over a normal working day, peaking at 17,843 messages an hour.

Staff saved 2,000 hours - and £9,000 - they would have spent travelling into work. Generally employees were happy to work outside the office, with 88 per cent reporting they were at least as productive as in the office, and 36 per cent claiming to have got more done than on a normal day.

While the day passed off smoothly, with the normal number of calls to the IT helpdesk, the day did require a lot of preparation, with more than 400 people attending training sessions beforehand. On the IT side the firm accelerated the deployment of a new Microsoft Lync system in order to provide a more stable platform for audio and video conferencing on the day.

Steve Thurlow, O2's head of IT for the business directorate, said that the firm had to be prepared for people not being able to get to its Slough headquarters during the Games, due to lane closures on the nearby M4 motorway.

"With the rowing events just down the M4 what we want to be confident of is, if things are worse than predicted, we have the ability to continue working and conferencing.

"Through our planning we want to make sure that as an organisation we're prepared to handle any eventuality."

O2's networks were able to keep up with demand and staff had little trouble using corporate data management software to access their corporate apps from outside the office, Thurlow said, adding that senior staff are used to remote working using their own laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Having a flexible workforce is, according to Thurlow, as much about changing corporate culture as it is about putting in place a VPN, video conferencing or a robust network.

"Being able to do this sort of thing requires the technology but it also requires the cultural mindset, that as a manager if I can't see my team I'm not worried about whether they're working or not. O2 has evolved a good way along that journey, working flexibly is the norm, it's not a big deal."

He added: "It's not just about the Olympics - whether it was the snow a couple of years ago that prevented people getting into work or the volcano stopping people travelling - there's a number of things over the last couple of years that have had an impact.

"What we're trying to demonstrate on the day is that we're in a position to respond to any of these things."

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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