Employee freedom: Olympics and beyond

AS WE head towards the Olympic Games, many companies have been making contingency plans for the anticipated congestion that this will cause in London. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), almost three in ten employers say they will try and accommodate requests from employees to work from home, 17 per cent will extend flexible working opportunities, while 13 per cent will actively encourage staff to work from home.

But rather than seeing these provisions as being something that they have been forced into by the arrival of the Games in the capital, many companies may find that the policies that they put into place to allow greater working flexibility for their employees lead to improved working practices on a long-term basis. “The Olympics is a golden opportunity for UK businesses to review their flexible working policies to ensure they are supporting their staff,” says Barney Ely, director at Hays Human Resources. “Communication is key to ensure both parties clearly understand and adhere to the guidelines around flexible working. By embracing this exciting time, companies will benefit from more engaged employees.”

We are in an era of an increasingly mobile workforce. In the modern work environment, you are almost never out of range of communication. Ever aeroplanes are bringing in WiFi on some flights – now that they have set up a system to bill for their use, electronic communication devices seem to have ceased to interfere with aircraft electronics.

Even the London Underground – usually the biggest black hole for communication in London – is becoming WiFi enabled on some platforms, through a free service provided by Virgin for the duration of the Olympic Games.

With employees almost always available to pick up an email on the move, or read a presentation on a mobile device, the work patterns of employees have changed, and so have the ways that employers can and should structure their business.

So how are companies going to respond to the immediate demands for employee flexibility, as well as to the need to be in a strong position for the future shape of the workplace? Studies indicate that by 2020 some 80 per cent of the UK workforce – and the German and French, for that matter – will not be tied in to a nine-to-five, fixed-place daily office routine. Many companies are already responding to employee needs by implementing bring your own device (BYOD) policies, allowing employees to connect personal computing devices to their professional network. However, this is not as simple as routing your work emails to your personal Blackberry. Businesses and IT system administrators need to properly manage how these devices are connected to the network – how this data is shared, how secure this data is and what to do if a device containing sensitive company information is lost (see column, right).

Increased flexibility from improving technology allows employees to have greater flexibility in the workplace and has changed the way that companies structure their working time and holiday entitlement rules. Take Netflix and others who have done away with holiday allowance and replaced it with a policy of “not having a policy”. This means that employees are more likely to work on their personal electronic devices during their own time when there is an urgent project, knowing that they can take time off in lieu when there is more slack. This is something that would have been almost impossible before the era of the secure and reliable business and personal elecronic communications networks upon which we are all now reliant.

Companies should be harnessing this technological revolution if they want to get the most out of their employees and their business over the Olympic Games – and beyond.