In February, O2 launched its Flexible Working Pilot and let a quarter of its 12,000-strong workforce work remotely for the day as it tested its readiness for disruption during the Olympics. Today it has released the results of that action.

On the day, more than 2,500 people worked remotely, with only 125 mission-critical staff left in the company headquarters in Slough. Over a third claimed that they were more productive than on a normal day in the office. Employees saved 2,000 hours of commuting time and O2 says that it saved approximately 12.2t of CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalents).

Experimenting on this scale provides a clear message for other large companies around London who may also be facing logistics problems while the Olympics take place. The possible benefits to the environment are also interesting and for anyone who has tried cycling in the capital, fewer cars on the road would be very appealing.

The results of working from home also had personal benefits for those who were participating.  16% of people slept a bit longer than usual and 14% spent additional time with their families. In both cases this can be considered as time better spent than sitting on the tube avoiding the eye of your fellow passengers.

Bolstering the system

Naturally this process requires the strengthening of communications. In this case instant messaging was up 40.8% than on a normal day, and the increase of virtual private network users compared with an average day was approximately 155%.

O2 says that it upgraded its VPN technology well ahead of time as well as its network infrastructure. It also automatically redirected traffic between servers to the north and south of its offices to ensure that the load was spread efficiently and there were no bottlenecks.

It seems that O2 managed to make this work with little in the way of disruption. It says that at its peak, there was 162% of normal data traffic passing across the VPN, with no issues and that its IT helpdesk had a normal day with the usual volume of calls.

Ben Dowd, Business Director for O2 is pleased with the results and the scale of the testing. He said,

“The success of O2’s experiment extends much further than just allowing some of the workforce to stay at home and work.

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 shows that given the right preparation and communication, conservative presenteeism-based attitudes to work can be changed, with great benefits for both managers and staff.

It shows that businesses really can make significant and lasting reductions to their environmental impact, in a multitude of areas.

Above all though, 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.”

O2 hopes that the pilot will showcase the wider economic business case for flexible working in helping to drive efficiency, productivity and innovation. The company has previously saved over £3 million in overheads through such measures.

The experiment falls in line with the firm’s ambitious three year sustainability plan, in which O2 pledges to help over 125,000 business employees work flexibly, and collectively save over 500,000 miles of travel and over 160,000 thousand tonnes of carbon emissions.

Dowd summarised the day,

“Four weeks of intense preparation across the business – everywhere from HR and internal comms to IT and property services – laid the ground for an almost completely empty building and a widely distributed workforce. And thanks to this rigorous planning, the experiment was an astonishing success – not just in terms of the productivity of the workforce, but as a demonstration of the power of flexible working to forge lasting operational, cultural and environmental change within modern organisations.”

There are many companies that may benefit from a remote working system, not only does it prove to be a good solution for travel logistics and the environment, but it also fosters a culture of trust for employees. Working on this scale, O2 took a risk and it paid off.

Only 1 person in the whole of O2 HQ didn’t know anything about the flexible working pilot and consequently arrived for work. So you can try lead a person to a new system, but you can’t always make them read their email.