O2 releases results of the UK's biggest ever flexible working pilot
O2 has released the results of the biggest flexible working initiative of its kind. On 8 February 2012, O2 asked the entire workforce in its head quarters to work away from the office for the day. Employees based at O2's Slough HQ – a quarter of its 12,000-strong workforce – participated in the pilot, operating remotely for the day as the doors were shut and lights turned off at the business' 200,000 square foot office.
The pilot aimed to push the boundaries of what is possible through flexible working and has underpinned O2's contingency plans to manage expected travel disruption and delays during the summer's Olympic Games.
More than 2,500 people successfully worked away from the office, with only 125 mission-critical staff left in the building. Thanks to newly strengthened networks and upgraded collaboration technology, everyone who needed to get online and communicate was able to do so. Altogether, 88% of staff said that they were at least as productive as on a normal day at the office, with 36% claiming to have been more productive. In addition, 16% of people slept a bit longer than usual and 14% spent more time with their families. In line with the company's ambitious three year sustainability plan, the experiment also benefitted the environment, with approximately 12.2 tons of CO2 equivalent saved (this is equivalent to the CO2 emissions from driving 42,000 miles in a medium-sized diesel car).
O2's flexible working day may have revolved around a single point in time but its results have implications across much bigger timescales. O2's electricity consumption decreased by 12% on 8 February, and water usage dropped 53%. Paradoxically, gas usage in the building increased slightly, probably due to the loss of body heat in the building.
In combination with the reduction in CO2 emissions achieved by the commuting cuts, 2,000 hours of travel time was saved. These numbers represent a very substantial all-round benefit to the environment and to the company's energy costs. This is the equivalent of an average of 45 minutes per employee. O2 employees saved nearly £9,000 on the day primarily through reduced commuting costs.
Technology was inevitably right at the heart of O2's flexible working experiment, in particular, ensuring that the network was able to support a huge increase in the number of virtual workers. O2 upgraded its virtual private network (VPN) technology ahead of time, as well as its network infrastructure; this was always a planned upgrade ahead of this summer's Olympic Games.
The flexible working pilot required a significantly higher use of O2's internal network, with the reported maximum VPN users being 1,990 on the day against 1,300 on an average day. This represented 80% of the Slough HQ workforce. The increase of VPN users compared with an average day was approximately 155%, with a reported increase in VPN data of about 110%. The network, however, remained stable, proving the potential for large scale flexible working; at its peak, there was 162% of normal data traffic passing across the VPN, with no issues.
A decision was made to accelerate the deployment of the new Microsoft Lync system, delivering a much more stable platform with better audio, video and sharing features. Lync Meetings hosted increased by 29%, with 406 meetings organised compared to 313 on a normal day, and Lync Meeting attendance increased by 25%, with 1,356 Lync meeting participants compared to 1,077 on a normal day <br />Over 400 people attended training sessions in the run up to the flexible working day.
Ben Dowd continued: “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.”
It is hoped that the pilot will also showcase the wider economic business case for flexible working in helping to drive efficiency, productivity and innovation. O2 has previously saved over £3 million in overheads through such measures. These learnings will be applied in line with the company'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.