As the Summer Olympic Games in London approach this summer, British employers, urged on by the British government, are looking for ways to keep their employees off the roads and the public transit system for the duration of the Games.

Mobile phone and broadband provider O2 got a head start on this effort back in February when it asked its entire headquarters workforce of about 2,500 (except for 125 mission-critical staff) to work from home on the same day. To give you a sense of the impact on transportation and the environment, the mission-critical employees drove only 109 cars to the office, compared to the 1,100 cars that enter the office parking lot on a typical day.

The results of the experiment are encouraging to employers that want to expand flexible work arrangements. Overall, 88% of the employees who worked from home thought that they were at least as productive as normal and 36% said that they were more productive. The telecommuting employees saved 2,000 hours of commuting time and 52% of those employees used that saved commuting time to work longer.

O2 measured a number of other impacts from this experiment:

  • Office electricity consumption decreased by 12% and water usage declined by 53%.
  • Because employees did not drive to work, they avoided CO2 emissions that are the equivalent of driving 42,000 miles in a medium-sized diesel car.
  • The employees themselves saved £9,000 by working from home, primarily because they avoided commuting costs.
  • Interestingly, natural gas consumption increased slightly. The hypothesis is that the building heating system had to work hard to make up for the lack of body heat generated by more than 2,000 people.

O2 learned some important lessons from the experiment that can help support future flexible work arrangements. For example, one of the key elements of successful alternative work arrangements is helping line managers to manage people who are not in the same physical space. "Line managers are used to managing people they can see," says Ben Dowd, O2’s business director. "Managing them remotely is a completely different thing. We can do a lot more to support line managers in charge of remote teams."

There are other lessons to be taken from this work-from-home experience, Dowd notes. For example, knowing that the company is set up to accommodate employees to work from home and can count on employees to do so productively can come in handy should the company experience a severe disruption to its business. The experience provided an important test case in how the company could, if necessary, protect itself and keep operations going with nearly everyone working remotely.

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