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Olympics: have london businesses dropped the ball?

Olympics business opportunities speed past.

Have london businesses dropped the ball? Photograph, Getty Images
Have london businesses dropped the ball? Photograph, Getty Images

With just days to go until the start of the Olympics, London is heading down the home straight. But as athletes settle into the Olympic village, many businesses and their employees have yet to begin their preparations.

London expects 5.3m visitors over the next few weeks. Already overstretched, the capital’s transport system could face nearly a million extra journeys per day. But despite repeated warnings of unprecedented disruption, a Populus poll commissioned by Global Action Plan has found that businesses nationwide are unprepared, with only a fraction putting in place contingency plans to avoid the expected commuter and delivery chaos. Just one in five employees say their company has a strategy for the transport of essential goods and services crucial to keep their business running. In London, only a quarter of employees say their business has plans to help them get to work.

How will companies and commuters cope? Worst case scenarios – involving people sleeping in offices – are perhaps not as unrealistic as first assumed, with several lines already closed for many hours before the Games have even started. Yet despite these travel difficulties the reality is that businesses are missing the opportunity offered by the Olympics to boost productivity, reduce costs, cut the damage they cause to the environment, and radically change travel and work patterns.

Telefonica O2 recently held a flexible working day at their head office to prepare for this summer’s disruption. Just 109 cars arrived in the car park that day compared to an average of 1,100. By taking so many cars off the road carbon emissions were cut by 12,500kgs. For staff, a survey found that 88 per cent of employees felt that they were as least as productive as normal on this flexible working day. A third felt they were more productive, with over half of respondents saying the time they spent commuting was used for working instead.

The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to revolutionise the way they work and travel. Although the Olympic clock has reached its final countdown, it is not too late for businesses to prepare for the chaos. Our five point plan offers businesses clear, practical and simple steps they can take to avoid the chaos of the next few weeks and the longer term.And it’s not just the athletes at the Games that should compete. Offering prizes and providing quarterly feedback of miles travelled and carbon saved can foster a friendly spirit of competition and collective responsibility to reduce commuting and business travel.

It’s a win-win situation for both employers and employees, changing work and travel patterns for good. Even if plans are not put in place in time – the Olympics can be the catalyst to thinking about doing things differently.

12 years ago in Sydney, the Olympic Games resulted in 24 per cent of Sydney employees changing their working hours and 22 per cent worked remotely during the games. Replicated here, businesses can create a meaningful green Olympic legacy, not just in London but throughout the UK.