Transport Minister urges UK businesses to work flexibly during Olympics

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) is urging businesses in London to adopt flexible working practices ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games, in order to avoid “ life in the slow lane”.

Speaking at the ways2work conference at Microsoft's London offices yesterday, Transport Minister Norman Baker MP said that the government has invested £6.5 billion in upgrading and extending transport links to increase capacity and improve services, but even that won't stop public transport networks jamming up.

“Each day of the Olympics will be like the FA Cup final, the Wimbledon tennis championships, and the London Marathon all rolled into one,” said Baker. “There will be no alternative to life in the slow lane unless people travel differently, or don't travel at all.”

However, he said that organisations should look at this as an opportunity to implement a flexible working strategy, that would see staff either working from home or at offices closer to where they live. This will not only ease congestion but also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – 22 percent of which come from transport.

“Most people still regard the physical office as the place where the real work gets done; I believe it's time to change that notion,” said Baker. “It's no exaggeration to call the internet superhighway travel's fourth dimension.”

Baker said that, in a world where customers expect businesses to keep running 24/7, whatever the weather, investment in remote working is money well spent. He applauded the work of the “Anywhere Working” consortium, which aims to help businesses adopt flexible working practices and cut back on travel, stating that the benefits will only be realised when this comes to be regarded as a normal way of doing business.

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Anywhere Working is a consortium of organisations – including Microsoft, Vodafone, Nokia, Regus and Business in the Community – formed last year to offer advice on travel alternatives, provide online training in technologies that enable flexible working, such as video conferencing and cloud document sharing, and allow organisations to participate in trials.

The consortium also plans to host an Anywhere Working Week at the end of February, where Microsoft will be showcasing its collaborative software, such as Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Lync 2010. Nokia and Vodafone both offer Office 365 to their mobile customers, and Vodafone also offers its own One Net unified communications service.

While the Department of Transport seems confident that flexible working will help businesses run smoothly during the Olympics, the Cabinet Office is not so sure. In a report released last week, the Cabinet Office warns that the surge of people going online at key times during the Games could cause the internet to crash.

“It is possible that internet services may be slower during the Games or in very severe cases there may be drop outs due to an increased number of people accessing the internet,” states the report (pdf). “In addition, ISPs may introduce data caps during peak times to try and spread the loading and give a more equal service to their entire customer base.”

Mobile networks may also be affected, the report warns.

The Cabinet Office advises businesses to contact their ISP to discuss their contractual agreement with them and the service they will be able to offer during the Games, including any measures they may introduce to manage peak demand.