For many months the government has told us to “stay away” and to try working from home during the Olympics. Transport for London, the mayor of London, National Rail, Department for transport and the Highways Agency have collectively run a ‘Get ahead of the Games‘ campaign encouraging us to plan ahead and avoid travel hotspots. Their aim has been to get a third of commuters working from home to ease the pressure on public transport and avoid traffic chaos.
On my visits to the London in the preceding weeks loud speakers could be heard playing messages from Boris Johnson and friends warning us of the nightmare to come and that we should avoid central London at all costs. The Tube’s campaign encouraged us to walk, bike or leave ourselves with plenty of time – 2 hours was suggested as the time it takes to cross London.
But don’t skive…
After telling people to try remote working Boris then commented at an Olympics transport conference that home working was a ‘skiver’s paradise’. Boris said:
“Some people will see the Games as an opportunity to work from home, in inverted commas. We all know that is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again. I don’t want to see too many of us doing that. In my opinion people need to get in. They need to meet each other and they need to exchange ideas in an office environment.“
Erm, I’m getting mixed messages here…
OK, give it a go…
Nevertheless the public sector have been having a go at flexible working and it was reported that 150 civil servants from Whitehall have been working out of the Croydon hub. The hub at Southern House has recently been kitted out with networking facilities and offers 500 new alternative work spaces. But…”with 435,000 full time equivalent posts in the civil service as at the fourth quarter 2011, it is not clear just how many are allowed or encouraged to work flexibly or remotely.“
However it seems very few private sector organisations are following suit.
The Guardian reported that “only one in five (21%) SMEs have put in place a business continuity plan for the Olympics and even fewer (10%) are adopting new working practices to minimise potential interruptions.“
Actually come back in…
All of this encouragement to stay away then resulted in a state of panic when London was actually quieter than usual. People took heed of the advice and avoided central London, especially tourist areas. Traders complained of desperate trading conditions depressing sales and lack of people.
It seems the apocalyptic warnings had been ‘taken too seriously’ and the government then had to issue ‘open for business’ messages.
But only if you are going to spend money…
In the long term it seems that the Olympics will give the economy its much needed boost.
The London Evening Standard is now reporting an increase in numbers of people around:
“Retailers across Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street said there had been an increase in sales and a higher footfall – the number of people going into a shop – over the past few days. This uplift was reflected in increased footfall across the London areas of Piccadilly, Haymarket, Shaftesbury Avenue and St James’s.“
My feeling is that money is being spent in London, just maybe in different places from usual. Hopefully tourists will stay on and spend a few pence too. Almost everyone seems to have a team GB t-shirt on, so something is selling well!! I also think the games will inspire people to come to London and the UK.
All in all a confusing state of affairs!!
However none of this could dampen the amazing brilliance of team GB and the incredible national pride we have felt over the last 2 weeks. I think we are all discovering how refreshing it is to feel proud of our country. The whole experience has given me permanent goose bumps!! My family took a visit to London and the Olympic park last week and it was a wonderful experience. Everyone we met (athletes, staff, volunteers, supporters and the public in general) was friendly, enthusiastic and in good spirits. Even the most hardened sceptics have been turned. There seems to be a real change in the way we see our country and it started the moment the fantastic opening ceremony began.
To steal some words posted on Facebook by a friend of mine:
“Every one of our Athletes are true national sporting heroes! I hope this Olympics marks a change in national focus away from the over paid under performers of the premier league. We have great role models in our Olympians and they are not tainted by the poisonous cash of the Murdoc empire. Inspiring a generation. Long may it continue!!“
My reply was “Too right! And sport should be for everyone, even if you suck at it!! Sport is about determination, perseverance, being healthy and having a bloody good time!“. This is something I feel quite strongly about – I’m not a great athlete but I enjoy exercise and I want to encourage my children to enjoy it too. Is sportiness the opposite to slothliness? I don’t know, but a positive attitude and an inclination to ‘do’ rather than to ‘not do’ (and complain) could well help dig us out of the hole the UK currently finds itself in.
So see, we are still good at stuff. Stuff that requires working hard and pulling together.
OK, so just to bring it back to home working. I think the Olympics experience has shown that people can work from home and businesses don’t grind to a halt. It has also shown that reducing commuting has a very real effect on traffic. Unfortunately it has also shown us that not everyone gets home working and there is still a way to go before it really becomes mainstream and its implications are fully understood and put to best use. To use an equestrian term (as it earned us one of our first medals) – horses for courses.
Go team GB!!!