Speaking at BT on Wednesday 3 August, Transport Minister, Norman Baker urged commuters and businesses in London to think differently about how they travel during the Olympic Games, as he marked a year to go to what is likely to be one of the busiest days on the transport network.
Mr Baker has clearly been thinking along these lines for some time. According to an article in April this year by The Guardian’s Whitehall Correspondent, Polly Curtis, Mr Baker was looking to dramatically reduce rush hour in London and across the country by persuading companies to allow employees to work from home, come into the office earlier/later and leave earlier/later.
In the article Mr Baker said, “It is crazy these days for people to go to work when work can come to people. It’s even crazier that we all travel on the same day at the same time. We should be able to spread the peak across different times.”
The plan to stagger rush hour is driven in part by the need to reduce carbon emissions. But Curtis’ article tells us that ‘ministers are also warning that there is urgency to fast-track changes to the rush hour because of the Olympics.’
Apparently, it would be ‘impossible’ for the capital to cope with the expected number of visitors to the Olympics plus all of us who may be trying to go about our business as normal.
As well as businesses allowing flexible working another option mentioned is the increased use of video conferencing which might mean ‘that employees don’t have to leave home at all’.
To ensure that businesses consider the role they can play in helping to reduce travelling to and from the office, and not just during the Olympics, it is crucial that they are made aware of all of the technology options that are available to help make this a viable proposition.
It seems to me that whenever the technologies which enable employees to work from home are mentioned, the focus is always on video conferencing. There is no doubt that for a very small number of large companies video conferencing has become a useful business tool but mainstream adoption has never really been achieved.
The technology that is overlooked as a key business communications tool and which allows those working from home to work as effectively and productively as if they were in the office is the plain old telephone.
The plain old telephone, either fixed or mobile, allows us to hold an audio conference to bring together all the people that someone working from home needs to communicate with: office based colleagues, suppliers or customers.
The telephone combined with access to a PC or laptop and a broad band connection allows us to hold an audio and web conference. We can hear everyone and by accessing a web conferencing solution, we can also share information, just as if everyone was sitting around the same meeting room table.
It is not always necessary to ‘see’ the people we need to meet with and the majority of business meetings can successfully take place using audio and web conferencing.
So businesses, especially smaller businesses, must not be put off from considering how to implement flexible working, by thinking that often complex and expensive video conferencing solutions are the only answer.
It is still much easier and more cost effective for home workers to simply pick up the phone, and share documents via the Internet.
Let’s hope that the 2012 London Olympics will provide the big push businesses need to deploy flexible working practices as the norm thereby helping to reduce rush hour and carbon emissions.