What is the business case for flexible working?

O2 on making the workforce more flexible and productive

Flexible working

In 2012, O2 conducted one of the UK's largest-ever flexible working experiments by asking its 2,500-strong workforce to work away from its Slough-based headquarters for the day. According to O2, the pilot was a runaway success that resulted in happier, more productive employees.

We spoke to O2 Business Director Ben Dowd about the trial, along with the costs, benefits and future of flexible working.

TechRadar Pro: How did O2's staff feel about the trial? What was the outcome?

Ben Dowd: Almost all staff said they were at least as productive as usual and more than a third said that flexible working had actually boosted productivity. Today, we've created a permanent culture of 'smarter working' and have the capability to work remotely whenever we need to. All our employees are encouraged to work away from the office for at least one day per week and we're reaping the benefits day in, day out.

TRP: O2's been a vocal advocate of smarter working for other companies too. Why?

BD: Smarter working has worked so well for us, we've done all we can to encourage other businesses to make a similar shift. It's not just about one business or a handful of businesses working in a different way – this has big implications for the broader economy.

Despite the on-going economic recovery, UK productivity remains well below every one of our G7 peers, so we need to take advantage of the technology we already have to help us become more a productive, competitive workforce. The future of our economy depends on organisations of all sizes ensuring they have a digital way of operating that's fit for the future; smarter, flexible working is a great place to start.

TechRadar Pro: Are there any other business benefits to flexible working policies? Business costs?

BD: We conducted an extensive review of business costs and benefits following our 2012 pilot, and the savings people made with their time were the most impressive. In one day, our employees saved 2,000 hours of time spent commuting and since then we've calculated that we each save about 127 hours every year by eradicating needless journeys. Also, by doing more 'hot-desking' when we're in the office, we've saved the company nearly £4 million in overhead costs by reducing the number of desks we need to have available at any one time.

But we've also seen big gains in our sustainability and energy efficiency programmes. On the day of the pilot, we cut our water usage by more than half, cut electricity consumption by 12%, and saved 12.2 tonnes of carbon from being emitted during people's commutes – the equivalent of 42,000 miles driven in a mid-range diesel car.

TechRadar Pro: Do you think enough businesses are making the most of flexible working?

BD: There's still plenty of progress to be made. For example, four out of five businesses say that they still don't have the communications and technology systems in place to make working away from the office possible. This is despite the fact that British employees overwhelmingly want flexible working arrangements on offer at work and know that it would enable them to be better employees – three quarters say they'd be more productive with flexible hours.

On June 30th this year, regulations changed so that every private sector employee in the UK gained the right to request a flexible working programme from their employer and became entitled to a formal response from their employer. I'm confident this will go at least some way towards spurring more businesses on to think about the benefits of putting the right smarter working policies in place.

TechRadar Pro: What's the best way in for businesses that want to get started with flexible working?