At the weekend, civil servants in Whitehall began a programme of flexible working that could last for up to seven weeks in order to avoid travel disruption and crowds during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

However, it seems this trend has not spread to the private sector, as businesses are not putting a continuity plan in place, according to the results of a survey. Almost half (41%) of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the London area expect to suffer disruption as a direct result of the 2012 Olympics according to a new survey.

Yet 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. Only 58% of small firms are prepared to cope with the expected disruption, despite concerns about staff arriving late or not at all, distractions during working hours and meetings being cancelled.

These were among the main findings of the YouGov survey of more than 500 senior decision-makers of SMEs (businesses with fewer than 250 employees) looking at the business impact of the forthcoming London Olympics.

Despite the fact that so many anticipate Olympics-related disruptions, it is surprising that almost 60% of SMEs don’t think that any formal change to existing ways of working is either relevant or necessary.

With London in the global spotlight over this period, it provides the ideal opportunity for UK businesses to show that it is possible to reap the benefits of hosting the Games and avoid the fall-out of any pressure on the transport network, by using collaboration technologies to ensure their staff can work effectively wherever they are.

Widespread disruption, little benefit

Board-level directors are most nervous about potential impact, with more than two-thirds (67%) expressing concern, yet this is not matched by a higher-than-average level of business continuity initiatives in response. Sole traders expect their businesses to be least affected. Of those businesses expecting some disruption, an overwhelming 87% believe productivity will suffer. Problems are expected in several areas:

  • 64% believe that some staff will be late into work, with 27% concerned that they won’t get in at all and so unable to work
  • 47% expect to have to cancel or postpone meetings and 40% anticipate that suppliers and other business contacts may be unavailable
  • More than one third (37%) trust their staff to make up any time lost. However, another 34% expect productivity to drop, as staff use the disruption as an excuse to avoid getting work done or are distracted by high-profile events during office hours.

Few believe the Olympics offers them any compensating benefits, as only 17% expect their businesses to gain from the Games. Two-thirds of SMEs (64%) do not expect their business to be affected, while 16% believe it will damage them commercially.

Nearly half of the SMEs questioned expect their businesses to be hit by having to put off meetings with customers, colleagues or partners. Yet such risks can easily be avoided, with the adoption of affordable high-definition conferencing tools that enable virtual meetings to replicate almost every aspect of a face-to-face meeting.

Flexible technologies

Overall, 56% of SMEs expect more staff to work from home and 21% that more meetings will be held online. In many cases this hasn’t been backed up by new corporate initiatives. Less than one in four (24%) said their business will implement a flexible working policy for the Olympics, while only 10% are adopting new working practices. However, in terms of personal working practices, a more positive picture emerged regarding the latest communications technologies to support flexible working. The survey found that:

  • 82% of senior directors and managers have at least one smart device, either work-supplied or personally-owned
  • Although 61% of directors and managers expect to be ‘chained to their desk as usual’, 28% plan to use their smart phones and/or tablets to work at home or otherwise remotely
  • 24% expect to use their smart phone or tablet away from the office more than usual over the Olympic period

While SMEs are becoming more aware of the damaging effect that the Olympics could have, too many are still failing to respond with the positive initiatives needed to achieve gold medal performance for their business.

On the positive side, the survey also highlights the trend towards more remote working, supported by the increase in intelligent communications devices. And the good news is that SMEs can now access simple and affordable collaboration tools that will ensure business continuity, by helping employees access the corporate network, hold meetings and stay in contact with colleagues and customers and maintain productivity, wherever they are located.