O2 today announced the launch of the biggest flexible working initiative of its kind. Today, employees based at O2’s Slough HQ – a quarter of its 12,000-strong workforce – will participate in a flexible working pilot, operating remotely for the day as the doors are shut and lights turned off at the business’ 200,000 sq ft office.

The pilot aims to push the boundaries of what is possible through flexible working and will underpin O2’s contingency plans to manage expected travel disruption and delays during the summer’s Olympics games. Meticulous planning has been needed ensuring that 3,000 employees have access to the necessary technology tools, services and support to enable them to work completely remotely, for the entire day.

With one third of the UK’s businesses expected to encourage their staff to work flexibly this summer, O2 will share learnings from the pilot with other organisations, to support them in their plans for managing the impact of a range of events during the summer months.

O2 said it believe the initiative sends a clear signal to its employees, business customers of every size and other UK organisations on the advantages of working flexibly.

It is hoped that the pilot will also showcase the wider economic business case for flexible working in helping to drive efficiency, productivity and innovation. O2 has previously saved over £3 million in overheads through such measures.

O2 will evaluate reductions to electricity usage, CO2 emissions and travel time as employees swap their usual journey to work in favour of working from a remote location. These learnings will be applied in line with the company’s ambitious three year sustainability plan, in which O2 pledges to help over 125,000 business employees work flexibly, and collectively save over 500,000 miles of travel and over 160,000 thousand tonnes of carbon emissions.

The initiative marks the latest phase in O2’s flexible working journey, following in the footsteps of previous efforts. These include O2’s Tomorrow’s Workspace initiative, which saw the business consolidate its operations into a single campus in Slough. By enabling the workforce to be more mobile, O2 said it achieved a 53 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint and despite having the same number of people HQ is now operating with 550 fewer desks.

Flexible working has become an increasingly important aspect of British business culture, with a growing number of organisations and employees adopting a more flexible approach to working life as new technologies make it increasingly easy to conduct business from beyond the confines of the office. But figures from O2 suggest businesses’ policies and practices are typically narrow in their focus.

While more than a third (39 per cent) of businesses say that allowing staff to work flexible hours makes their workforce more productive, and 43 per cent believe that it helps to retain employees, existing policies are often outdated and ineffective. 77 per cent of organisations are hindering the sharing of best practice by preventing staff from working flexibly across teams, while 16 per cent still have no flexible working policy at all.