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Summary:

With the Olympics just a few months away, there’s the usual flurry of stories detailing frenzied preparations by organizers and athletes. But one other type of news item is surprisingly popular in Britain – stories equating telecommuting during the games with slacking at home.

Olympic Rings Geaorge Abbot School

With the London Olympics just a few months away, there’s the usual flurry of stories detailing frenzied preparation by organizers, the host city, the athletes and security forces. But this year there’s one other great wave of pre-Olympics news items breaking across Britain’s media—surprisingly controversial telecommuting stories.

Just this week interest turned to Britain’s civil servants who are being urged to work remotely to avoid adding to the expected congestion on the city’s already packed roads and trains. The announcement, which might seem ho-hum in some tech-savvy circles, raised a few eyebrows in Britain with the  Daily Mail declaring government workers get “a gold medal for skiving!” (the British English equivalent of slacking off) for being allowed to telecommute for seven weeks this summer. The article notes that “business leaders” are complaining about the probable reduction in useful government work that the policy will bring.

“Business groups criticized plan that has led to fears of a massive reduction in government work as the country tries to pull itself out of recession,” says the paper. “They said it sent out the dangerous message that Britain would close down for almost two months,” it continues, quoting Pierre Williams, from the Federation of Small Businesses, as saying: “A lot of private sector workers will feel rather surprised that the public sector have decided to work from home during the Olympic games.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister was forced to deny that staff would be “skiving” at home, reassuring the public that no less work would get done. Meanwhile, other stories are offering businesses looking to offer staff options, tips on how to make flexible working successful.

With study after study confirming that remote work actually boosts productivity for most people and most tasks, the most surprising fact about the boom in remote work this summer in London may be the fact that’s it’s controversial at all, revealing to converted virtual work fans the deep well of skepticism that still exists in substantial pockets of the business community.

In four years when the Olympics are held again, will remote work have become so mainstream that a bit of an uptick during the games will be far less remarked upon?

Image courtesy of Flickr user surreynews.

  1. Anonymous Coward Thursday, May 17, 2012

    The thing to bear in mind about this story is that the Daily Mail is a notoriously right-wing rag that never misses an opportunity to put a negative slant on anything to do with the public sector.

    In their eyes, anyone with a public sector job is a chair-polishing skiver who spends the better part of their career on long-term sick leave, before retiring with a “gold-plated pension” paid for by the long-suffering middle classes.

    Had central government departments *not* promoted flexible working, the Mail would likely have been castigating them for adding to the congestion that’s going to be caused by the Olympics in a city where the public transport infrastructure barely copes on a wet Tuesday afternoon at the best of times.

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  2. scared Cameron will find me Thursday, May 17, 2012

    Anonymous coward is right about the Daily Mail, but then again the Daily Mail is right in its opinsion of the public sector

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  3. It is because the MPs and very senior citizens don’t want the pondlife workers to see them skiving off and seeing whatever events they have managed to cadge tickets or been invited to.

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  4. I have a feeling that in 40 years even athletes are going to participate in the Olympics remotely.

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