Olympics causing remote work controversy in Britain

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.

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