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Posted 10 September 2012 11:21:00 BST | By Paul Statham

It is not just the athletes who will be expected to display a large degree of agility during the imminent London Olympics. The capital’s workers are also expected to adapt to the challenges of the Games, not least the difficulties of getting to work while London’s public transport infrastructure dealt with an additional 20 million journeys over the Summer.

The Modern Workplace Report 2018: People, Places & Technology - the state of  the current workspace, working environment trends, issues surrounding meeting  management and the rise of agile working

No wonder many organisations have taken the decision that the better option has been to introduce more flexible working arrangements, leading many commentators to predict that this would lead to long term changes in the way we work.

The most high profile and contentious example of this came when the civil service announced that many London based staff would be allowed to work from home from the final week of July through to the conclusion of the Paralympics on the 9th September. There was a predictable backlash to the idea in the media and from the Mayor of London but many private sector organisations followed suit. For example, RBS announced at the beginning of July that many of its London based staff would be encouraged to work from home during the games. BA even managed to counter-intuitively weave the idea that travelling during the Olympics wasn’t a great idea with its ‘Don’t Fly’ campaign.

So will the Olympics mark a seminal moment in the uptake of flexible working? Well there is some evidence to suggest that the process is already well underway regardless of what happens during the Games. According to UK Government statistics, over a quarter of staff already work from home at least some of the time and the numbers continue to rise.

Yet there is still a degree of inertia in the uptake of flexible working. The reasons for this seem clear. There is an inherent resistance to the idea of flexible working in certain professions. Some of this may be cultural, which seemed to be the main objection to the idea of civil servants working from home. Boris Johnson’s comments boiled down to him saying that public sector workers do not have a culture of self-motivation and discipline. This strikes me as unfair. I don’t see why they should possess those characteristics any more or less than their contemporaries in the private sector. Even if it is an issue, it can be overcome with good management and good infrastructure.

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Some resistance may seem to be based on harder reasoning, as seems to be the case with the legal sector. A survey published in Legal Week this month highlights how law firms and their clients view flexible working. While around half of those firms surveyed said it was essential for firms to offer flexible working opportunities to partners and associates, just over 40 per cent said clients had issues with the idea.

Understandable though these issues may be, I think these attitudes are changing. And events like the Olympics which oblige firms to address the issue will help to further erode entrenched resistance to change.

Of course, as work changes so too will the places we need to do it. One thing that will not happen however, is the occasionally vaunted death of the office. While we are potentially freed by technology to do things in new ways, humans are essentially the same creatures that hunted and gathered on the plains of Africa thousands of years ago. They have the same needs for company, the structuring of time, a sense of belonging and security.

The office, of course, is just one of the ways we meet these needs. So while offices will undoubtedly continue to get leaner, supporting more people from the same or less space, their essential relationship with people will remain. They will still provide the glue that binds people to the organisation.

Paul Statham, CEO, Condeco 

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