The Blog

Game Changer? How the Olympics Could Help Us Re-Think the Way We Work

The countdown to the Olympics has begun. Stadiums complete, torch relay under way, and plans to ease the impact on London's workforce being rolled out at speed.

The countdown to the Olympics has begun. Stadiums complete, torch relay under way, and plans to ease the impact on London's workforce being rolled out at speed. In fact it's now unusual to see a tube station, bus stop or copy of Metro that doesn't include a poster or advert encouraging Londoners to "Get Ahead of the Games" and plan their working patterns and travel carefully for the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Many of the solutions being proposed will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked on family-friendly or flexible working policy: earlier or later starts and finishes - possibly combined with compressed hours, for example squeezing five days' work into four longer days; working from home; reducing working hours during the games and then upping them afterwards to make up the difference (known as annualised hours if operated on a more permanent basis); and using tele or video-conferencing rather than travelling to or from London for meetings. (The only less-than-orthodox suggestion I've come across so far is the "go to the pub after work to avoid the rush-hour" proposal, from none other than Transport for London Commissioner Peter Hendy).

In the main, London's employers are stepping up to the challenge. Despite some sniping in the press, London-based civil servants - many of whom already benefit from fairly generous flexible working arrangements - are being actively encouraged to work from home and make greater use of tele-conferencing during the whole games period. And many other businesses already have plans in place to manage their staff working hours and business practices to ensure continued smooth operation and minimal disruption over the summer.

But why should such innovative approaches to work be restricted to the period of the games themselves? Surely this should be seized on as an opportunity to trial - and then roll out permanently - modern, flexible working practices which could not only benefit employees long-term, but their employers too?

Here at Gingerbread, we hear time and again from single parents who tell us how frustrating it is not to be able to find a family-friendly job that fits around their caring responsibilities. In a Gingerbread/Netmums survey of over 500 single parents 62% had seen no or very few jobs advertised at part-time hours; 97% had seen no or very few jobs advertised within school hours; and 97% had seen no or very few jobs advertised as flexible in any other way. And our most recent policy report, published last week, highlighted the lack of family-friendly jobs - alongside the need for better skills training and more childcare - as one of the key barriers to work for single parents of younger children in particular.

With the technological developments available to us in the 21st century, it seems increasingly anachronistic that many jobs are still advertised by default as full-time, 9 to 5. Many employers have cottoned on to offering part-time and/or flexible working as a retention tool for existing employees - supported by the law which grants the right to request flexible working to any parent or carer who has been in post for six months or more (but, disappointingly, not at the point of job offer). However, all too often when a vacancy comes up, managers revert back to the classic 9 to 5 formula rather than thinking about more creative ways of widening the talent pool from which they recruit.

As well as being a source of frustration to working parents - and indeed anyone else with non-work commitments that prevent them doing standard full-time hours (perhaps even a future Olympian with a tough training schedule to maintain) - employers are shooting themselves in the foot by not making their jobs available to the broadest pool of candidates possible.

So my wish for London 2012 is that we do indeed make the most of the games; not only by enjoying the summer of sports, culture and entertainment in store, but also by using the momentum from the games to transform our workplaces and make London - and the rest of the UK - the most family-friendly and flexible place to work in the world. Surely that's worth a gold medal?