Olympic trials

The Olympics has prompted many London-based organisations to think creatively about how to get around the anticipated travel problems. One company which is accustomed to creative thinking is international advertising, marketing and public relations agency Ogilvy & Mather [www.ogilvy.co.uk].

It is using the opportunity to trial new agile ways of working. “The Olympics is a really good way of getting people into the mindset of more agile working,” says Julia Ingall, UK Group HR Director [pictured]. “It’s about starting to understand that people do not need to be physically present in order to do a great job.”

The company worked with a Transport for London consultant on how they could ensure business continuity during the Games, given the location of their HQ in Canary Wharf. “We started thinking about how we could create an Olympic legacy and have some fun,” says Julia.

One of the proposals for getting around expected transport problems is a relay system of working whereby staff can choose if they want to come in early and finish at 3.30pm or come in at 12 and finish in the evening. The system is not mandatory so staff can choose to continue working core business hours. The company is offering a free breakfast for the early shift and free drinks and supper for the late shift. They have also said that those staff planning to go to the Olympics can drop by en route with their families.

Another proposal, nicknamed Come Dine With Me, is for staff who can’t get into Canary Wharf to meet up at a colleague’s house and work over dinner. “It may be easier for people to get to a colleague’s house than to the office. New technology means it is fairly easy for staff to work remotely and includes video conferencing and new software to enable staff to work safely if they have their own laptop. The company has put on Lunch and Learn sessions where the IT department teach colleagues about issues such as how to ensure client confidentiality when they are working on laptops and how to use Google chat.

“We have an adult culture where we work on trust,” says Julia. “Many members of staff work part of the week from home both officially and unofficially. The Olympics offers us a chance to test how we take this agile working further.”

However, the Olympics is only one reason for the trial. The firm has two locations – one in Canary Wharf and one in Paddington. The lease on its Canary Wharf office is running out in a few years so they are starting to look for an office which brings everyone together. However, since the organisation is growing they don’t want to hire office space which soon turns out to be too small for their needs so that they have to co-locate again.

“It’s important that we make the best use of the space and that the space we have is optimised to enable collaborative sharing of ideas,” says Julia who adds that at any one time the Canary Wharf office can have just 50-70% occupancy since much business is done on clients’ premises.

The company plans to reduce desk space and has created laminated cards which people can put on their desks to state that they are not around so their desk can be used by another member of the team. It’s not traditional hot desking since it is very much about creating a collaborative, agile working environment which includes break-out spaces. “We don’t plan to go from everyone having a desk to hot desking immediately,” says Julia, adding that some people like being at their desks and that the company doesn’t want to impose a one size fits all solution. “We need to cater for a number of different types of workers and styles of working.”

Another reason is the diverse mix of staff at Ogilvy & Mather, which includes people from generations Y and Z who see work as what you produce rather than a place you go to as well as those from generation X, many of whom are parents who need a degree of flexible working.

The new shift patterns are due to start next week. Department heads have a plan of where key people will be on any given day during the trial and emergency contact numbers for staff. The trial will be reviewed later in the year. “It’s very much a work in progress,” says Julia.

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