LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of Britons swapped the office for the comforts of working from home on Monday as government and businesses tested ways of avoiding transport gridlock during this summer’s Olympics in London.
Bureaucrats from across government departments were asked to work remotely, or to brave the cold and cycle or walk at least part of the way to the office in a week-long trial to prepare for the Games from July 27 to Aug 12.
The government wants to encourage businesses to vary their working routines to avoid meltdown on the capital’s often crowded public transport system when London hosts the Games and the Paralympics.
However, official advice also warns of the risk of Internet services slowing or dropping altogether because of increased demand during the Olympics, another headache for companies.
“The government wants to deliver a great 2012 Olympic Games and keep London and the UK moving at the same time - that’s why we are currently encouraging businesses and commuters to plan ahead and consider their travel options,” a Department for Transport spokesman said.
“This is about encouraging staff to reduce the impact of their travel by either walking or cycling, changing their route of travel to and from work, re-timing their working day to avoid the busiest periods or working from home,” he added.
Mobile phone company 02 closed its headquarters in Slough, west of London, for the day on Monday to allow its 2,500 workers to experiment with working from home.
Increasing numbers of British businesses allow their staff to work from home on occasions to help cut commuting times and improve the work-life balance.
Come the summer, workers could find themselves battling for bandwith with sports fans trying to follow the Games online from home or in offices.
As a consequence, businesses are being told to consult Internet Service Providers to check on how well the web will hold up.
The impact could be most severe in city-centre offices if workers attempt to access streamed live footage of different events going on simultaneously.
“Most offices are not set up for everyone to watch action on their PCs,” said James Blessing of the Internet Service Providers Association.
His advice was for businesses to allow workers to base themselves at home for a day or two per week during the Games, taking the edge off demand and providing a fall-back option if offices could not get online.
Blessing expected service providers not to cap data use but to use technology to slow Internet speeds at peak times to prevent access from stalling completely.
Some skeptics fear that transport will prove to be the Achilles’ heel of the London Games.
Londoner have been warned they face queues of up to 30 minutes on the “Tube” underground rail network at peak times during the Games.
Commuters have been advised to delay their journeys home by lingering in a pub for a beer or enjoying a meal out to soak up the atmosphere of what city officials are promoting as “A Summer Like No Other.”
Reporting by Keith Weir; editing by Martyn Herman