Preparing for a tube strike: How your SME can continue to thrive

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Preparing for a tube strike: How your SME can continue to thrive


Handling over 5 million passenger journeys per day, the tube is the primary mode of transport for many Londoners as they weave through the city. With a planned tube strike recently averted at the last minute and preparations for another ballot already underway for Christmas time, we began thinking about how large-scale action affects the capital’s businesses and how they can mitigate the negative effects on their productivity.

London commuters spend an average of 74.2 minutes travelling to and from work on a normal day – over 20 minutes longer than the average UK commute. The detrimental psychological effects of commuting even without strike action in place have been well-documented, so adding tube closures into the mix must amplify that stress significantly for the workforce.

What’s more, the estimated cost to the London economy of a tube shutdown is somewhere between £10 million and £50 million per day, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and The London Chamber of Commerce. Strike though they might, the absence of Underground staff shouldn’t create such an obstacle for the capital’s businesses, especially at a time where so many jobs can be fulfilled remotely.

Working smart

The right to request flexible working came into force on 30 June 2014. Since then, companies that have rolled out such schemes are reporting a reduction in absences and tardiness, a reduction in turnover of valuable staff and an increase in employee morale and engagement – a fantastic result, it would appear. However, the key to the success of a flexible working scheme is not necessarily in offering employees a black or white choice between the office or home, but in assessing specific working requirements, planning a scheme that fits and effectively monitoring performance.

Even though Boris Johnson thought the London 2012 Olympics would be “a skivers paradise”, the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed 1,000 managers in August 2012 about how the games affected their organisations. Managers who allowed employees to work remotely disagreed with the then Mayor and said the “event nurtured a more positive perception of working from home”.

So, companies can stand to benefit from giving employees the option to work from home, but how their existing workplace functions is equally important in this scenario. If the aim of flexible working is to improve productivity by handing more independence to staff, one of its downfalls becomes the relative lack of opportunities to socialise and collaborate in person. Therefore, first and foremost, the office needs to be designed to facilitate collaboration.

Using your brain

The trend of relaxed, open-plan workspaces stems from Silicon Valley, where tech companies required high levels of productivity from their employees to achieve the astronomical growth they sought. While our ancestors completed manual tasks outdoors and were measured based on a tangible output, many modern workers are completing much more creative or analytical tasks and a different environment is required to nurture that behaviour. Beyond just ping pong and pool tables, it is a question of company culture and personal support.

The possibilities with flexible working are myriad. Skilled workers want to work for businesses that give them more control over their time and businesses that do are reaping the benefits of a happier and more productive workforce. A key reason behind this drive, according to Timewise, is a reduction in commuting times. As we prepare for another tube strike in December, perhaps it provides an opportunity for your company to test a flexible working scheme.

20th October 2017

By Izzy Werffeli

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