There is a lot of news fluff about the new transport maps indicating expected areas of high traffic and pronouncements of doom and gloom from some quarters — including an emailed request for my own predictions of doom and gloom by a local newspaper.
However, I am going to be positive about the potential for the London Olympics to change commuting forever, and in a good way.
Some of the suggestions of comping with the Olympic crush have ranged from trying to work from home, to stopping off at a pub after work.
Unsurprisingly, if boringly, I am rather more interested in the working from home aspect of this.
The blunt fact is that many office workers can work from home – even if only for one day per week. It can be done, is usually quite easy to arrange, but it needs courage to be the one who starts the process in an office.
Many of us might think that someone working from home is just mucking around, but honestly, while a few will abuse it – the vast majority of people find working from home occasionally is a good way to “knuckle down” and focus on a task without interruptions.
Most of us have remote access to email – or should have by now. Some companies will need to invest in some IT upgrades, especially if offering remote access to computer files via a secure VPN. But these are commonplace systems, not rocket science.
A person might need to change around some of their work patterns – so that you ensure that Tuesdays are blocked as “out of office” and no one can drag you in for a meeting. In some companies without remote access to files, some tasks need to be stored up for the day at home.
Some bosses are paranoid and won’t trust staff to work away from their beady gaze, but frankly, most employers have hired you because they trust you to be a good and diligent employee. Do they really need to monitor you quite so closely?
So it is possible to work from home occasionally, but why bother?
Well, the obvious and immediate answer is that during the Olympics, commuting to work may be hellish for many people, and avoiding even just one day a week of that is going to be worth it.
But let’s look long term.
Imagine a future London where the majority of office workers who can work from home occasionally – and also do so.
The tube network carries an average of 3.4 million passengers per day – although that is across the entire day
Now – let’s make up some projections.
If half of London’s employers allowed some staff to work from home just one day per week, and that was by some minor miracle, evenly spread across Mon-Fri, then that would translate into roughly a 10% drop in passengers on the tube at rush hour.
Crucially – a 10% drop in traffic but as we will still keep our travel cards, no corresponding drop in revenues for TfL.
OK, it’s not going to turn the tube into the height of luxury (or the buses either), but it would mean a bit more space around each of us when standing. You might even be able to read a book without holding it at the vertical.
Working from home isn’t for everyone.
Some people simply fear that the lure of the TV will prove too irresistible, and indeed, maybe for a few weeks it is a distraction – but it doesn’t last long.
You are away from work colleagues, which can be socially unsettling, but if only for a day or two, it’s not that big an issue, and no bigger a worry than going on holiday.
But there are upsides. No commute to work, so you might sleep in a bit, or just start work earlier – and finish earlier. I found that my tea breaks could be useful – for maybe doing a few domestic chores that would normally have to be done in the evenings.
It breaks up the monotony of work in the same building all the time, and that can itself be intellectually refreshing. I used to sit in coffee shops at times, just to have different environments around me.
The biggest long-term legacy that could result from the Olympics is not the new developments in Stratford, but a huge change in how people are encouraged to work from home – freeing up capacity on the transport networks, and fundamentally altering how we look at “the office” as a place to spend all day, every day.
That is an Olympic Legacy that would excite me.