O2 sends 3,000 staff home to telecommute for a day

Remote work may be a reality for freelancers with no managers eager to look over their shoulders, at plenty of tech firms that are comfortable with remote collaboration tools and edgy, young companies, but it’s still a long way from wide acceptance at your standard, stodgy corporate headquarters, right?

Maybe not. Even big companies without a particular reputation for cutting-edge practices are slowly starting to realize that the real estate savings and employee morale benefits of remote work make it an attractive option. Take UK telecoms giant O2 for example, which closed its headquarters in Slough this week, sending all 3,000 staff home to work for an initiative designed to test the company’s ability to manage remote workers.

“We believe a cultural step-change is underway affecting staff and businesses, as work increasingly becomes something we do, rather than a place that we go,” O2 business manager Ben Dowd told UK tech news site, V3. “Today’s office-wide flexible working initiative is an opportunity for us to tangibly demonstrate the opportunity and potential available to British businesses today.”

Of course, O2 has a horse in this race as it sells a platform to support remote workers, so the firm is hardly the least likely to push the practice. Dowd acknowledges that this week’s experiment had obvious marketing benefits for the company. “By sharing experiences from across our business, from business divisions to operations, we hope to encourage more organizations to help their workforce become mobile,” he said.

But on the other hand Slough (home to Wernham Hogg Paper Company in the British version of The Office) is hardly Silicon Valley or SoHo either, so the large-scale experiment still offers some evidence that telecommuting is seeping out of trendy enclaves and into the business mainstream.

Image courtesy of Flickr user teamjb.