How firms are clearing the Olympic hurdles

Lucy Tobin on the efforts business is making to keep running during the Games

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The Independent Online

The fireworks went off, the world watched, but despite all the lights and noises of the Olympic ceremony, for thousands of British businesses the Games don't truly begin until Monday morning. That's when they find out if their employees can make it in to work on time or if London's transport system is defeated. That's when the true impact of the restrictive Olympic Route Network will finally be played out.

However, much British businesses have been told to prepare for London 2012, no one quite knows what it will actually be like.

For every survey showing 40 per cent of British firms have stockpiled loo roll, got all staff working from home and given the IT crew helicopters, there's another showing companies have carried out no preparations and have no idea what to expect.

Days before last night's opening ceremony, a Populus survey commissioned by charity Global Action Plan warned that only 20 per cent of businesses have a Games plan. The vast majority of the polled employees said their company had a strategy for moving goods and services that were essential to keep their businesses running.

But those firms in the centre of the Games mayhem, whether in the middle of London or near the other Games venues around Britain, have had to get organised. Here they explain how they're tackling the Olympics:

The business services firm: PwC

Accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers has 8000 staff in London. "Our offices are open for business as usual during the Games. We started planning 18 months ago," says Steve Sherwood, a director at PwC. The firm has beefed up its stock of office supplies including paper, cleaning products, toilet rolls and the like so it doesn't have to bring in deliveries during the Games. More staff will be working remotely.

"We don't have a blanket policy on home working as 98 per cent of our people have laptop computers so people can work anywhere, and most are used to working mobile," says Mr Sherwood. "In London Bridge alone, PwC has over 4500 people commuting in and out every day. Transport for London visited our offices for staff to quiz them on alternative routes to work during the Games. We distributed walking maps as well, opened 50 more bike spaces and are promoting video and tele-conferencing to avoid the usual train and boat traffic between our London offices – staff who sign up get a chocolate Olympic medal!"

PwC is in the middle of a major refurbishment of its office in Embankment Place, Charing Cross. "We've had to stockpile materials like plasterboard and screws to keep our build schedule on track.

"Our contractors wallpapered their staff canteen with day-by-day travel plans and maps so the builders could plan ahead. We also have a dedicated business continuity plan, with a 24/7 information phone line, website communications and firm-wide business representatives."

It has, Mr Sherwood says, "taken a bit of planning, but you've got to expect that. Our message to our people and contractors has been to work with the Games – it's a once-in-a-lifetime event, but there are enough options in terms of transport, technology, staffing and supply chain to mean we can work through it and, work-permitting, enjoy it too."


The retailer: Marks & Spencer

Selling hundreds of thousands of products from tomatoes to tights at its 67 London stores, Marks & Spencer started working out how to keep its shelves full years in advance. It launched an Olympic dry run at its Simply Food branch on Earl's Court, west London. On a normal week, M&S receives deliveries in roll cages at 6am ready for the store to open at 8am. But being bang in the middle of the Olympic Route Network, deliveries could only be made between midnight and 6am during the Games. So in September 2011 the retailer tried 4.30am deliveries for three weeks, muffling its roll cages to cut down on noise to help prevent outrage from neighbours.

"Now all 67 London M&S stores will be receiving overnight deliveries during Olympic restriction times, and using best practices from the noise trial," spokesman Daniel Himsworth explains. Suppliers sending food and clothes into M&S's warehouses, including Faversham and Hemel Hempstead warehouses that serve London stores, have been brought forward by three hours. Drivers, warehouse staff and store workers have all had their hours bought forward too. "We have 8,675 employees in London stores in total," adds Mr Himsworth. "The M&S Stratford City store alone has taken on an extra 100 employees to sell 60,000 extra sandwiches over the Olympic weeks – 150 per cent more than usual – and an extra 40,000 bottles of water."

The leisure business: Heineken

The maker of the official beer of the Olympics is expecting heavy demand for its amber nectar during the Games. Heineken has set up 1008 beer taps in Olympic venues, meaning 50,000 pints of its eponymous brew, plus John Smith's Bitter and Strongbow cider, can be served every hour at the Olympic Stadium alone. It's expecting to sell 2.2m pints of draught beer and cider and another 3.5m bottles of booze, meaning its overall weight of beer deliveries to the Games venues is 2.85m kilos – or more than 11 Airbus 380s. To get it there, it has bought in a specialist fleet of 25 18-tonne rigid lorries driving 76,000 miles to make 700 deliveries over the Olympic and Paralympic period. "Heineken technicians have cancelled their annual leave and holidays to be involved in the Olympic install process," says Paul Hoffman, supply chain director of Heineken UK. "The techs at Hyde Park have hired a golf buggy to get around site on so they can be quicker to react." Orders made by Olympic caterers are sent to Heineken's office in Edinburgh, before stock is loaded daily from within the beer group's secure warehouse and loaded on to dedicated Olympic vehicles. "Prior to departure, each vehicle will be loaded, checked and sealed in accordance with [Olympic organiser] Locog requirements," Hoffman adds. A supervisor then has to seal the vehicle.

The city traders: First Rate FX

First Rate FX is a currency firm that's based in the Citi building in Canary Wharf. "We have 70 full-time staff in our London office and have staggered starting and finishing hours from 06.30am to 9pm so that we can avoid the peak travel times on the Docklands Light Railway and Jubilee line," says Judy Mansfield, head of European Business Development. "During the Olympics, some of our non-trading staff, including our chief executive, are working from home. Staff who live locally have offered their spare room to colleagues who can then walk to work."

"We think that our customers won't notice any difference in the service we provide to them," Ms Mansfield adds, but the firm has still got emergency back-up plans in place. "We have an emergency working poli cy for implementation in the case of, for example, terrorist activity, strikes, electricity failure and so on, so all we have done is borrowed from that policy to cope with travel difficulties," she explains.