Today sees the start of the Wimbledon tennis championships in South London and millions of fans will be glued to TV sets and the radio over the coming two weeks – weather permitting of course. The official Wimbledon web site will also doubtless get tons of support as will the BBC’s online coverage. In fact, there is so much online, broadcast and other media coverage of Wimbledon this year, it’s highly doubtful that any work will be done at all in the UK.
Employers will tell you that sudden illnesses strike at times of major sporting events – several people will apparently fall ill during the next two weeks, only to have a remarkable recovery after the Championships. Others will “secretly” be watching Wimbledon online, only to cover-up their browser window with some spreadsheet as the boss walks past their desk. Indeed, the widespread availability of online TV coverage of Wimbledon, plus the Championship’s own online radio and podcast system, means there are many more opportunities for people to engage with Wimbledon now, than there were in the past.
This is going to be an increasing problem for employers. In the past, employees could not really watch major sporting events “live” when they were taking place during the working day. Now, they can – and they will. Come the Olympic in London in 2012, trying to take people away from their online connection to the games will be next to impossible, because by then we will all expect live online coverage – indeed that may well be the way most of us watch large sporting events.
So if you run a business you can’t ban the watching of live sporting events effectively. You can try, but people will watch – reducing productivity as a result. Besides which, all the research on banning things at work shows that this reduces employee loyalty and increases the level of staff resignations, leading to extra costs in recruitment. The impact of banning things is that it tends to cost more in the long run than the money you save as a direct result of the ban itself.
So, what can you do? People now use the Internet in vastly different ways to when the last Wimbledon Championships took place just a year ago. Since then the use of social networking and the speed enhancements to the Internet have meant that online TV and chatting about it to your friends is an expectation, not an added extra.
Today’s Wimbledon Championships could herald a new way of working – one that is so flexible it allows people to watch their sporting events when they want and then to do the work when they want. As an owner of a business or a manager are you ready for such a seismic shift in the way we work? Be sure of one thing – that dramatic change is coming; faster than we think.