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How does a typical workplace deal with severe weather, and what else could you be doing?

cars snowed in

I have been genuinely amused by several comments I overheard in a supermarket last night about people hoarding food due to the level of snow expected. One woman’s comments and trolley contents particularly amused me, and this was all summarised well by this image sent to me yesterday also. Whilst this might seem an extreme approach, it shows that people do think ahead and do prepare. In my experience, many businesses though leave it very late in the day before giving their staff sufficient notice of their intentions in relation to working arrangements at times of extreme weather.

The image below is a screenshot of the weather predictions posted yesterday lunchtime (28 Feb) by the BBC. At that point we took action as a business and made plans for all of our team members to work from home for both Thursday and Friday. We have set up systems including our phones, for any team member to be able to do so, whilst continuing to service customers as normal. As soon as any employer sees the phrase ‘potential risk to life and property’ as per the alert on the BBC yesterday, I think you have to seriously consider whether you could make arrangements for some/all of your team to work remotely.

The specific arrangements you might be able to make will depend of course on the amount of on-site dependency your business has – retailers and manufacturers being prime examples of where this might be harder to achieve, but it is still possible for many people across most sectors.

Many businesses leave it very late in the day because they think they should leave it until the eleventh-hour to be able to make a final decision in case the weather situation changes. This however, can mean that plans are often less easily implemented, and that staff can end up at an office location, with the weather suddenly deteriorating and them being in a position of needing to travel home again in unsafe conditions. Better surely to give people clarity in advance, and as long as they can continue to work productively remotely, contingency plans which have been implemented could still remain in place in any case, even if the situation improves at the last minute?

Many businesses across a range of sectors can adjust to many staff members being able to work remotely temporarily, if some thought is given in advance to arrangements which could be put in place. One of our clients – a successful professional services business with a presence across London and the South – has the ability for all staff to work remotely if required in any disaster situation. All of their technology systems, including all IT and telecoms, are fully hosted.

They have taken the view that they want a completely flexible and agile working environment, which provides them with the ability to work from any location at any time. Their staff don’t even have a fixed desk environment, so each day they can choose where to work – whether at one of their many office locations, from a client site, or from home. They are judged not by where they work and what time they arrive, but by the results they produce – whether support staff or fee earners.

Similarly, where ‘disaster’ events occur, such as fire, flood, terrorist threat, etc, many businesses can continue to operate normally, even without notice, with some level of thought and planning in advance. Businesses in London, for a variety of reasons, have found themselves over many years unable to access their offices at times for the reasons above. Those who succeed in these challenging times are the businesses who have attached a priority to some level of disaster recovery planning and set up their technology systems to support this. Those who plan for this, can normally make provision for all of their staff to work from home as normal, whilst continuing to maintain a full service to their clients.

In the situation where you have warning, such as the current weather event, it makes sense to give some thought to what you might be able to do differently next time. Here are some thoughts on some of the areas you might want to consider:

  • People – what stance do you want to be able to put in place to continue to operate as a business, whilst also focusing on your staff members’ health and wellbeing where you can?
  • Policies – do you have tried and tested policies which will swing into action in advance of, or in response to, an event?
  • Technology – the tech now exists and is accessible at relatively low cost to all businesses. Have your existing systems got the capability to enable staff to work from home or from other locations, and enable you to continue to service your customers? If not, what enhancements could be made to enable this?
  • Communication – what is your plan to communicate to customers, suppliers, to your staff and other stakeholders to ensure that people know what is going on, and know how to adapt if they need to?
  • Planning – it makes sense to start planning now to make any enhancements you possibly can. Who knows when the next set of bad weather may be upon us, or when anything else completely outside our control might take us by surprise. It pays to give some thought to this sooner rather than later.

The opportunity for an inter-company snowball fight might be really fun, and I wouldn’t miss it if the opportunity presented itself! But I for one would rather be at home working more productively than driving to the office and wasting (a lot of) time getting there and back. I even managed to fit in a snowball fight with one of my daughters earlier also, which made it even more worthwhile!

Tim Walker