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Snowpocalypse Strategy: Don't Wimp Out. Do Test Your Remote Work Policy

The crazy winter weather in Europe and the US is stressful on businesses. People can't make it in to the office, customers cancel meetings and the folks in Accounts Payable have to decide how tough to be on that "no bar-tab reimbursement" policy for people stuck in airport hotels. Still, times like this are prime opportunities to test out remote working policies and run simple experiments in productivity.

PA Governor Ed Rendell may be right when he says we're becoming a nation of wimps where weather is concerned, but the Web and new tools make risking life, limb and front bumpers unnecessary. When kids in Atlanta get more snow days than kids in Chicago, you know something is haywire with the world. In the interest of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, here are some things to keep in mind that will assist your team in staying productive:

  • Have a plan in place already: Your company should have a bad-weather policy in place, but don't wait for the nice lady in HR to send the memo. Your team needs to know how people can get in touch with each other, how important news will be communicated and how to handle snags in travel plans. Admittedly, no one can predict that drought-stricken Australia would flood or that the Savanna office would be closed for two days but that's the point of a plan, right?
  • Insist people use the tools at their disposal: Situations like these are why webmeetings, teleconferences and shared file services were created. Insist people make the most of them (and model using them yourself).
  • Watch the weather and send periodic updates: Modern technology means that most of us can see bad weather coming at least 2 days in advance or more (the Mayans are already predicting December 2012 might not be prime travel time but we'll worry about that when we get there). It's better to think about "what if" than it is "what now". Send reminders to your team about where to find each other, where emergency contact lists can be found and what you anticipate will happen. You can always call off any plans if things are not as bad as anticipated. This also means that those who normally work in the office should take what they need to be productive from home.
  • Set realistic expectations around productivity: Deadlines still need to be met and the business must keep running. Modern technology means that just because you can't go into the office doesn't mean you can't get the Johnson report written. People might not have access to everything they need or be able to hold meetings but there's a lot that can get accomplished in the meantime.
  • Snow days impact those who work from home, too: One common complaint from remote workers is that when bad weather hits, people who normally work remotely are expected to carry on as normal while those who can't get to the office are basically given a free pass. It's important to remember that events like hurricanes and snow days don't simply impact the commutes of remote workers, it's really hard to get much constructive work done with a houseful of bored children or no electricity.
  • This might be a good time to test some remote working strategies: If someone has been asking for more flexibility to work from home, this might be a good time to test it. Can they meet their deadlines? Are they comfortable with the technology the rest of your remote workers use?
Forethought, some compassion and a little common sense will help your team stay productive and positive when things get weird. Remember the words of the immortal Hunter S Thompson: "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro".

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photo by flickr user hipposrunsuperfast CC 2.0
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