Posted by Robert Half on 21 January 2015
Love it or loathe it, snow is a frequent visitor to Britain in the winter months. It could arrive at any time, in any place, bringing cheer and misery in equal measure. While many hanker for snowmen, toboggan rides and all, these fierce cold snaps have an obvious downside. Heavy snow causes everything to grind to a halt, wreaking havoc for businesses, public services and the economy as a whole.
Absenteeism, lost productivity, reduced custom and missed deliveries are just some of the problems faced by British firms when the latest 'big freeze' arrives. Many of the challenges are difficult to overcome, such as blocked roads, commuter chaos and school closures, which may force people to stay at home and not come into work. But slowly, year by year, the game is changing for many businesses. Technology is coming to the rescue.
The rise of working from home
In the 21st century, there are ways of mitigating the impact of heavy snowfall, and ensuring the majority of your workers are able to do their jobs as intended. The advent of broadband connectivity, cloud technology and other digital tools has broken the once-inextricable link between the office and productive work. With modern technology at their fingertips, it's now possible for employees to work from home, put in a proper shift, without stepping a foot beyond their own doorstep.
In normal circumstances and weather conditions, many businesses offer flexible working, allowing employees to work from home as an employee engagement and staff retention strategy. Some employees may be allowed to work from home all the time, others on an ad hoc basis - perhaps once a week in order to help them juggle commitments and achieve a better work-life balance.
As an emergency back-up when the snow intervenes, this balance can shift. You can give all staff members the option of working from home, so long as they can be productive. This might reduce the negative impacts of the weather conditions, and make life easier for your people. They can still do a full day's work without having to brave the weather and icy roads.
Of course, the role played by technology in all of this cannot be understated. The switch from internally-hosted IT to cloud solutions, underpinned by faster internet connections, has created vast new opportunities for remote working. Core business functions are moving online, meaning many professionals can now work effectively on almost any web-enabled device, in any connected location.
The toolkit for working from home
In order to work from home effectively, there's a few things employees will need, including:
- A fully functioning computer, tablet or smartphone with typing capability
- A reliable broadband connection with adequate bandwidth
- Phone access to the office and clients - via mobile or landline
- Back-up internet access - such as 3G or 4G connectivity - to act as a failover
- A quiet space to do work undisturbed
- Discipline, focus and organisation
Why employees can work from home effectively
If employees have technology at their disposal, there should be at least some important tasks they can get on with while the snow falls outside. But removed from the office environment, do they have the discipline to do their work effectively? Having the right IT tools is essential for working from home effectively, but professionals also need the right attitude and approach.
If they are disciplined and organised, working from home is a great opportunity to get things done. Employees should be temporarily shielded from many of the distractions of the office - such as meetings, briefings and small talk with colleagues. This means they can focus on particular tasks and work through them to a stage of completion. Rather than dipping into their emails for ten minutes here and there between other jobs, staff can spend a couple of hours clearing out their inbox.
However, there may be temptation along the way for some. As an employer, you won't be breathing down your employees' necks - and you won't know if they are actually working, watching TV or even building a snowman outside. You have to come to terms with this reality, but it's best to have a little faith in your employees. They are usually inclined to put in a good shift when they work from home, particularly as they get to avoid the normal, lengthy commute. Many are happy to start a little earlier and finish a little later, knowing they get to work in the comfort of their own home and see a little more of their family.
The fundamental nature of IT innovation to many business roles means heavy snowfall should no longer cripple organisations, as it might have done in years gone by. The extent to which employees can work from home productively depends on their role, duties and the industry they work in. But for most professionals, there is scope to do something useful - providing they have access to the necessary technology. If the alternative is absence from work, anything they can get through on 'snow days' is a bonus.