January 2015 saw many areas on the East Coast of the United States brought to a standstill by up to 30 inches of snowfall. The Boston Globe reported that the economic fallout of that blizzard could exceed $1bn in a combination of lost wages, lost revenue and taxes, and clean up.
Why am I talking about something that happened months ago? I’m pretty the sure the doors to businesses all over Massachusetts are open right now. Snow, rain, wind: it’s all Mother Nature’s way of making you question whether it’s really practical to go into work today.
While the kids might appreciate a day off school, the business reality of bad weather, or worse natural disaster, is that it’s damaging for businesses of all kinds, and especially small businesses. If you charge your clients for the time you work on their projects, you need to be able to keep charging them because losing a week of revenue isn’t an option for many firms.
Being unprepared costs businesses hundreds of millions worldwide. But bad weather and acts of God don’t have to mean disruption to your business. Plan ahead and make a few changes to how you organize yourself and your teams and you’ll find it easier to manage whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
Plan to Work Virtually
One way to prepare for the unexpected is to set in place remote working habits with your teams. GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com says their research shows that telecommuting 2-3 days per week works best. But working remotely, of course, is nothing new. In fact, there’s a trend in business to decentralize the work environment. That doesn’t mean it just happens organically.
You’ll need to do what any project leaders does before setting to work on a new job, plan. You’ll not only want your team to have experience working remotely, but to have the means of communication readily available when something happens that prevents the team members from getting to the office.
Not everything can be done remotely, but if you plan and have communications with your team members, then you can keep them busy with operational work or other jobs that are crucial to the project but easily done outside of the office. Chances are the issue that has kept them out of the office, whether weather-related or personal, won’t be so long as to impact the lifecycle of your project.
Use Tools that Support Virtual Work
Letting people work from home is one part of the equation, but in order to be efficient they need tools to support them. There are a ton of systems that will help including:
- Voice-over-IP solutions like Skype
- Web conferencing sites
- Instant messaging
- Social and virtual networks, either publicly available ones or tools designed to be used in-house
- Tools designed to help you organize and structure teamwork on projects, like ProjectManager.com.
If you’re going to have teams work remotely when needed, then these tools are crucial, but so is backing up your work to a cloud-based storage system rather than keeping things locked on a hard drive in-house. You can use email to communicate, but if your data is inaccessible then your work isn’t going to get done.
The advantage of online tools and cloud storage to your business repertoire is that they are beneficial even if you don’t work from home. Think about a normal office environment. It’s all, “I’ll email you this, I’ll send you that.” Teams that physically work side-by-side often meet the definition of virtual work because much of what they do together is via computer-mediated technology (now there’s a bit of jargon for you). If you spend most of your time in the office but on the phone and emailing your colleagues, then you work virtually – from your desk. Wouldn’t it be more comfy to do it from the kitchen table than battling the storm to find you are the only person who made it in to work?
Many online tools don’t take much effort to set up, and almost everything comes with a free trial. Once you know your requirements, source some products to try and get them installed and in use before bad weather season reaches you this year.
Of course, if you lose internet access, then you are limited to what you can do, but there’s always the phone, right? Spend some time catching up with your colleagues or refresh your project management skills by reading that book you have had on the shelf for a year but haven’t yet opened.
The Extra Benefits of Being Prepared
Changing the culture of your workforce to one that can flex to avoid the disruption caused by bad weather has other advantages too.
Companies with virtual work programs and a flexible approach to coming into the office report more satisfied employees. It’s not just rhetoric: healthcare firm Aetna reports in The Globe and Mail that voluntary turnover in their homeworker population is just 2-3% compared to 8% company-wide.
In addition, if you are open to the idea of virtual working your pool of potential talent increases massively. You are no longer restrained to recruiting the best developers from your city: you can extend your catchment area to the whole state, the whole country or even overseas. When you can connect your teams with great technology and a can do culture, you don’t have to worry about local boundaries.
Finally, if your executives are motivated by cash, looking at the numbers involved might help them get over their fear of losing management control if the workforce goes virtual.
- Remote working saves commuting time, meaning employees don’t get caught in traffic jams and can be at their desks reliably.
- It reduces unscheduled absences by 63% (thanks to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com for that gem).
- It can mean cutting the requirements for office space, reducing corporate overheads.
- There’s no need to pay relocation allowances for new hires from out of state.
- It lowers the carbon footprint of a business and therefore any legal obligations under environmental legislation.
So what are you going to do to prepare for the next bout of bad weather to close roads and offices in your city? Get planning now and your projects can continue, whatever is happening outside.
If you’re going to work remotely and you’re going to invest in online tools to do the job, then ProjectManager.com has what you need to plan, monitor and report on your project. Take a 30-day free trial and see for yourself.