In a country used to moaning about the weather more than anything else (I suppose we have good reason), it is surprising how much ‘freak’ weather, like snow, catches us by surprise.
When the snow fell at the beginning of the year the country was brought to its knees. Schools were closed, trains were suspended and all but the main roads were blocked. However whilst schools were able to implement their regimental snow policies with ease, businesses were thrown into a panic. What was their policy for a snow day? How could they stay productive when people couldn’t get into the office?
Thankfully for the UK’s businesses, crippling snow days are still relatively unusual in the UK. But with climate change pundits claiming they will happen much more often and become more severe, and insurers putting the cost of a snow day to the economy at up to £690m a day, businesses simply cannot afford not to prepare. Fortunately, many of the web-based business-continuity solutions that prepare businesses for snow days also deliver productivity benefits all year round.
So making preparations now will not just keep your business functional during the winter months, but more productive during the other seasons too. Businesses just need be aware of the implications that implementing such services will have on their internet connections, especially with the additional bandwidth they may require.
The first place to start, however, before even looking at the specific tools available, is to properly define your snow day policy. It is astounding that while every school in the country has a clear policy for a snow day, the majority of the UK’s businesses don’t know what to do.
So the first step is to define the policy, and tell your employees what it is before the snow starts falling. This will remove any doubt of what to do when it occurs and ensure employees know what is expected of them. The policy should also take into account employees’ different circumstances. For example, it is unfair to enforce the same expectations on someone who commutes for an hour by train every day compared to a colleague who lives a 10 minute walk away.
Once the employee policy is established and agreed, you need to ensure you have a plan in place for your customers, and that your suppliers have a plan too. Can you continue to serve your customers? Can your suppliers continue to serve you? If your business requires you to deliver physical goods, you will need to find alternative methods of delivery, or at the very least, have a well oiled communications machine that will keep your customers informed of any potential delay and your efforts to resolve it.
The reality of crippling weather is that it affects everyone, so if you are a national business, your customers will be experiencing the same difficulties as you and will likely be more understanding. And with 24 hour news telling everyone how terrible the situation is, snow days can even be opportunity to exceed your customers’ expectations.
So, with policies in place, how can businesses actually stay productive during severe weather? Thankfully, this is where innovations in IT and communications technology, which have already liberated many employees by allowing them to work more flexibly, come into their own.
Firstly, deploy one of the many online collaboration tools, such as Webex Connect or Google Docs, so that people can work together on the same projects even if they can’t get into the office. While sharing documents over email gets the job done, these tools will help to avoid ‘version hell’ and the unnecessary duplication of work. By cutting out unnecessary travel, these tools will also make your business more efficient all year round, so they should be considered for more than just business continuity reasons.
In addition to deploying collaboration tools, businesses should also look to move more of their business software online or ‘to the cloud’. By being hosted online, these applications can be accessed from anywhere, so any employee who cannot get into the office still has access to the same tools as if they were sitting snugly behind their desks.
Thirdly, I recommend businesses move more of their storage online, either onto a web-based service like Dropbox or Mozy, or onto a privately-hosted service deployed in your own co-located data centre. These options not only ensure people can access company data offsite in a reliable manner, they also double-up as a reliable, offsite backup.
By deploying collaboration tools, ‘cloud’ applications and online storage, underpinned by a clear policy for their use, businesses can ensure they not only remain productive during the next snow day, but are prepared for any other disruption that prevents their employees from getting into work.
However, businesses also need to be aware of the implications that such services have on their internet connections, specifically with the additional bandwidth they may require (especially upload bandwidth) and the requirements of their connection to be as reliable as possible. If not, the day-to-day benefits of migrating to these online services will count for nothing, and the next snow day will be cold indeed.