Tips For Keeping Your Office Open During a Snowstorm

SnowstormLast Wednesday afternoon, with not one snowflake on the ground, schools and local jurisdictions were announcing closures in advance of Thursday’s monster snowstorm. In the past, I would gotten up early the day of the storm to make the call re: keeping the office open or following the federal government’s lead and close the office. But with all the remote technology we’ve invested in, it doesn’t make sense to close the office anymore when there’s inclement weather. While I’m sure my staff would have loved a snow day, we work so much from home these days anyway, what’s another day? Besides, our out of town clients really don’t care when the DC area shuts down, really. Here’s how we make it work:

  • Plan for work at home. If we know there’s going to be bad weather, I don’t wait until 5am the day of the storm to make the call. I tell everyone to use their best judgment and work from home is approved in advance. We talk about who’s going to be doing what, the admins make sure conference calls don’t require an attendant, people with laptops bring their machines home, etc.
  • We work hard to allow every staff member to work from home. I’ve heard some say keeping the office open and asking everyone to work from home is not fair for staff members whose jobs require them to be in the office. At Matrix Group, we’ve worked hard to make every job possible from a remote location, if not all the time, at least some of the time. For example, the admins can monitor the voice mailbox, monitor the admin email box (we ask clients to send emails to that mailbox if they want a call back), use our VOIP system to forward calls, do data entry on our intranet over the VPN, do bookkeeping over the VPN, put packets together, make calls, etc.
  • The show must go on. Our policy is “It’s business as usual, even if we’re at home.” This means calls and meetings still happen, brainstorming still occurs, and quick questions are still asked and answered. We don’t wait until we’re all back together to do work, collaborate, get questions answered.
  • We have a fiber line for our VPN. This is critical because when all staff connect to the office network, development servers or intranet (which are only available over the VPN), our old, bonded T1 lines made it painful to work. The fiber line is awesome and has made a difference even for the people who always work remotely.
  • Everyone stays on Instant Messenger (IM). We have Jabber set up and  it’s only available over the VPN for added security. All staff are required to stay on IM when they are working remotely, and we must keep our statuses updated. Going to lunch? Taking a break to shovel? We keep our statuses updated. We have some standing IM chats (911, water cooler and team chats), and we can create chat rooms on the fly when a group needs to collaborate.
  • We use Web conferencing a lot. Some staff members like to use Skype, but for client meetings or even team meetings, we use Webex.
  • Tech support is always available. We know that being able to work from home depends on being able to connect to the VPN. So IT always has a person or two available to help staff troubleshoot their connectivity issues.

On Friday, about half the staff came in to the office, while the other half remained at home. Honestly these days, I can’t tell half the time where people are because we do a good job of staying in touch, using our calendar and IM to broadcast our statuses, and keep work going. How about your office? What’s your policy when it snows and how did your office survive last week’s storm?


5 thoughts on “Tips For Keeping Your Office Open During a Snowstorm

  1. I think that Instant Messaging – IM – is the most critical part of work-at-home, combined with an office calendar. People must communicate their schedule and their status must be kept up to date. This must come from the top down, and it can’t be optional. I’ve known other companies where the project managers or the IT team has tried to make this happen, but the CEO/Exec took a ‘whatever works best for folks’ approach, and that meant that some of the office was on IM and some wasn’t. So it was impossible for anyone to know where anyone was or when they’d be back.

  2. My company uses Google Apps for Business and I really cannot believe the amount of productivity it’s added. For working remotely during the winter/commuting hell, being able to connect via Google Hangouts, Google Drive, and VOIP calls through Gmail (b/c I don’t have a landline) has been so valuable.

  3. After a quick meeting with the company board, we decided to take a different approach and close down for two days. The board said that this was a perfect time for staff and their families to get together and have some snow fun. We did not have to close down; our staff already works remotely.

  4. I agree w/ Tanya’s post – getting everybody’s status communicated consistently throughout the day via IM is vital to successful remote collaboration.

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