At-Home Workers Need Special Attention

Here in New England, many of us endured (some are still enduring) the after-effects of an early winter weather wallop. Last weekend's "Snow-tober" storm, while not a typical showstopper in terms of snowfall amounts, made the strongest of trees buckle under the weight of snow on the leaf-laden limbs. Yours truly was without power for five days.

Here in New England, many of us endured (some are still enduring) the after-effects of an early winter weather wallop. Last weekend's "Snow-tober" storm, while not a typical showstopper in terms of snowfall amounts, made the strongest of trees buckle under the weight of snow on the leaf-laden limbs. Yours truly was without power for five days.

So many people use their homes as their main workspaces and, therefore, were completely disoriented by the widespread power outage. Even if you could get out of your neighborhood -- which some couldn't because of blocked roads -- trying to work at overpopulated coffee shops or friends' houses was futile as the distractions were overwhelming.

To save facilities costs and/or promote a flexible environment, companies over the years have allowed, if not encouraged, workers to indulge in home offices. Certainly this strategy serves as a great morale booster and shrinks the amount of physical space businesses have to maintain. The problem arises during natural disasters when utilities and Internet service providers are focused on getting more populated areas up and running -- not residences. As of today -- a full business week after the storm -- 10% of National Grid's electric customers are still without power in Massachusetts. Earlier in the week, more than a half-million customers were without power.

This is one of those teachable moments (like Hurricane Irene a few months ago), and CFOs and other C-suite members must pay attention. If your company has endorsed a work-from-home policy, then you must take this opportunity to evaluate how your workers fared. Were they able to complete a certain percentage of their everyday tasks? Or did they suffer prolonged downtime?

We are just at the beginning of the snow season in New England, so in this area it is time to get plans in place to deal with all scenarios -- even those considered an anomaly. For instance, identify locations that can be powered by generators where workers can cluster for a period of time such as a hotel ballroom or partner company boardroom. Depending on the person's priority level at the company, you also might have a disaster plan in place to automatically reserve them a room at the nearest lodging facility with electricity.

Five days is a long time for most employees to be offline in even the largest of organizations. Developing an individual disaster recovery plan -- and sharing it with the employee -- will ensure your workers aren't left out in the cold again.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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