A business guide to coping with bad weather

  • Disruption by the weather can be reduced by modern technology
  • Bad weather should be included in your business continuity plan
  • Cloud Computing could also held when the weather's bad
  • Put appropriate policies and security precaution in place
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As the extreme weather continues to hit Britain, we re-publish our guide to how to stop bad weather disrupting your business.

Weather-induced chaos presents an ideal opportunity for technologists to remind businesses that we now have the means to lessen the impact of bad weather. Mobile and remote working tools make it possible to be productive in almost any location and the aptly named Cloud Computing can take care of all your processing needs on the internet.
 
This article presents an overview of remote working options, and offers tips and links to more detailed advice on how to go about it.
 
Top survival tips
 
1. Situations such as snow disruption should be part of your business continuity plan
 
2. Common sense and appropriate use of remote working technology can minimise the impact for many, says the CIPD
 
3. For information industries, Cloud Computing lets you work from almost anywhere - as long as you've got an internet connection
 
4. Have a back-up system at home, with software and applications ready to go for remote working
 
5. Put appropriate policies and security precautions in place

Sensible HR advice

Coping with bad weather conditions isn't just a matter of modern technology, notes Rebecca Clarke of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). 
 
While some employers still hold the view that they expect to see employees at their posts "come Hell or high water", expecting them to travel in dangerous conditions can affect staff morale and can be risky from a health and safety perspective, she advises.
 
Common sense should prevail on both sides. Employees shouldn't use the weather as an excuse for an unscheduled holiday and should make their situation clear if they are unable to get to work or are suddenly faced with unexpected childcare duties.
 
For their part, "Employers should make clear to employees that they should not risk life and limb to get to work, and be understanding if employees need to leave early to avoid getting stranded unnecessarily on their way home – particularly if conditions worsen during the working day," Clark advises.
 
Where employees have to drive for work, employers have a health and safety duty to ensure they are allowed extra time to complete journeys and factor in alternative routes – and that they are not pressurised to complete any dangerous journeys, she adds.
 
We have the technology
 
While it may be impossible for distribution, manufacturing and process industries to carry on without their workforces in situ, it's perfectly feasible for many of the country's information workers - including accountants - to log in to work from home.
 
This flexible approach makes it possible for many service businesses to continue uninterrupted whatever the circumstances and can deliver additional benefits.
 
"The crude millions-of-pounds estimates of the cost to the economy from bad weather often don't take into account the millions of motivated workers who will be remotely working or if access to emails is not possible, using the time to focus on planning or reflecting on work processes and practices," says Clarke.
 
Cloud Computing, where applications and data are stored in a central location on the web, has become increasingly widespread in the past few years and greatly expands the scope for remote working.
 
During a previous cold snap, Bristol-based Cloud accounting developer Pearl Systems reported on our sister site AccountingWEB.co.uk that its customers were still busy. "From our logs it looks like most users are still managing to crack on with business as usual," the company said. "If you're stuck at home with all your information on the computers at work, you'll appreciate how nice it would be to access everything remotely... and if you're a boss sitting at work thinking 'where's my team?' then wouldn't it be nice to know that your business is running at full power with everyone working from home."
 
Simple Cloud applications such as Pearl or virtual business environments such as IRIS Hosting sit at the base of the remote working pyramid. If you're prepared to invest time and money, far more powerful systems are available that can make your workforce fully productive while on the move, whatever the weather conditions.
 
Tim Thaxter is responsible for championing what is known as unified communications at Siemens Enterprise Communications. By combining Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, office data and applications into an interlinked environment, these systems make it possible to move beyond email to conduct business via online collaboration and web conferencing. "This is reducing the amount of time being wasted when staff are stranded or attempt to travel in very difficult road and rail conditions," he says.
 
Working from home: Practical issues
 
Even if you haven't kitted out your team with laptops, web-compatible smartphones and online collaboration tools, they probably have a home computer with an internet connection. That's all you need to be productive with a Cloud application.
 
Very often, home networks will include a wireless router. This is likely to be one of the many risk points you encounter with any home working arrangement. Reminding staff of good IT security habits is always a good idea, and in this situation start by ensuring they know how to alter the default password setting for their home wireless hub, or you may discover they're sharing your company data with their neighbours.
 
On the hardware side, if you'd like to expand your remote operations consider buying laptops and docking stations for the office rather than desktop machines. The laptops can be maintained and protected as part of your office network, and many modern applications will automatically 'synch' back with the office server when users return to the office and reconnect.
 
For small, owner-managed operations, keeping a separate stand-by computer at home is not only a good idea for coping in emergencies, it's also an ideal way to back up (and restore) your business data and systems. If it wasn't bad weather you were facing, but a disk crash at work, you could go home and be up and running again on the home-based shadow PC in a matter of minutes.
 
Inevitably the remote worker will need to refer to a document on the office server or to share a file with a colleague. In the short term, more organised workers might have the foresight to carry active data with them on USB memory sticks, or staff can email files to each other. In the longer term, this approach is impractical and can create all manner of data management and security problems.
 
One technological solution is to extend your office network to remote workers via a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN can either rely on encryption software to scramble all the data that travels to and from the protected office network, or it might rely on a protected data 'tunnel' through the network firewall that remote users sign into using private system IDs and passwords.
 
In a Cloud environment, however, data storage and back-ups all take place online, so the information is available wherever you are - and as long as you verify the location and data management arrangements of your supplier, they are likely to be more methodically managed than the usual tape/CD back-up and home PC arrangement employed by most small businesses.
 
Security and other management issues and risks
 
Remote working can mean safer, happier and more productive staff, but raises a number of management issues beyond misplaced laptops and data sticks.
 
Any new communication technology - whether instant messaging, VoIP or social networks such as Facebook and Twitter - creates new security challenges. Once a remote worker is away from the office, you have less control on the websites and services they access and the types of files or malware infections they may be receiving.
 
Ergonomic workspaces and equipment such as adjustable chairs/desks and screen setups are a given in an office situation, but as with security and appropriate use policies, it is easy to overlook these issues with 'out of sight, out of mind' home workers.
 
If you rely on remote working as an occasional contingency, the use of personal computers and internet connections - and attendant risks - may be balanced by the benefits and convenience of the arrangement for both employer and employee. But longer-term home use should be formalised and agreed as part of a wider business continuity and flexible working plan.
Junkk Male's picture

Worthy points there

The key does seem to exist around a better appreciation of what needs to be done and can be done... and where.

With much better acceptance of realities combined with top-notch contingency planning. From Government to employers.

For instance, and especially for those not living AND working within towns/cities, the realities of transport options has to be fully appreciated and accepted.

It struck me as bizarre that the news was shunting out advices that major arteries were ploughed/gritted. Then what? 

A car can be a major investment as part of the work commitment. Bending it is going to hit hard. Equally being stuck coming in or going back.

I'm lucky; I work from home. Especially as my kids turned up on the doorstep yesterday lunch (what did the school plan had I not be in?).

But full marks to my wife's business. She arrived back as well, just as the snow started to get serious (Nothing to do with her killing her car last year on black ice as soon as she left the A road to try and get to the office). 

She was armed with a dedicated mobile, and they had set up a virtual slave PC for her to access from here at home. Other than the watercooler chat and access to some files not yet digitised... sorted! She's dealing away as I write... if in her PJ's.

If it is not 'economically viable' to ensure reliable, safe transport to and from work, then this has to be the way to go (for such jobs that can support the option). The alternative is just misery and mess. Plus less work getting done.

I just hope the gas supplies hold out. but then we do have thick jummies handy.

 

Working from home..or anywhere

May I suggest readers take a look at www.glasnost21.com - with this software working from home becomes as easy as working from...well anywhere.

We are a web software company and originally built this software - which combines Project and Image management with light CRM - to help us collaborate and communicate with colleagues, clients and suppliers. It's worked so well that we've now made it more widely available.

It's all web based and simple to use, so the fact that it's snowing and we're stuck at home makes no difference. So long as you have broadband the problem is solved.

Really in 2010 IT should not be the stumbling block for business productivity. And frankly it isn't. It's all about mindset.

If we can be of any assistance please get in touch.

Regards

Antony Slumbers

antonys@glasnost21.com

betterlanguages's picture

Remote working

Very well written and balanced article. As an e-business we are probably better equipped to cope with the cold spell than most. We send and receive translations to clients by e-mail, and our translators also work remotely. Many of them are even in other parts of the world unaffected by snow! So far, so good. One thing you haven't really touched on though, is remote backup. We have remote backup of all our servers, as this is off site, and data-centre based, we are as secure as we can be. Even in the event of total system failure, or someone stealing all our hardware, we would lose a minimal amount of data, and could be up and running within 24 hours. This is relatively in-expensive, and should be within the reach of most small businesses.

We work a lot with the retail sector, and of course you would expect them to be more affected than most by snow, but there is a noticable upward trend in online shopping, and even delivery problems due to the weather aren't likely to deter shoppers. Its going to be interesting to see whether online retailers benefit from people unable to go to work sitting at home and buying online. Even delivery issues aren't likely to be a problem, as paid for product equals positive cash flow!

If you need translation services in any language, we are very mush open for business, despite the weather. In fact we've already equalled last years January sales figure, which isn't bad by the 7th of the month.

 

Regards

Mike Hunter

CEO

betterlanguages.com Ltd.

Don't forget your customers too!

 Very useful article...

But one point that I think it is worth mentioning - don't forget your customers too. The snow has been a nightmare for some businesses, schools and the likes. Reaching your customers to let them know you are closed (or indeed open) will win many brownie points. It's a perfect chance to offer that little extra customer service in times of need.

It doesn't have to be time consuming either. If you have a few customer appointments then a quick telephone call may be the way to go. However, when you have a large number, this is just not practical. A number of schools send a quick text message to parents, but there is no reason why you couldn't do that for your customers too.

A text message is quick and easy to send and will reach your customers instantly wherever they may be. Perfect as they too are probably caught up and not in front of a computer. It can also be sent in minutes.

However, you decide to contact your customers, I recommend you attempt to. They will be grateful and help you regain those lost ££'s in the coming days / weeks when things get back to normal (finger's crossed).

I hope that helps...

Dan Parker

Marketing Director

www.firetext.co.uk

Forbeswatson's picture

Plan for the weather

One point I think is missing from the article is that businesses who may be affected by the weather financially should build such eventualities into their business plan.

At Forbes Watson we have clients whose trade is very much weather dependant. We make sure that the Cashflow forecasts and projections we build with the clients have taken into account a certain number of bad weather days.

When preparing projections it's always important to flex, so best case and worst case scenarios are known ahead of time.

For more information email:
simon@forbeswatson.co.uk

www.forbeswatson.co.uk

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