This January, winter storm Jonas topped out at 42 inches of snow in some areas, 85 mph wind in others, and at least 48 deaths. It wasn’t the only severe weather occurrence across the country this winter, and as compared to other recent winters, it wasn’t even that terribly unusual. It seems that year after year, these winter weather challenges will continue to plague individuals and communities.
As another season of miserable commutes through challenging winter weather leaves many of us desperate to say “never again,” it seems timely to have a conversation about the more serious benefits of telecommuting and virtual work. Because shouldn’t there be a better way?
With public officials urging commuters to work from home in advance of winter storms, you’d think people would listen, right? However, it can be easy to think, “what’s so dangerous about a bunch of fluffy snow?” While hypothermia, traffic accidents, and accidental deaths (like the weight of snow on a branch causing it to fall on someone walking underneath) are obvious storm-related deaths, there are many others that are often ignored or misunderstood because they are not “directly” related to the storm itself.
These causes of death may include: carbon monoxide poisoning caused by improper ventilation of heating sources or overexertion while shovelling your driveway, pushing a car, or walking in the snow.
Above all, telecommuting during winter months doesn’t just save productivity and money; it saves lives. That alone should be enough for managers to get on board and implement the tools necessary to build a remote workforce.
Besides the ability to keep your workers safe, telecommuting during the winter months allows business to keep running as usual, albeit remotely.
The Federal Government was one of the first organizations to allow telecommuting for its employees after both the bird flu pandemic scare of the early 2000’s and the massive winter storms of 2009 / 2010, dubbed Snowmageddon. The decision was validated when the Office of Personnel Management reported that the federal government had saved $30 million each day in productivity by having a telecommuting workforce.
Implementing Structures in Advance
If the federal government can actually become productive due to telecommuting, it seems a worthy idea for smaller organizations. A drastic change is not even always necessary, but preparation is. You need to build the structures needed for productivity to keep your company from grinding to a halt in the event of a storm. Programs like Sococo are great resources to have on hand in the case of extreme weather. By implementing even a “one-day-a-week” telecommuting policy, you ensure that your company can seamlessly adjust when the need arises to really hunker down and work from home.
Cost to Individuals
When hourly workers are unable to report for duty for even a few days up to a week, wages are lost. This is just one of the ways in which extreme weather places a financial burden on those who are not allowed or are unable to work from home.
In addition to potential home damage from storms, the need to earn wages from working may lead desperate hourly workers to attempt driving in unsafe extreme weather conditions, resulting in damage to individuals or property. Both car repair and hospital bills can add huge debt to the average worker.
Cost to Taxpayers on a large scale
According to the NOAA(PDF), the total cost of property and crop damage from winter storms in 2014 was $86.37 million. The total cost to individual businesses in 2014 was estimated to be around $15 billion. Global Workplace Analytics states that, “If those with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home did so just half the time, the national savings would total over $700 billion a year.”
Equitable: Keeps workers of all ages and abilities safe
We are not always conscious of the effects of extreme weather on those more vulnerable members of society. By investing in programs to ease telecommuting, you are investing in creating an equitable workplace for the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, those with health issues, and even parents.
Before you claim that you have no “elderly” employees, note that those above 55 are at increased risk during extreme weather with doctors recommending that no one above the age of 55 engage in shovelling snow, for instance. You also don’t have to be elderly to deal with a chronic health issue. For those experiencing chronic health issues, opting to work from home during days when the cold weather, wind, and ice may increase personal challenges, is empowering as well as a boon to productivity.
As for the disabled, the effects of extreme weather can be insurmountable obstacles. Though this is specifically a struggle during extreme weather, this may be an everyday issue even during light snowfall or ice. Allowing all of your workers the ability to decide for themselves when telecommuting is necessary during these icy, snowy, windy winter months is not only essential to respecting the differently abled, but takes a huge step forward in opening up an often inaccessible job market to them.
For those with children, extreme weather often brings school closings. A burden of stress is lifted when scrambling to find childcare is no longer a necessity.
Quality of Life
Creating a supportive and kind work environment is key to productive, happy employees. Extreme weather is an already stressful experience for workers. By removing the necessity to commute to work during the unpredictable and dangerous winter months, your workers will be happier and more relaxed, when other workers may shut down emotionally or physically in order to navigate the burdens (financial and otherwise) placed upon them by extreme weather.
Telecommuting is the Way of the Future
With at least one severe winter storm on record for each of the past five years, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to these crazy, unpredictable winters that spare no one. On a larger scale, the link between climate change and extreme weather seems to be revealing itself before our very eyes. Extreme weather patterns are no longer simply limited to the winter months as we have seen already a rise in heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, flash floods, and tornadoes. In the midst of such evolutionary change, telecommuting may very well prove to be the key to keep industry, economy, and the worldwide workforce churning on.