By Trish Lomonosov, Senior Analyst / Planner
Pop quiz: What do the inauguration, rail shutdowns, a visit from Pope Francis, a major weather event, and large-scale protests all have in common? If you answered, “a crippling commute that requires end-of-the-day libations,” you are correct! We have all likely dealt with an apocalyptic commute that has nearly driven us to the brink of insanity. Thankfully, decision-makers in many organizations have had the foresight to balance the needs of the organization (GET WORK DONE!) and the employee (MAINTAIN SANITY WHILE GETTING WORK DONE!) on days like this by allowing employees to work from home. Some organizations are taking this a step further and are developing telecommuting policies that allow employees to work from home offices on a more regular basis. I would argue that this is a wise decision!
Metro Shutdown: Proof that Something Good Can Come from Something Bad
The Washington, DC Metro system typically carries 700,000 weekday passengers, making it the second busiest rail system in the United States. In March 2016, as a result of a station fire, Metro announced a complete one-day shutdown of the system. The prediction of a doomsday commuting scenario was widely reported in the media but was not realized due to the widespread use of telework that day.
Since that time, the Metro system has continued to shut down sections of Washington’s subway on a rolling basis, a plan it has dubbed “Safe Track.” (I guess the pre-shutdown rail commute could be dubbed “Unsafe Track,” but that’s a topic for another blog…)
Since track closures began in 2016, government agencies and private industries in DC have continued to GET WORK DONE! Some employees have opted to work flexible schedules that allow them to work longer days when the rails are up and running and to take off when there is a track closure. Others have switched to alternate modes of transportation when necessary. Some have taken the bus, with its long, circuitous routes and multiple transfers. Others have gone for the taxi, Uber, and Lyft option: think $$. Some commuters have chosen to drive, taking on the burden of traffic and parking. Capital Bikeshare is a nifty idea that some of the more adventurous commuters have turned to. (However, I think many of us would agree that very few could handle the demands of this approach. In a bike vs. DC cab showdown, my money is on the cabbie every time.)
And then there’s the home office option. Many organizations are investing in equipment and technologies that allow employees to be fully productive and accessible from their home offices on days when commuting can be difficult. Given the not-so-pleasant trade-offs of the other alternatives, I would say the home office option is the ideal solution.
Home Offices: Preparing for the Apocalypse (Commuting, not Zombie)
It is becoming more widely accepted that it just makes good sense from an organizational and personal standpoint for employees to work from home on days when commuting challenges would sabotage a productive work day. Recent hurricanes in southern parts of the U.S. provide a perfect example. In some cases, businesses were closed due to wind and flood damage and power outages, yet employees’ homes were undamaged and maintained power. Organizations and employees that prepared in advance were able to maintain daily operations by having employees work in home offices. This provided employees with the added benefit of being accessible to family and neighbors who didn’t fare as well in the storms. The benefits to both the employer AND employee were substantial.
Let’s take a look at what your organization and employees can do to prepare for this type of situation.
Tips for Employers
Establish a telecommuting policy. Once an employer has decided to allow employees to work from home offices during an emergency, it is important to establish a telecommuting policy and to clearly communicate that policy to employees. Possible questions to be addressed in the policy include:
- What positions within the organization are eligible for working from home?
- Under what circumstances are employees permitted to work from home offices? How is approval obtained?
- How will the technology needs of employees be met? How will office supplies be provided?
- What steps should employees take to ensure the protection of sensitive company information?
- What are the expectations regarding employee accessibility and communication? During what hours is the employee expected to be working?
- What are the expectations regarding the establishment of an appropriate work environment, including workspace and childcare?
Provide equipment. Investing in the proper equipment and technologies that allow employees to perform all their necessary job functions from a home office is crucial to getting the work done without a loss in productivity. If employees have the equipment they need to perform their jobs, working from a home office should not disrupt the workflow. Employers may consider providing employees with the following:
- Laptop, monitor, and printer
- Cloud-based tools that allow for file sharing (e.g., DropBox, Citrix, or Box)
- Cloud-based tools that allow for team communication and collaboration (e.g., Slack)
- Cell phone
Provide remote support. Employers can help set their employees up for success by providing all the support that is available in the traditional office. An employee may have an IT problem when working from home and won’t have the ability to pop into the IT guy’s office for help. Make sure that a clear communication channel is established so the employee can readily access IT support as necessary. Similarly, ensure that administrative systems and tools are in place, and provide management support just as you would if your employees were in the central office. In short, be accessible and help employees feel connected.
Tips for Employees
Identify quiet space for a home office. As an employee, it will be your responsibility to identify a quiet space in your home that provides privacy and is furnished in a way that allows you to comfortably work. A room where you can close the door and maintain the sensitivity of company information is ideal, and possibly even required. And it goes without saying that, if you have children, arrangements should be made for their care on the days you are working from home so that your ability to GET WORK DONE! is not hampered by a scene such as the one below.
Don’t Be This Employee
Test technical capacity. As an employee, it is crucial to test all of the equipment and technology that has been provided to you BEFORE an occasion arises where you must work from home. Take the time to test your Internet speed to make sure you can upload and download large files. Spend time trying out the cloud-based tools that may become a lifeline when you work from home. Make sure your phone has good reception in your home office. Be sure you know who to contact if you have technical problems. By doing this testing in advance, you can hit the ground running when the apocalypse hits rather than navigating solo through a sea of technical hurdles.
Ensure that all necessary materials are at your fingertips. Although nowadays we rely less and less on paper files to do our work, many of us still have some amount of paper that is required. If you foresee a possibility that you’ll be working from home (think of the recent “Snowmageddon” and“Snowpocalpse” in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast), take the time to gather all the materials you’ll need to GET WORK DONE! Be sure to have contact information for clients, customers, or co-workers handy. Keep a stash of all necessary office supplies. If you live and die by Post-It notes as I do, then by all means keep a generous supply available at your home office. By preparing in advance and having your materials ready to go, your day will be much more productive.
Ready, Set, Go!
If you're a decision-maker and you already allow employees to work from home offices during apocalyptic situations, my hat is off to you! If this is new territory for you, I hope some of these tips will help as you forge your way ahead to GET WORK DONE! while encouraging your employees to MAINTAIN SANITY WHILE GETTING WORK DONE! ... even in the midst of the most harrowing situations. Employees – consider yourself fortunate that your employer is balancing your needs with the needs of the organization. Do your part to be prepared so that the arrangement is a win-win for all!
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