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December 15, 2013

Snow Days and the Value of Working Remotely


Once upon a time snow days meant staying home by the fire drinking hot chocolate, reading, watching TV and going out sledding for a couple of hours with your children. With this would often come a creeping feeling of guilt knowing that you have a lot of work to do and deadlines to meet. This guilt would then be somewhat alleviated by telling yourself, “I really do not have a way to get anything done since I cannot get to the office.”

For the good and the bad, those days are over.

Different employers react differently to extreme weather events. Some vital industries need and expect workers to show up regardless of weather, while others can afford a more casual approach. Though many managers resist the idea that a worker they cannot see, feel and touch is more of a liability than an asset, the personnel-management winds have shifted – not to mention the seriousness of obvious economic effects of having thousands of people not working for what could easily be a few days. In 2013 alone British publication predicted 100 days of snow. Taking a snow day requires deliberation about the impact it may have on your work and career and the responsibilities that come with deciding to skip a day at the office. Forward thinking organisations are safe in the knowledge that when there are extreme weather bouts, they have systems in place to ensure continuity for staff – made even easier by the wealth of technologies available to the telecommuter. From a technology perspective, in most cases, remote workers should be able function remotely just as well as in the office.

A few factors may influence an employee’s decision to stay at home. One is storm size. If the storm that hits is not large enough to close down the city, choosing to stay home may be scrutinised more closely by co-workers and employers. This attitude is even more common in regions where snow is the norm, and nobody wants to be thought of as a slacker. If there is no work from home option, carefully weigh the decision by taking into consideration whether your boss will be at work or not, whether the company will be hurt by your absence and how your overall attendance record looks in comparison to peers in your department. A second factor influencing the decision to stay at home during severe weather is whether your children are at home. If schools are closed, you may find yourself obligated to stay home. In such a case, we suggest pre-planned schedules of activities to keep them entertained while you manage tasks remotely from home. Prepare snack in the morning so you won’t have to take time out of your work hours to do this.

Aside from the practical aspects of having the option to work at home during severe weather conditions, there is research supporting that people enjoy telecommuting because it better demonstrates that they are trusted, respected and have total work ownership. The advantages of remote work are most strongly connected to positive, supportive and result-oriented workplace cultures. However, according to research there are certain personality types that seem to be better suited for remote work than others. It turns out that the best indicator of telecommuting success is a social attitude – heads-down, quite, introverted employees are the ones who perform best in an office while boisterous, extrovert types do better when they can work from home.

Wixom, Michigan, snow day 12.13.10, Monica Blaze

Here are a 4 tips from Formstack on how to maximise your remote day:

1. Don’t stick to a 9 to 5 schedule. In the office, you are probably used to working around four hours in the morning and afternoon, with a break for lunch. When working from home, tweak the hours you work to match the times you are most productive. We have an employee who likes to take afternoon runs, so she works through the lunchtime hour and wraps up her to-do list a little earlier so she can work out. Maybe you prefer to take shorter breaks throughout the day to catch up on YouTube trends or your Facebook news feed. Find a time schedule that allows you to focus during the hours that you need to work.

2. Create a workspace. One of the nice things about working in an office is that you automatically associate the atmosphere with productivity (well, most of the time). By simulating that atmosphere at home, you can maintain that mindset away from the office. Even if you work on the couch, make sure your workspace enables you to focus on your work. Some people work really well with the television playing in the background, but not everyone. Figure out which homey touches remind you that you’re not in the office anymore, but still encourage productivity.

3. Stay in the loop. When working from home, you have to make a conscious effort to communicate with your co-workers about project updates and accomplished tasks. Additionally, staying in the know about office happenings allows you to avoid playing catch-up on your next day in the office. At Formstack, we use several different remote working apps to keep everyone in the loop. Utilize a company chat system or intranet to stay chummy with other employees. Need to meet with someone who doesn’t conveniently live with you? Video or other types of conferencing calling are great options. With the right tools, working from home will not make you an unproductive hermit.

4. Enjoy being at home. Seriously, one of the best aspects of working from home is that you don’t have to physically communicate with any co-workers. If you want to work in your Buzz Lightyear footy pajamas, go for it. If you want to take a 30-minute break to walk your dog, who’s holding you back? That’s the beauty of remote working. Do whatever enables you to produce quality work. You get to lounge around on your couch and avoid an annoying commute – that rocks. One little tip though: if you do have to participate in a video meeting, make sure you at least have a clean shirt on.