Every time extreme weather barrels down on a metropolis, employers get apprehensive about an end to productivity. Folks can't get to the office and--boom--work grinds to a halt. Of course, this couldn't be further from the truth.

For employers reluctant to apply work-from-home policies or who find themselves ideologically opposed to the practice, snow days are a perfect opportunity for a test run. Especially for managers who feel face-to-face contact is critical to daily business, the next mega-storm is a chance to explore new boundaries.

Consider these industry stats: According to Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), 79 percent of employees would like to work from home and 36 percent would choose a work-from-home option over a pay raise. To take this a little further, research from National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner demonstrated that telecommuting created the same boost in happiness as a $40K pay raise. Maybe working from home--or embracing snow days--isn't such a bad thing after all?

But how do you make it work in this storm, and for the long haul? Here are a few points to consider--both as an individual and as a team leader--while managing a work force distributed around the globe (or the snow globe, as the case may be).

Prioritize. 

Identify important meetings and deadlines that won't budge, regardless of Mother Nature, setting priorities to help you identify the key projects that need to be completed, and those that can wait until business returns to normal. A snow day can be a chance to recharge your batteries and connect with family, which has a slew of work benefits in and of itself.

Clearly explain your expectations. As the boss, set guidelines so your team knows what you expect when they're working out of the office. Lay the groundwork that this situation requires trust, then be specific about productivity, checking in, attending meetings, submitting their work, and more. Make them accountable, or clarify that when snow days happen, they're allowed to check out for the day. 

Stay connected.

If you've determined a snow day is still a workday, remember to keep the lines of communication open, even if the roads are closed. The prevalence of free video conference services like FaceTime has created a culture that's more comfortable with video calling. This trend is moving into the workforce, and the corporate world has taken note. Professional grade B2B videoconferencing technology (including Lifesize) can keep you connected to the office; you can still join meetings, share documents, and collaborate with teammates. 

Consider how videoconferencing can be a proxy for office interaction beyond meetings. Teams can easily share presentations, eliminate endless email chains on a single subject, and bear witness to full facial reactions as if they were in the same room. 

Take notes and evaluate.

Consider a snow day as a trial run for more a formal telecommuting policy. Objectively gauge your comfort level with people working from home: Is your unsettledness the result of the new paradigm, or because it's not working? And use it as an opportunity to ask your team what they think; together you can find an approach that works across the board. 

As for the dollar value to businesses, GWA also says that allowing employees to telecommute even half time would save companies at least $10,400 per employee per year. When properly leveraged, this impending blizzard could be one of the most productive events of the season.

Published on: Mar 3, 2015