Telestorming: When weather forces people to work from home
Seth Perlman, Associated Press
GRANVILLE, Ohio — When April Wilson moved from Dallas to Granville, Ohio, in July, she loved the balmy weather of her new hometown.
That was before the polar vortex and sub-zero weather hit the Midwest this week.
Like many workers in the path of the arctic air, Wilson, president of a marketing agency called Digital Analytics 101, found herself stranded by the weather and having to figure out the best way to work at home.
Planalytics Inc., a weather analysis company, told CBS the storm will cost $5 billion in lost revenue.
One way, however, that the cost may be lowered is through the greater ability people now have to telecommute or work from home. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that if just half of the people who wanted to work from home would do so half of their work week, over a year's period the national savings would be more than $700 billion. Those savings come from things such transportation reduction or the need for office space.
One of the challenges many emergency telecommuters face during storms like the one that blasted the Midwest this week are interruptions from family members. Wilson's kids, 9 and 11 years old, were also told to stay home from school — meaning that their holiday break that should have ended on Jan. 2 continued.
"They are just old enough to keep themselves occupied," she says, "but when they break bad, they break bad badly."
Wilson also says she is not equipped for the really cold weather: "I don't have a four-wheel drive vehicle," she says.
But modern technology has made her equipped to telecommute — also known as remote working or simply working from home. People who find themselves stuck at home can take steps to make the experience easier, experts say.
Companies can also prepare and facilitate emergency telecommuting. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 2.6 percent of U.S. employees (3.3 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers) regard home their primary place of work. The number of people who work from home at least one day per week is just under 10 times that amount.
Debra A. Dinnocenzo, the author of "Emergency Telecommuting," says disasters such as the recent polar cold do not catch all companies off guard.
"We get these little wake-up calls every now and then," she says, "but many companies do not miss a beat."
Dinnocenzo says many companies have automated 4 a.m. calls to their employees warning them to stay home. They have resources in place and remote access protocols, such as having documents accessible on the Internet cloud through services such as GoogleDocs or Dropbox.
"It is pretty straightforward for them," she says. "The just get busy doing work."
In Wexford, Penn., where Dinnocenzo lives, the temperature was around 2 degrees: "It is pretty bitter," she says.
Where Sara Sutton Fell lives in Boulder, Colo., however, the weather this week wasn't quite so bad, but she is experienced with the problems and disasters that can interrupt work. Last year, the little creek behind her home turned into a raging river during a major flood disaster that left thousands stranded. She and her family were unable to leave their home because of flooded roads and she was cut off from even basic telecommuting with sporadic Internet and cellphone service. Fell is the founder and CEO of FlexJobs, an online service that helps people find work-from-home jobs.
Luckily, her employees were, as might be expected, telecommuters from around the country and were not affected by the flood.