“Minnesota has been hit with loads of snow and polar vortex temperatures unheard of in decades,” says Christine Nelson with Ingenuity Marketing Group.
“The Bon Secours Virginia Health System doesn’t have the luxury to close operations due to inclement weather,” says Dawn Trivette with the health care system.
And Designs for Learnings’ Elizabeth Sommerville summed it up succinctly: “Winter this year is belligerent.”
In the face of “belligerent” weather, these employers have found being equipped with a flexible and effective work strategy is more important than a snow blower when it comes to keeping operations running.
How do the nation’s winning workplaces keep the proverbial lights on in the face of Old Man Winter? We reached out to the winners of our 2013 workplace awards to find out.
Here’s an overview of their responses:
Fortune Title Agency, Inc., Roseland, NJ
I’m very happy to announce that we have maintained our productivity through these storms. All of our employees have access to our system via Terminal Server and Log Me In. In that way, they have two ways to access the system remotely, so if one system is slow or not functional, they have a backup. As a result, our entire staff has been able to work during the poor weather and during our building renovations. We have all maintained communication to our entire group over email and our internal chat system. Some employees prefer to work in the office and braved the weather a few days, but for the most part, everyone worked from home. This was a huge advantage for us as many courthouses through the states were closed, but we are able to continue producing search work that had already come in and stay on top of our deadlines. Also, by having an in house title plant and connection to that from home, we were able to continue producing work in 11 of the 21 counties in NJ regardless of county closures. This has saved our company multiple days of potential closures and allowed us to provide exceptional service to our clients, who would otherwise have realized delays in our deliverables.
~ Nicole Plath, vice president
Ingenuity Marketing Group, St. Paul, MN
Because Ingenuity Marketing Group in St. Paul provides a virtual private network and the flexibility to do conference calls or videoconferencing with our clients around the country, our staff could stay cozy and safe at home when necessary and still produce good work. This option also helped when school was canceled for several days in January and the kids were home!
Our company’s policy has always emphasized safety first … work at home if the weather is bad or you are feeling ill. To back up its concern, our firm just added a new benefit for full-time and key employees of short-term disability insurance. Now we are covered even if a decision to go skiing or ice skating results in a bad fall or if a pregnancy doesn’t go as planned. It’s just one more way they value us.
~ Christine Nelson, communications consultant
Springfield Nephrology Associates, Springfield, MI
We saved 90% productivity with flex hours and remote access. Flex hours have the largest impact on maintaining our productivity. In addition, we sign-out our Verizon Jet Packs and laptops to staff who live in rural locations. This enables them to work remotely with a strong internet feed regardless of the weather. We back-up our systems nightly so the shadow environment allows us to work on things constantly.
When heavy snow and ice is in the forecast, we allow all staff and providers to wear jeans and thick clothing (Carhart overalls, Red Head dual insulated jackets, etc.). This worked out great a month ago. We had a coworker slide off the road in a ditch behind the office. A group of us went outside in our winter attire during an ice storm to get the employee out of the ditch. It took a truck with four-wheel drive, two tow straps and four people pushing to get the car out. We would not have been able to do that with our normal business/medical attire. Thus, we prevented a coworker from waiting 2 ½ hours in the freezing cold for a tow truck.
~ Ashley Dees, administrator
Bon Secours Virginia Health System, Richmond, VA
Through planning and flexibility, the health system can ensure patient care maintains its high quality and employees are equipped to handle both work and home. Bon Secours has responded in the following ways to support employees during the recent bouts of winter weather.
- Bon Secours has allowed flexibility on Paid Time Off (PTO) usage.
- Discounts are arranged with local hotels in case employees want to stay overnight instead of going all the way home.
- Enforcement of tardiness rules is relaxed.
- Bon Secours’ three onsite child care centers welcome employees’ children who are out of school due to inclement weather.
- Employees who are not required for patient care may be able to work from home or take time off.
- Bon Secours coordinates transportation of essential employees through a well-orchestrated snow transportation plan with community volunteers and their four-wheel drive vehicles.
- In-person meetings are switched to conference calls.
- Sleeping and shower facilities are provided for nursing and other patient care staff who are not comfortable driving home after their shifts.
~ Dawn Trivette, administrative director work and family services.
KLR Certified Public Accountants, Boston, MA
Steps we have taken to keep operating during the inclement weather:
- We have created a 24/7 weather update texting program, where staff receive updates on their cell phones and are kept informed of the latest weather reports and office closings. This is used in conjunction with voice mail and regular email.
- We have expanded the number of Virtual Private Network (VPN) licenses so that all staff can work remotely regardless of the current weather conditions.
This allows staff to remain productive and work on any project. We receive few complaints from staff about weather related commuting anymore.
~ Steven Loffredo, director of HR
Designs for Learning, St. Paul, MN
This winter, the Twin Cities spent 62 consecutive hours below zero. The Governor of Minnesota cancelled school on one Monday and the school districts followed suit for a total of five days of school cancelled due to sub-zero weather. Most residents of Minnesota put on three to five layers of clothing, let their cars warm up in their garages and went to work—hoping they didn’t slide into a snowbank, return in the evening to gas tanks frozen solid or car batteries that simply gave up and died. At Designs for Learning, we woke up most mornings to an email from our management that said something like this: “TOO COLD!!!!! We are familiar with the drill. Stay at home if you can. Work from home or take Paid Time Off (PTO) or comp time if you have it.”
No one wants to leave their house when it is 50 below (a temperature at which exposed skin will freeze in five minutes). If you work for DL, you don’t have to. Your supervisor will tell you not to leave your house. Hunker down with a blanket, a cat, hot chocolate and your laptop and do what work you can. Most schools were closed, giving our School Psychologists and Special Education team a day to catch up on paperwork. For our finance department and HR departments, everything was very much business as usual. Most employees have a laptop that they can use to work from home, once you are online it is easy to log-in to the DL server using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Everything we would access at our desks in the office we can access from our homes. A few, exceptionally sturdy folks came in, but they waited until later in the morning for it to have “warmed up”.
In the month of January, we saved at least four full days of work for all 23 of our employees. Instead of forcing them to use PTO or closing the office entirely, we were able to carry on—business as usual, which, 50 below zero seems to be business as usual this year. We maintained our usual level of productivity because we are prepared for flexibility. Our employees do not have to worry about cars starting or putting their well-being at risk to get to their 9 to 5. Our 9 to 5 can be done anywhere, and it doesn’t have to be done between 9 and 5. We trust our employees to do their jobs when it is best and safe for them to do so and where it is best and safest to do it from. Last month, that was home. This month, we are in the office more. In July, it will probably be lakeside. Provided the snow melts.
~ Elizabeth Sommerville, director of HR