With a huge portion of the east coast crippled by last weekend’s blizzard, it’s the perfect time to refresh your approach to telecommuting.

If you have an established telecommuting policy, take this opportunity to think through how it has worked out in practice. Have employees been happy, safe, and productive through the storm?

Alternately, maybe a good old-fashioned snow day is just what your employees’ mental health required.

Telecommuting is still a fairly new concept for mid-size organizations, so if the majority of your staff still comes into the office every day there’s a good chance they’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with your telecommuting policy. Ask yourself these questions from the perspective of your staff, and talk to your IT professional about tweaking your remote-work tech if need be.

  • When can employees telecommute? Some companies offer telecommuting as a full-time option; others allow it on an as-needed basis. Do your employees know which you are?
  • Are employees required to telecommute if the office shuts down for any reason? Make expectations for an unexpected snow day clear. There are arguments for working from home or for giving everyone a mental health day.
  • Keep in mind that different areas can get hit differently by bad weather: one person might be able to get to the office easily while another is snowed in, and a third employee might have a power outage and not be able to work even from home.
  • If employees are required to telecommute, what equipment are they required to take home? With everything from handset to laptop linked to the cloud these days, office equipment is more portable than ever. Make sure your staff has a checklist of what to bring home before the storm hits so they don’t have to guess.
  • Can workers teleconference from home? If so, provide clear instructions for dialing in and setting up calls.
  • Are you prepared for the liability of employees using personal computers for work, or work computers in the home? If an employee’s home computer gets a virus while accessing the cloud through a less-than-reliable browser, will you foot the bill for cleanup? Alternately, if work property is damaged while in an employee’s home, who’s responsible for repairs?
  • Is there an established response time? Some telecommuting policies lay out how much time an employee has to respond to an e-mail or phone call. Establishing norms for response times can keep communication going.
  • If telecommuting is available on an as-needed basis, what is the protocol for notifying supervisors? Leaving as-needed telecommuting decisions up to staff can be effective when employees live in different locations. It needs to be clear who they should tell, and when, after they decide to stay home.

If you’re still on the fence about telecommuting, reevaluate the loss of productivity incurred over this week, and the safety of staff commuting to the physical office, in the wake of such a natural disaster.

By Prasana William