Snowmageddon and the Mobile Workforce

The country is being rocked right now by Mother Nature.  On Facebook I see notes from friends who are either enjoying a “snow day” or who are struggling to get to and from work.  All this, while your customers still want to buy your products. Those folks may be sitting in a balmy clime while your operation is shut down and just itching to purchase your latest offering.  What to do?

Natural or unnatural, human-created, physical disruptions are a constant threat to keeping your operation going.  For government, the consequences of shutting down could be severe.  Just a year ago more than 200,000 federal workers were told to stay home during the so-called “snowmageddon“. It cost, at that time, about $100 million/day to shut the federal government down.  More importantly, can you imagine the loss of productivity and – scarily – how much risk might be involved for our country if key people couldn’t do their work?

We interviewed Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, who was the person who had to make the call about whether to shut down the government. (You can download a chapter from our book which includes our discussion with him here.) He told us that at the time “We had between 30 and 35 percent of our employees directly accessing the mainframe…”, and some offices, like the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reported production at 85 percent of normal levels even during the blizzard.  That’s a pretty good start, but not nearly enough.

Now that we have the recently signed Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 federal agencies have to establish telework policies for their employees.  It’s too early to tell how much the percentage of federal employees teleworking will rise over time.

But let’s be honest, it’s not just the government that needs to keep on ticking during storms. It’s business, schools, non-profits, and anyone who is trying to get things done and needs to avoid being immobilized.

And let’s not be parochial. It’s not just our local county, state, or country that’s at risk when events disrupt.  It’s the people of the world, from Egypt to Haiti, who need to be able to continue to obtain the products and services they need – to the extent they can under dire circumstances.

More importantly than any of this in my mind, the people of the world need to be able to communicate with each other freely.  When we all have the tools and the ability to communicate and to support each other in the midst of tsunami, earthquake, political turmoil or whatever natural or unnatural disasters shake our worlds, we will have come a long way.

Is your organization as mobile as it could be?  Can your workforce continue on while the world outside is spinning?  Can you communicate with key people you care about? Things to think about.

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