The ‘Beast from the East’ – how did it affect your business?

The plummeting temperatures and heavy snow fall experienced earlier this month presented some very testing challenges for businesses throughout the region and something we all experienced with road closures, staff not being able to get into work, deliveries delayed, construction works on hold and the consumers staying away from the high streets.

Figures haven’t been released as yet but the ‘big freeze’ in 2010, which was a particularly bad spell of weather, provided figures where 37% of recorded SMEs felt the effects on their businesses and trading conditions. The YouGov survey, carried out at the time, demonstrated 13% of businesses reporting the big freeze to have had a serious impact on business. The organisation, Forum of Private Business, urged businesses to make sure they have a contingency plan in place to be able to deal with adverse weather conditions and limit the impact on their businesses, stating a good contingency plan would help them to be as productive as they could be and resume normal trading conditions quickly when the inevitable adverse weather conditions occur in the future.

Contingency planning – staffing the business

One of the biggest issues in adverse weather is staff absence but, with technology today, most businesses, with the exceptions of a few areas including construction and retail, can put in place contingency plans for staff to be able to function properly working from home. Very often staff absence during this time is down to school closure and the need for employees to be at home with their children.

I personally think that businesses, where appropriate, should put in home working contingency plans with systems in place that allow for this. Most larger corporations have very specific detailed business continuity plans and, very hidden in the depths of our cities, you can still find seemingly empty buildings full of desks and computers should any form of disaster happen and the need for staff to very quickly relocate to continue business operations. Cloud or secure remote working procedures are a common inclusion in their business continuity plans.

Technology is able to fill very significant gaps in your continued operations. With most technology now available in a cloud form or able to be utilised remotely, members of staff can be effective when working from home. Yes, some may have children to keep entertained, but minimising the loss of productive hours is absolutely key to protecting the business in these situations. A period of slightly less productivity in comparison to no productivity whatsoever simply has to be part of your planning should this arise.

So how did business deal with the weather conditions?

Dealing with many businesses, I obviously came across a number of simple and somewhat innovative solutions to the weather conditions. These included…

  • Using 4x4 vehicles to ferry staff to and from the office
  • Using taxi companies to pick up staff from designated pick up points
  • Tasking staff to work on specific plans and ideas for the business; looking at alternative methods of remaining productive around future planning. One particular business who adopted this idea is very excited by the suggestions put forward and now have a team tasked with implementing them
  • Another business packed up the computers on the first night of heavy snow fall and staff took their computers home and were able to tap into the network remotely to continue working.

I am sure there are many innovative stories and, if you have a story to tell, I would be very interested in your feedback!

Let us be honest about the situation?

If you run a business that employs many staff, you will fully appreciate the fact that one or two of your members of staff will take full advantage; finding excuses not to turn up to work. A few, of course, may have genuine reasons. Staff are obliged to attend work as in the terms of their contracts of employment. This applies to extreme weather conditions too and you are perfectly within your rights not to pay an employee who cannot make it into work because they are ‘snowed in’ or because there is no form of public transport available. In my opinion, good planning means there is plenty of available transportation and absolutely no excuse for staff not to attend their place work. It is really down to their own desire to make it into the office and employers can certainly reinforce that need if they wish.

I know the last statement is slightly negative but it is your business that is at risk and, of course, ultimately the livelihoods of ‘all involved’ in the business. Putting in place a policy for adverse weather conditions along with a well thought out contingency plan not only helps you to be prepared, it also helps your people to fully understand and appreciate the expectations of the business should adverse weather conditions arise again in the future.

The reality is that any business that employs people who are office based has a solution. If you don’t, then it is time to think about one and limit your risk. For certain businesses with staff that represent them externally, there are always opportunities to limit risk by diversifying their responsibilities to be productive elsewhere within the business or, if you are in retail, take the opportunity to carry out necessary updates to your premises or auditing exercises to ascertain opportunities to move stock quickly to gain cash injections when normal weather conditions prevail. Many retailers hold an abundance of stock they would certainly like to turn into cash in the bank.

The old adage of failing to plan is planning to fail is very appropriate for this article and spending time thinking about how to reduce the impact of adverse weather conditions that are predicted to become more frequent in our future has certainly come to fore since the snow melted. While it is fresh in your minds, take the opportunity to plan ahead now!

If you would like help in analysing contingency plans and reducing risk, this is an area I work on with businesses, not only for adverse weather conditions, which are fortunately quite rare, but also finances, operations and creating improved procedures that protect the business moving forward. Contact me today.

 

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