Since the calendar turned from February to March, the days have started getting longer, the sun has shone a bit brighter, and the green leaves of crocuses are starting to poke up from the soil.
Such happy signs of spring tend to banish from our minds memories of the icy roads, four-foot snowdrifts, and blizzard conditions that affected thousands of workers during the winter months. But even though another “snowmageddon” probably isn’t imminent, it’s important not to forget the benefits of work flexibility in times of disaster.
The word “disaster,” after all, can mean different things for different companies. A huge storm that blocks roads and keeps people away from the office for days is an obvious productivity nightmare. When massive snowfall hit the East Coast in January 2016, a team of researchers at Moody’s Analytics estimated its cost in terms of output would total between $2.5 billion and $3 billion.
But other unexpected events—on a corporate level, like a power outage at the office; on a local level, like a traffic snarl; or on a personal level, like an illness or an injury to a key employee or employee’s family member—can prove equally disastrous to a company’s bottom line.
No matter what specific disaster a company may face, it’s crucial for business leaders to develop a plan to handle it before it occurs. Offering opportunities for employees to telecommute or work flexible hours should be part of that plan.
That’s why any time is a good time to make the business case for flexibility as it relates to helping companies overcome disasters. If you’re ready to make this case in your workplace, here are four points to note:
1. Flex work keeps employees safe—and productive—when nature rages.
This is probably the most commonly mentioned reason for companies to consider flexibility in relation to emergencies.
When the weather is nasty, a business shouldn’t force its workers to spend hours on treacherous roads just so they can get to the office, where they probably won’t be able to focus on work, anyway. In such cases, it’s safer for them to skip the commute and work at home. And without a horrific drive to worry about, they’re likely to be much more productive than they would be at the office.
2. When something doesn’t work at work, flexibility gives a company options.
Sometimes things break, even at the office. Maybe the crew that’s building a new office complex across the street accidentally cuts a power cable. Perhaps your building’s air conditioner dies on the hottest day of the summer.
Problems like these can leave a business with an office full of people who can’t work or can’t focus. Either way, allowing people the option to work from home will give a company time to fix the problem without losing hours of productivity.
3. If sick workers can stay home, a little bug won’t bug everyone.
Everyone who has worked in an office knows that it can function like a Petri dish when cold and flu season rolls around. All it takes is one employee’s sneeze to set off a chain reaction of sick days and lost productivity.
If a company offers its workers flexibility, it doesn’t have to be this way. That business can create a corporate culture that encourages people to stay home when they’re ill. This has several benefits. First, it keeps those bugs from spreading. Second, it lets the sick workers rest and recover more quickly.
And finally, it allows them to continue working while they’re not feeling well. Even if they are able to put in only a few hours a day, they can stay up-to-date and answer questions from colleagues, keeping projects on schedule and productivity high.
4. Flexibility can prevent personal disasters from turning into corporate disasters.
Sometimes, workers have to deal with unexpected catastrophes in their personal lives. Perhaps a child has an accident and has to spend a few days in the hospital. Or a parent needs some extra care while recovering from an illness.
For companies that don’t offer flexibility, these kinds of events can derail work for a whole team. But when employees can pull out a laptop to crank through some tasks while that child is sleeping, or work on a presentation during downtime of caring for that parent, both the worker and the company benefit.
Every business will face a disaster at some point, regardless of its industry or where its office is located. By building flexibility into their business model now, company leaders can be more prepared to handle those emergencies when they arise, keeping employees safe and productive and ultimately helping the bottom line.