The idea that snow or extreme weather conditions no longer mean getting a day off from school may become a chilling reality for school-aged kids. Thanks to technology and some forward-thinking administrators, like those of St. Cloud Cathedral high school in Minnesota, kids can now work from home on snow days with no productivity lost.
If this approach spreads to school districts nationwide, it will encourage the creation of a new generation of self-sufficient, flexible workers. This could lead to a completely different work culture for businesses over the long term.
Thanks to the recent proliferation of publicly funded personal technology in schools, students now have the equipment necessary to learn remotely, turning off-days into productive learning days. This means laptops and iPads are provided to each individual student, as opposed to having to share computers in a classroom or lab environment.
The concept of students' borrowing personal laptops loaned by the school is similar to the bring your own device trend at companies: Employees have access to work on a device of choice, wherever, thanks to technology solutions and web-based apps.
And employees need not be at their desks or in the office to be productive. The requirement of being in the same work environment every day to be productive could be entirely eliminated.
I believe a new generation of employees will begin at a young age to adapt to remote working. It's intriguing to imagine how future employees and company leaders, after growing up with the work-anywhere mentality, could change the landscape.
Ideally, future employees will be prepared to work from home, travel with all the tools that help them work efficiently throughout the day and not blink an eye if their commute to the office is snarled by snow. They will just open up their laptop remotely, grab coffee and begin at the same time as they usually do at the office.
Remote working is obviously not a new concept, but having employees who enter the workforce already trained to work from anywhere, anytime, only helps a business become more nimble. Unfortunately, far too many organizations lack a clear plan for enabling and managing remote workers. Or they don’t fully appreciate how having a flexible workforce fights lost productivity and revenue.
Providing flexible workplace options can have benefits well beyond those of disaster planning including the following:
Cost savings. The reduction in the cost of utilities and other operational expenses is significant. Employers can save upwards of $11,000 per employee annually if that person works at least half time outside the office, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com.
Increased productivity. Although some jobs aren't suited for remote work, productivity increases significantly in many other roles. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employees working outside the office usually end up laboring well beyond 40 hours a week.
Recruiting talent. Being able to work remotely is an attractive benefit to prospective employees. Giving potential employees flexible options can be the difference in a candidate's choosing one company over a competitor.
Higher employee morale. Research has shown that employees with multiple work options are more satisfied with their jobs and likely to stay.
So what can a company do right now to encourage this new way of thinking? Here are some options:
Management buy-in. Company leaders should be open about supporting or encouraging working remotely and clear about expectations and when these practices are considered acceptable.
Mobility. Whether it’s providing laptops or tablets or developing solid bring your own device policies, companies can deploy mobile devices to unchain employees from their desks. Modern tools and apps can provide remote workers the same communications experience as in the office.
Cloud-based unified communications. Implement unified communications systems, which extend beyond traditional phone systems and provide tools to keep employees connected to one another and customers through video, chat and other collaboration options. Cloud-based unified communications ensures that if a building is inaccessible, remote employees can continue working normally.
Remote-access network tools. VPN and other remote networking tools can provide the access and security necessary.
Communicate the plan. Companies may have some advance warning of a business disruption from flooding, a storm, a tornado or hurricane. If such instances are the only time the company permits working remotely, then communicate expectations and review policies and procedures ahead of the threat.