Some people love facts and figures, and snowfall of up to 10in across much of the UK last week will no doubt have kept those keen to label this as one of the coldest winters on record busy with measurements and log-keeping.
For everyone else, however, the snow meant a travel nightmare and in most cases, particularly last Monday, an unexpected day working from home as many were unable to get to the office.
The mobile networks struggled under the weight of traffic, and for many who had expected their impromptu home working to be relatively easy it became clear that their employer had not invested in the necessary infrastructure.
Prepare to be flexible
Speaking about how companies should have prepared a contingency for circumstances such as that presented by last week’s weather, Stephen Beynon, managing director of ntl: Telewest Business, says, “Businesses can prepare for this with a flexible working policy so that employees can still be productive and continue their work, wherever they are.
“Firms need to adequately prepare so that they can maintain a competitive advantage and avoid unnecessary downtime. With a home broadband connection and remote working facilities, a business can easily continue its operations and avoid lost revenue, which is crucial in any economic climate.”
But when the bad weather hit last week, those businesses that suffered because they did not have the infrastructure in place to enable staff to connect from home securely were given a timely reminder of the benefits of remote working technology – by the very suppliers of such services.
Most of those pitching remote working are now at a networking infrastructure level, whereas a few years ago the battle was being fought by hardware manufacturers.
In the past, champions of remote working have included the likes of Brother, which developed products specifically aimed at home-based workers requiring an all-in-one multifunction printer.
That groundwork then moved to the question of security, with vendors in that space hitting the road to make sure that companies saw their products as enablement tools to help staff work remotely rather than hindering them by shutting the corporate gate on those outside the building.
The pressure now is on delivering effective communication to exploit those hardware and security products.
“It is not surprising that many workers chose to escape the snow and work from home. Unfortunately, many companies do not have a communications infrastructure flexible enough to allow their workers to be productive wherever they are,” says Michael Calvert, UK general manager at Aastra.
“Even if such adverse weather conditions are short-lived, the cumulated impact on companies’ performance can be significant,” he adds.
In terms of identifying the sorts of investments that companies should consider making, Calvert points to the classic VoIP solution.
“Flexible working technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol phones can make it possible for many people to work from home and can even reduce the cost of calls, while making team interaction more effective,” he says.
Another approach is to push the unified communications message. Tim Bishop, director of strategy at Siemens Enterprise Communications, points out that there are wider-ranging benefits of unified communications, but operations such as call centres could be saved in bad weather conditions by allowing home workers to log on.
As many companies reduce the workforce and introduce pay freezes, the morale of those workers who have to sit in depleted offices is affected, and for some of them last week’s turmoil will have highlighted the fact that they work for companies that are not keen to invest in flexibility.
Although the snow will become just a record of inches and temperature at the Met Office, for many others it will be remembered as the day they realised how backward their company is. The challenge for the channel is to identify those customers and get in there to sell them the infrastructure that will enable them to provide a flexible solution in the future.
This was first published in February 2009