By Daniel Hunter
Millions of commuters were left stranded this morning unable to get into work as St Jude - the worst storm the UK has seen in a decade - hit Southern England. Trains, planes and ferry services have all been affected.
At least 40 railway lines were blocked and train companies including First Capital Connect, Southeastern, Greater Anglia and Stansted Express cancelled services. Many roads across the UK are in chaos and impassable and Transport Minister Susan Kramer urged people to stay at home until the storm had passed. There was also chaos at airports - 130 flights have been cancelled at Heathrow — double the estimated amount.
The impact and cost of these severe weather conditions on business and productivity have not yet been calculated, but no doubt will add up to millions of pounds. With winter not yet underway, this storm sends a timely reminder to many business owners to think about contingency plans, including disaster and recovery and also the technology that needs to be in place to allow people to work seamlessly from home whatever the weather.
With high speed broadband now in most people’s homes, Wi-Fi widely available, cloud computing technologies, Skype and VoIP, there is no reason why a business should shut down in any circumstance. For most companies unless they are in retail or manufacturing, people with the right technology in place should be able to work just as effectively from home as in the office.
The issue of remote working is still controversial and divisive. Earlier this year bosses at Yahoo! banned remote working earlier this year stating that the ‘speed and quality of work’ are ‘sacrificed’ when people work from home. Other big technology companies including Google and Twitter also encourage people to work from the office to encourage greater collaboration and team working. There is still the perception amongst many that working from home actually means you are ‘skiving’ and that it has a negative impact on team working. London Mayor Boris Johnson once joked: 'We all know that is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again."
Virgin’s Richard Branson and many others are pro-home working. Branson saw the move from Yahoo! as a ‘backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.” I concur. You have only to look at the example of the London 2012 Olympics when many London commuters stayed at home to see there was no dip in productivity. There is also a big argument for home working encouraging productivity, improving people’s engagement, helping their work life balance and also enabling businesses to attract a more diverse pool of talent including people with disabilities or mothers of small children who want to re-join the workforce.
Skype and YouGov polled 2000 UK workers last year and found that 70 per cent of people want to work from home more often. In spite of these figures, more than half (51 per cent) worked for companies where this was not allowed. Whichever side of the argument a business is on, today’s storm emphasises there is a genuine need for companies have technology in place that could ensure business as usual in a crisis.
Technologies such as cloud computing and in particular hosted desktop solutions allow employees to work from wherever they are located using any device provided they have an internet connection. They can then log onto their own desktops remotely and won’t need to be in the office as they are not reliant on the office servers to access their emails and files. They don’t need to be tied to the office; they can work from any location and ensure that business doesn’t suffer.
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