Snow has rapidly become the bane of British business owners’ lives. The past few weeks have seen firms forced to close their doors, consumers unable to do their Christmas shopping, and costly interruptions across the country.
Sadly, it looks like snow is likely to become a regular fixture. As adverse weather conditions grow in frequency, business owners need to consider ways to reduce the disruption that snow inevitably brings.
Staying open for business is likely to be your number one priority, particularly if yours is a customer-facing firm. Of course, depending on the severity of the weather this can sometimes be easier said than done.
You should have some sort of contingency plan in place to help you run your business with a skeleton staff. This may require you to offer a reduced service – but if your employees are finding it difficult to get in, it is likely that your customers will be having the same problems, and demand will therefore be lower.
It is also important to make sure that potential customers are aware that you are open for business. As a customer-facing business there is very little point in making the effort to open unless your customers know they can visit. You should therefore consider steps you can take to make those individuals aware that your business is open; this might involve putting out A-boards on the street, for example.
Make work-from-home provisions
Even if you cannot get the doors of your premises open, you should make sure that key members of staff are still able to work. This is likely to require you to make some provisions to allow these individuals to work from home.
Often, an internet connection is all you need to make this possible. Many tasks can be completed by email or over the phone. Furthermore, ‘cloud-based’ services like Google Docs can make collaborative remote working very simple. You should therefore consider setting up access to a service of this sort in advance, in order that as little time as possible is lost in the event of snow.
It is worth remembering, though, that many business activities demand higher levels of security, or require employees to have direct access to your servers. In these circumstances you might have to make dedicated arrangements that might include setting up a VPN (virtual private network).
Explain employee rights and responsibilities
As well as the difficulties associated with keeping your business open, adverse weather conditions can also cause problems for employee relations. Confusion is all too common when it comes to employee rights and responsibilities in these often difficult circumstances.
Broadly speaking, employees have a right to be paid when they are willing and able to get to work. In practice, this means that businesses are often not obliged to pay employees who can’t get in because of the snow. You should think very carefully before exercising this right, however, as failing to pay your workers in these circumstances can have a pretty disastrous impact on morale. Further information on employee and employer rights and responsibilities on ‘snow days’ is available here.
Stay flexible, stay consistent
Flexibility is the key to success in difficult circumstances of this sort. You should be prepared to take unusual steps to help keep your business open, and keep your customers coming through the door. That is not to say, however, that you should not have a plan in place. Forethought is vital if you are to remain flexible.
This flexibility should also extend to your employee relations. Remember that adverse weather conditions are stressful for workers as well, and that your policies should reflect this. Be prepared to make compromises – but make sure that you remain consistent when it comes to your treatment of different individuals.