As the country ground to a halt last week, with many people unable to get into work or forced to stay home due to school closures, it struck me that employers could be missing a trick here.
As someone who lives in Germany, works remotely for a UK business school and supports organisations to deliver strategy through a completely virtual process, extreme weather conditions have little impact on my ability to work effectively.
And for the increasing number of companies that have embraced new technology and for whom working virtually is nothing new, the snow was no big deal, thanks to their built-in contingency plan for bad weather.
For organisations with the processes in place and a culture that supports occasional home working, I hope that the snow opened their eyes to some of the benefits of virtual working, not least the ability of employees to get the job done (in the case of office-based roles) no matter what the weather does outside.
There is no doubt that offering employees this degree of flexibility will not only remove unnecessary stress but will have the positive impact of making them feel energised and more dedicated to their work.
But for virtual working to be effective, it’s about more than just having the right technology and processes in place, it’s about developing an organisational culture that supports and trusts employees to work remotely.
Employers need to focus less on where their employees work and more on their delivery and impact. It’s also about taking a more open and creative approach. So the snow meant the morning meeting couldn’t be held physically in the office last week, but could a teleconference do the job instead?
Online networks and web 2.0 technologies can be a great way for people to maintain contact and exchange ideas without being in the office, and should be tools that employers use to their advantage at all times, not just when the weather demands it.
Clearly technology has changed the way we can work and while some organisations may struggle with the transition towards a culture of more remote and virtual working, the reality is that the next generation of workers – for whom studying and socialising in the virtual space is already second nature – will not only want to work in this way, but will expect to work in this way. And not just when it snows.
Ghislaine Caulat, head of the Virtual Working Practice, Ashridge Consulting