Closing the office due to snow

Executive Summary

  • Exmos shut the office for a week because of snow – and all staff continued working as usual from home.

  • We operated at 100%

  • None of our customers could tell the difference.

  • It’s not just technology, it’s procedures and processes that make this possible.

What do you do when staff can’t get to the office?

Much of Scotland and Northern England experienced widespread disruption last week thanks to heavy snowfall that led to the closure of many schools, businesses and roads across the country. Snow has the habit of getting in the way of plans, so what’s a business to do to when staff can’t make it into the office because of conditions where they live?

At Exmos, the decision was easy even the day before; we’re shutting the office and we’re working from home. Our daily working structure remained intact, we didn’t lose half a day to weather related downtime, and we didn’t have staff arriving late or driving home early because of the conditions.

But the big news is this; aside from the odd dog bark in the background of a few calls, none of our customers were affected and no one could tell the difference. 


Building Effective Practices

Our remote working capabilities generally fall into three categories; communication, access & technology.

Communication of course is a priority; how do staff, customers and external stakeholders communicate with the business when there is no human presence? To tackle this, we employ a number of solutions, such as 3CX, Skype for Business & Office365. Our 3CX Phone System for example allows everyone to pick up their desk phone from anywhere with an internet connection on either their mobile device or a computer at no extra cost.

Access is the next hurdle to overcome, i.e. how do staff get into the files and programs they need to work? Luckily, depending on your organisation’s specific needs, there are a number of different solutions to allow staff to access everything they would on their desktop PCs remotely such as via a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or Cloud.

And finally, the technologies that power remote working need to be considered, with staff trained in how to use them. Technology of course does play a key role in your business’ ability to empower remote working, but it doesn’t need to be as expensive as you may think. For instance, all Exmos staff can use their own devices in remote working situations. The only hardware staff needed to be provided with were inexpensive USB headsets to make and receive calls via their laptops.

With all this in place, and with staff knowing exactly what to do in the event of office closure, we’re proud to say Exmos continued to operate as per usual, only without a physical presence in the same building.

Pushing Our Limits & Experimenting

As much as our working from home capabilities are tested several times a year to make sure we’re all good to go, it’s rare for our office to be shut completely with all staff working remotely. So, far from sitting back comfortably in the knowledge that everything worked perfectly, we grabbed hold of the opportunity to start pushing our remote working limits.

First up, how many people can you (sensibly) fit onto a Skype for Business Video Conference? Well, we gave it a go with everyone, and the result… could be better, but it works! Skype only supports up to 6 video windows at one time depending on screen size- but up to 250 users can be in the same call. However, there is no way to see everyone in the call at one time which is what we were really looking for. Upon testing, using Skype in this way is probably best suited for presentations where a few people are doing the talking, with the occasional question thrown in.

Next, we tested a 9-person conference call, all using our 3CX Phone System software which, I’m very pleased to say, worked fantastically well. It seems voice conferencing is much better for round table discussions including everyone in the call, as the speed is that little bit faster than video conferencing and it’s an ever so slightly smoother user experience.

The (Few) Downsides & The Solutions

Of course, having the entire staff working remotely does have its limitations. For example, we missed some deliveries of new tech to the office, and some non-essential face-to-face meetings were postponed, even though many meetings took place successfully through our communications software.

There are also elements businesses need to rely on to achieve affordable remote working practices. Not all our staff use laptops in the office, for example, so access is reliant on the availability of their own devices, such as laptops and tablet computers. Remote workers are also at the mercy of their bandwidth, although with the growing & widespread availability of fast broadband this is becoming less and less of an issue as time goes by.

Then, of course, there are the businesses that physically require a human presence to operate, such as manufacturing, process engineering, retail, agriculture, logistics and many others. To these industries, however, we would suggest empowering remote working may still be a viable & valuable alternative if staff cannot make it into the office, as support for a skeleton staff may be able to come from outside the building. By problem solving your organisation’s operational requirements creatively, it’s likely you’ll be able to come up with a solution to mitigate any potential transport disruption your staff may face.

Plan, test, adapt

The ability to work flawlessly from home isn’t magic, and it isn’t (just) technology; it’s processes and communication.

Our remote working capabilities had been well planned and tested in advance of the adverse weather conditions Scotland experienced last week. Not only did we test the technology in question, staff knew exactly what to do to get online and work thanks to prior training. And above all else, staff were never forced to travel in challenging conditions, and could work a full day without worrying about leaving early to get home safely.

It’s not only snow that can get in the way of staff making their way into the office - just yesterday commuters in London were forced to turn back after a gas leak shut Charing Cross station. Having tested plans and procedures in place means you shouldn’t need to (overly) worry. 

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