Strategic Flex and the Weather–Will You Be Open for Business Tomorrow?

(I’m watching the path of hurricane Irene from my book writing cave. and praying for the best.  I want to ask business leaders the same question I did in February 2010 as a blizzard approached–will you strategically use telework to stay open and not ask employees to risk harm to get to work?  Or will you have to close down?  Here’s the original Fast Company post.)

As we brace for the second wave snowstorm bearing down on the East Coast, I’m remembering an experience I had a few years ago at a major pharmaceutical company widely recognized for their work+life strategy.

As I presented a series of Work+Life Fit seminars to the employees and managers, snow began to fall.  On that particular day, I was scheduled to facilitate one session in the morning and another after lunch.  Midway through the afternoon session, a few inches of snow had accumulated and you could tell people were anxious to get on the road.  Then the most amazing thing happened…

A number of managers in the room stood up and asked their team members to meet them in a group.  As the various teams gathered, you could hear everyone sharing how they planned to work the next day.  Some would work remotely, others thought they’d wait until after rush hour and come in later, and a couple planned to take personal days if they couldn’t find child care for their very young children.

As the teams reached agreement and dispersed, the managers gathered together and opened their laptops in a circle and began to coordinate with each other.  How would they conduct meetings that were scheduled?  Some decided to cancel meetings while others converted theirs to webinars.  One manager who oversaw a manufacturing facility sent emails to the plant foreman flexibly coordinating the staffing for the next day.

I watched in awe.  Finally, the manufacturing manager saw my faced and asked me, ‘’Why are you smiling and shaking your head?”  At this point, all of the managers in the room looked up.  I responded, “Do you realize how much money you are saving by flexibly coordinating tomorrow’s work in anticipation of the snow?”  You could tell they were a bit confused.

They didn’t see what they were doing as unusual.  It’s how they flexibly managed their business and in their culture.  So I pointed out, “See your competitor down the street?  Do they use flexibility as easily and strategically as you do to maintain operating continuity even if it snows?”  Another manager said, “No they don’t.”  I continued, “Okay, so who’s open for business tomorrow and who isn’t?”  Now they were smiling and shaking their heads, “We are.”

This group of managers knew that their company supported flexibility, but it was the first time they consciously realized how they were using it to meet a business need–staying open when nature strikes!

What about you and your organization?  Will you be open for business, or not?  Are you having coordinated conversations today about how everyone plans to work tomorrow, or if they plan to work?  Or will you just take your chances?