Storms, snow days and shut-downs: how to cope with winter weather » SMEInsider

Storms, snow days and shut-downs: how to cope with winter weather

27% of small businesses say that bad weather conditions have posed a serious threat to their survival. With the weather across the UK turning cold and stormy, here are our top three tips to see you through until Spring.

1. Don’t be a Grinch

It’s reasonable to expect your employees to make an effort to get to the office and, strictly speaking, you aren’t legally obliged to pay them for (non-vacation) days on which they don’t work.

That said, you certainly shouldn’t be putting pressure on anyone to endanger themselves in the process. Plus, if your employees work regular hours for a regular salary, you can’t legally dock payment without warning. Just leaving “snow days” out of staff pay packets without prior warning could land you in serious trouble.

What’s more, if employees have to stay at home because of school closures or other disruptions to childcare, they are still entitled to unpaid dependents leave, and if you close the office and ask staff not to come in, you are still responsible for paying them for the hours they were supposed to work.

In short, it’s a messy business, and punishing stressed employees that are struggling with factors beyond their control will certainly not win you any loyalty – especially in the run up to Christmas. Be understanding, try to find alternative options such as working from home, and make it clear that you are on the same side. Only consider cutting pay if and when you absolutely have to in order to survive.

2. Create a bad weather back up plan

Part of the reason why extreme weather conditions are so damaging is simply the chaos, confusion and panic they create. Having a set policy in place not only reduces arguments with staff over what is expected of them but means you can handle issues smoothly, with minimal loss of productivity.

Businesses in northern and western parts of the UK have been seriously put to the test by the recent storms, with some experiencing a complete loss of power to their premises. Much as this will cause problems, in this day and age it shouldn’t bring them to their knees,” says Kate O’Brien, Marketing Director at Daisy Group.

Businesses must ensure they have a disaster recovery plan in place so that, should inclement weather or power failures affect them, staff can work from alternative premises or from home. Investing in a cost-effective back-up plan may seem like an unnecessary expense, but productivity grinding to a complete halt can cause irreparable and long-term damage.”

Your bad weather back-up plan should explain what employees can expect from you, and you from them, if adverse weather conditions affect their ability to get in – including issues surrounding pay. It should outline the kind of situations in which employees should stay at home or work from another location, explain which roles can be carried out from home and what kind of IT support will be available. Importantly, it should also explain who will notify the team (and how) if the office has to be closed for any reason, including a cut-off time for notifying them. Once you’ve created your policy, make sure that staff are familiar with it – and that you stick to it!

3. Keep everything safe

It’s not just productivity that can be affected by weather disasters. Floods, storms and even power cuts can pose a physical threat to your business, too.

In addition to a decent insurance policy to protect your office technology and furniture, you will need to take measures to protect your  most important assets – your, and your clients’ data. It sounds obvious, but it really is essential to back up all of your data on a regular basis – and, just as importantly, to store your backup drives somewhere safe offsite. It’s amazing how many companies keep their backups in the office, where they are just as vulnerable to disaster (including fires and theft) as the original copies. It’s also well worth exploring cloud storage options, which have the added benefit of opening up homeworking options in an emergency.

… Finally, as stressful as it can be to deal with the uncertainties of bad weather, it’s not all bad news. According to the Quarterly Survey of Small Businesses, three-fifths of young businesses say that being hit by an external crisis has helped to make them  more robust in the long run. So, don’t despair: be as flexible and resilient as you can to weather the crisis, and use the experience to learn and improve.