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Natural Disasters and Telecommuting: 7 Benefits for Remote Professionals

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One Virtual Vocations team member describes how telecommuting eased her evacuation from Hurricane Irma and offers seven benefits of remote work during natural disasters.

Escaping Hurricane Irma: In My Own Words

Arriving on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma was a devastating storm that took the lives of more than 50 people in the mainland U.S. and Caribbean as well as caused tens of billions of dollars in damage. My family, friends, and I were extremely worried as we tracked the storm in Miami.

The uncertainty and potential danger sent the city into a panic with gas stations running out of fuel almost five days before the storm was scheduled to hit South Florida.

One friend had to make the terrible decision to leave work without permission from her supervisor because the company decided to stay open on the day she and her family planned to evacuate. I, too, had to decide how to handle this potentially lethal situation. With most of my family residing in North Carolina, I had been receiving multiple calls daily from relatives offering shelter.

Ultimately, I decided it was best to prepare my house as much as possible and evacuate to North Carolina. Thankfully, a friend was traveling in the same direction so we decided to drive together, as the cost of plane tickets was becoming more and more outrageous by the hour.

After nearly four hours spent searching for gas, we were able to refuel. Twenty hours later, we were safe in North Carolina.

Although it was a difficult decision to leave my home, as a remote worker, I was able to keep in constant communication with my team, let them know I was safe, and provide updates on the progress of my assignments. From the safety of my family’s home, I was able to continue to work uninterrupted.

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Telecommuting and Natural Disasters: 7 Benefits for Remote Professionals

Working remotely offers peace of mind during tumultuous times. It means not missing days or weeks of pay due to a storm. It means the flexibility to pack up and leave before environmental conditions deteriorate, and without worrying about possible repercussions at work. It means greater opportunity to protect the ones you love.

Although hurricane season is winding down, the destruction left behind this year is unprecedented. Millions of people are still picking up the pieces of their lives and attempting to rebuild. Some without the needed supplies or resources.

Companies and professionals that have the option to begin operations again after a storm art fortunate, however, the impact of damage to power lines, flooding and debris can impact safe travel and communication.

Remote work can and does lessen the burden of recovery.

When teams have the ability to work from home as their cities are made safe again, a small amount of normalcy is reintroduced. There are a number of benefits to remote work before, during and after a natural disaster.

1. Prepping for Remote Work During Natural Disasters

When preparing for a disaster in a traditional office, much of the focus is on how to keep lines of communication open, when to close the office, and how to secure property and information. The same applies to remote work, however, there is greater flexibility and the ability for workers to prepare much sooner in the event of a disaster without causing the same level of disruption to business operations.

Instead of having to concentrate on a single source of power and connectivity, remote offices can consider several options to keep employees safe and work running as efficiently as possible.

For example, if a storm is forecast to strike in four days or more, a company may allow employees to begin working from home sooner so that they can prepare generators or secure shelter in other cities or areas that will be safer and less impacted by power outages. If evacuations are issued the more time people have to reach safety, the better.

In a completely remote office, companies can focus on making sure each of their workers is safe and secure, providing options and more funds to assist in keeping everyone up and running instead of focusing on potential damage to the brick and mortar structure.

As an individual working remotely, you can prepare your at home space for possible disaster by establishing your own emergency protocol. Where will you work if you cannot do so from home? How will you recover power and internet? Who do you need to contact if you have to evacuate your area? Along with the necessities of water, gas, canned food, and other supplies if you must stay home, having a checklist for evacuation or remote work from an alternative space for a prolonged period. It’s never too early to start preparing.

2. Communicating During Natural Disasters

Communication is key to safety during a natural disaster.

Often, the responsibility of calling each individual or operating an emergency hotline creates its own mini crisis as other preparations are made during a storm. Telecommuting can cut out some of the confusion.

Most remote teams are already utilizing platforms like Slack, GroupMe, or other instant messaging options to instantly connect with everyone. In an emergency, this becomes a lifeline that can help HR track everyone, perform safety check-ins, and address any urgent needs that arise.

Related: Remote Collaboration: Methods for Effective Virtual Communication

3. Placing Family First

Most of us work to support ourselves and our families. When a disaster is imminent, our family becomes our number one priority. Companies who empathize and help employees feel that this is also their priority, weather the best after a storm.

The ability to work from anywhere means, when the daycare or schools close, you don’t have to miss work or make arrangements to stay home with the kids or a loved one.

Days or weeks after a storm, schools may decide to stay closed to avoid any danger to children or teachers. The ability to work remotely removes the stress of having to lose wages when your office opens before many other services are back in operation.

telecommuting and natural disasters

4. Focusing on Recovery

Businesses aren’t the only ones who have to worry about damage to their buildings. Homeowners and renters alike must deal with the aftereffects of a storm on their homes. This stressful process involves insurance claims, inspections, clean up and much more. It’s possible staying in your home isn’t even an option. When you have the ability to telecommute, even your friend’s living room becomes a suitable office space.

With the flexibility to work during non-traditional business hours, employees can focus on repairs, making claims, establishing connections with loved ones and helping neighbors.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, giving all the time needed to focus on what matters most to them without having to juggle the commute into work, battle non-operational street lights, or risk an accident can make a huge difference. When workers do return to work, they can give their full attention to their tasks without having to be stressed or worried about things at home.

5. Going Back to Work in Record Time

As power and internet are restored to a city, workers can choose spaces that provide what is needed, without having to wait for the office to open or return to their city before they have the means. The recovery process after natural disasters happens in waves, leaving some areas more impacted than others.

Co-working spaces, coffee shops, and restaurants can become perfect venues to continue vital projects when returning to the office is not an option.

Additionally, studies show that workers will start working again sooner after a disaster when remote options are in place. Morale is boosted when employees know their company values their time and safety, giving them the options they need to return to normal without having to compromise their family’s needs.

6. Finding New Solutions to Age-Old Disaster Problems

The methods, tools, and technologies utilized in remote companies can also be of great benefit during natural disasters.

Collaboration tools like Google Docs, Skype, and Zoom can help teams get back to work sooner. Additionally, giving employees the flexibility to work earlier or later so that they can take part in disaster recovery efforts like volunteering or hosting others in need goes a long way toward showcasing the human side of a business.

Security is a huge part of remote work during a disaster. When companies, who do not usually allow remote work, approve telecommuting options for employees they must consider the security of information online. Many remote businesses already invest in secure options and train their employees to prevent malware and ransomware attacks. It is always a great idea to test out remote options that include security protocols, even if they are only used during an emergency.

Related: 14 Free and Low-Cost Software Tools for Remote Teams

7. Saving Money When It Matters Most

Disaster recovery costs. When a business has to replace servers, windows, supplies and more, money starts flowing in the wrong direction; out of the door. In the long run this will impact employees. Additionally, when projects are delayed and operations stalled, there are untold funds being wasted or lost; however, with fewer employees in-office, there are less costs to recoup.

Without having to recover a physical office, businesses have more money to assist workers in recovery and establish needed services, like an employee assistance program (EAP), to help workers figure out what they need to recover, provide counseling, and offer general assistance after natural disasters.

Final Thoughts

Everyone wants to feel valued at work, whether they work in a 100% virtual environment or have the option to do so a few days per week. Flexibility is key in the digital world. It allows for more creativity, better communication, more productive workers and a more successful business overall. None of us want to have to consider the worst, however when we prepare for disaster effectively, we help protect ourselves from having to suffer the harshest consequences from untimely events. Natural disasters can impact any business, any individual. Having the tools and structure to support remote options gives employees and businesses the best chance at a smooth recovery.

Have you utilized telecommuting work arrangements during natural disasters or inclement weather? Share your answer when you connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to hear from you! 

iStock Photo Credit: 1. CHUYN; 2. bauhaus1000; Pexels Photo Credit: 1. Roberto Nickson

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