We Brits love talking about the weather. It's been used as an icebreaker to start conversations with friends and strangers alike since time immemorial. As temperatures remain around freezing and snow continues to fall in many parts of the country, this latest bout of bad weather is another chilling reminder that more businesses need to adopt a more flexible approach to working.
Weather-induced chaos disrupts transport and infrastructure and results in lost productivity that can cost businesses billions of pounds. Two years ago the UK economy lost an estimated £1.2 billion a day, with 34% of workers experiencing significant problems getting to work because of snow, and 10% reported as being unable to get in at all at some point. But in this day and age should businesses be at the mercy of the weather? No.
Last year Vodafone published a report on business risk, exploring the business continuity challenges faced by UK companies and how well they are prepared to address them. Research included in the report from the Chartered Management Institute found that the most common disruptive event experienced by UK organisations in 2011/12 was extreme weather. This was followed by IT systems failure, then loss of people and loss of telecommunications infrastructure.
However, while businesses undoubtedly need to take a careful look at putting contingency plans in place for all unexpected challenges, it is worth bearing in mind that the 'climate' in which businesses operate has evolved. Technology now enables workers to carry out their job regardless of location. For example, more people now use mobile devices to access the web than their desktop, according to Gartner, and this trend is only likely to grow, particularly when competitive 4G services arrive later this year. Similarly, video conferencing provides businesses with time-efficient and environmentally friendly alternatives to face-to-face meetings. Furthermore, the ever increasing integration of cloud-based applications present great cost saving opportunities for those businesses that do adopt these forward thinking working practices. This all means that it is no longer necessary to be tied to your desk to get your work done.
It also means that if employees can't make it into the office because of snow, business shouldn't come to a standstill. If employees are empowered to work from anywhere, disruption to the daily commute caused by bad weather should not significantly impact on a company's ability to carry on. Furthermore, working practices such as these don't just mean that busineses can stay open whatever the weather. Recent Vodafone research found that flexible working boosted job satisfaction and improved work/life balance and productivity among staff.
Unsurprisingly many businesses are already taking full advantage of the benefits that new and better ways of working can bring. Our own chief executive at Vodafone UK, Guy Laurence, has also declared offices a "thing of the past". He argues that traditional offices are all about command and control management, clocking in, diaries full of formal meetings and staff performance judged on attendance, not output.
Perhaps this latest bout of cold weather will provide the incentive for some businesses to take a fresh look, not only at their contingency plans, but also at their working practices. At a time when consumers expect a response from companies in hours rather than days, business need to make sure they are able to remain open for business in the face of unexpected events. Companies shouldn't be reliant upon employees jumping in their cars and struggling through each day to function. The weather should be kept as good fodder for 'small talk', and not as something that can grind businesses to a halt.