The first snowfall of winter has left much of the country in an icy grip with motorists stranded, power lines down and air traffic at a standstill.
Snowfall is the one natural event that the UK is consistently underprepared for and we’re poorly equipped to handle it when it does happen.
As a consequence many small businesses have reported that they have encountered problems as a they are completely unprepared for the weather and the disruption it is causing in preventing employees from getting to work.
So why are we unprepared when earlier this year, in February 2009, the exact same thing happened?! Why haven’t small businesses put in contingency plans to prevent losses to their business as a result of snowy weather? Climate change is having an effect – with colder winters and wetter summers. Couple this with the fact that the UK’s weather IS subject to freak changes you would think we would attempt to prepare ourselves better wouldn’t you?
Equipping your staff with the tools they require to work from home the day before a snow storm would be a move in the right direction. It’s not as though the Met Office doesn’t give us plenty of warning before a large snowfall – even a few hours is all a business sensibly needs to ensure their employees are equipped to work from home.
This is not meant to be a rant at small businesses and their inability to prepare for every weather inevitability as I concede that local councils and travel authorities (most notably road maintenance and national rail) should take a large amount of responsibility for the shoddy way in which they handle bad weather conditions. However, I think there are a number of things small businesses can do to ensure things keep ticking along and business disruption is kept to a minimum.
I will accept that, in some cases (retail/construction/hospitality), this is difficult but I would like to briefly look at how ALL types of small business can operate at some level regardless of the weather:
1. Online stores. The vast majority of high-street shops now have an online presence with e-commerce capability. If you don’t then I urge you to invest in an e-commerce website or, if this is too expensive and unfeasible, begin trading through eBay, Amazon, and other intermediaries. It is important to note that for retail some form of online presence is a MUST to ensure you are able to continue to compete in today’s marketplace.
2. Office staff, to some extent, can operate from home. If this means supplying a handful of key employees with laptops, broadband dongle and business mobile phones for a few days then why not? Would you rather lose money through your inability to operate as a business for a few days or invest money in technology to enable your staff to continue operating despite the physical business being inaccessible?
3. Flexi-time – offer your employees the opportunity to come into work later and work a few hours extra in the evening or over the course of the week to make up for any business operating time lost. For example, if the weather is especially bad in the morning but your employees are able to get into work by lunchtime this may be feasible.