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Calgary floods stress need for telecommuting plans

Not every company wants or needs a full-time telecommuting program.

Many companies, however, should start to consider enabling their employees to work from home when they just can’t make it into the office.

Or, when the office isn’t available.

Companies in Calgary and other parts of Alberta are suggesting their employees to work remotely this week in the wake of damaging floodwaters that covered the downtown core. The city was quickly hit by floodwaters on Friday, and the entire downtown, along with 100,000 residents, was evacuated.

Bow River floods in Calgary

The floodwaters are starting to recede and cleanup efforts started this morning. However, the downtown buildings are without power.  City crews are working tirelessly to restore power and some areas are expected to regain power tomorrow.

Calgary is home to some of the biggest oil and gas companies in Canada, and is considered one of the financial cores for the country. Suncor Energy spokeswoman Sneh Seetal told the Globe and Mail employees are being encouraged to work from home this week.

This isn’t the first time in recent history that we’ve seen telecommuting become vital to business operations during times of natural disaster.

Telework became an important function when Hurricane Sandy struck the eastern seaboard of the United States last fall. More than 8 million people were without power for several days and some businesses were left scrambling to implement continuity plans to ensure operations continued running smoothly.

Other companies — ones that had telecommuting policies and technology in place — continued to do business. Federal government offices kept operating in the Washington, D.C., area, despite office closures. Various reports revealed one-third of government workers continued to work remotely, from their homes or wherever they could find power and Wi-Fi access.

According to Global Workplace Analytics statistics, three-quarters of teleworkers say they could continue to work in the event of a disaster, compared with just 28 per cent of non-telecommuters.

The trouble is, it’s too late to plan for telecommuting once disaster strikes. Companies need to have these plans in place before they face such business disruptions.

To be prepared for emergency telecommuting, managers and supervisors should:

✓ Train employees on how to access company email and file-sharing systems remotely, whether from their mobile devices or home computers.

✓ Decide which employees are essential and must work from home when the office is forced to close.

✓ Lay out your own plan for communication. Be ready to contact employees at home should emergency strike overnight and let them know their work will be needed as operations continue. Ensure you have the right technology, like a conference calling service provider, in place.

✓ Practise your plan. Send employees home occasionally to ensure everything works smoothly and business can continue to operate.

It’s your turn

Do you have a contingency plan in place for your business?

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