In Sandy’s aftermath, more openness for remote work?

November 1, 2012

In the aftermath of Sandy’s storm devastation, corporate leaders are grappling with the economic impact. Many are evaluating their disaster preparedness. And in the wake of the crippling storm, many are sure to assess their risks and make big changes.

But while it’s hard to see much of a silver lining amid the wreckage, one positive outcome could emerge: The storm’s disruption could increase leaders’ willingness to let more people work remotely.

Businesses were forced to adapt as Sandy flooded office buildings and subway stations, closed bridges and tunnels, and kept employees holed up in their homes during a work week. In the midst of the storm, the ability to telecommute was no longer a work-life balance issue that a few young parents in the office were requesting. It was a critical necessity for any affected employee.

That included CEOs themselves. The Wall Street Journal reported on how CEOs ranging from Lands’ End chief Edgar Huber to the head of Recyclebank adapted amid the storm. They worked out of their mothers-in-laws’ apartments, put on Disney movies to entertain their out-of-school kids and used instant messaging to communicate with employees. “You can be reasonably self-sufficient with a cellphone and a lantern,” the CEO of Foot Locker told the Journal. And that was in the worst of circumstances, with either widespread power losses present or a constant threat of its loss for employees working from home.

Of course, many companies embrace remote work arrangements, so much so that they eschew permanent office space for some employees (a practice known as “hoteling”) and equip their people with whatever smartphone or laptop needs they may have. In today’s world, even talking about “remote work” versus “face time” can feel antiquated: People are always connected, and the dividing line between work and personal time is quickly getting erased. If employees are getting their work done, who really cares where it’s done?

But there are still holdouts: managers who expect to see people in the office to know they’re actually working, supervisors who praise the person who was in the office latest the night before. But in the aftermath of Sandy—or of any natural disaster that upends the way we work, but keeps many people working—there may be a few less of them. If your employees have proven they can get work done during a hurricane, their requests to work from home to get a little more flexibility should be the least of your concerns.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

More from On Leadership:

Gov. Christie praises Obama’s leadership during the storm

Work-life balance is a men’s issue, too

Should you friend your boss on Facebook?

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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