Now is literally our winter of discontent, with 212 million people in the United States—or 72 percent of the continental U.S. population—experiencing below-freezing temperatures and 83 million—or about 25 percent—experiencing subzero temps. According to CNN, the country is suffering "the coldest air in a generation."
And these extreme conditions are when workplace flexibility policies such as DeskPlus (location variety) and Remote (location variety) go from life-work stabilizers to lifesavers.
Some locales are handling the extreme cold better than others. Take Chicago, for example. The city of 2.7 million residents is the "epicenter of the extreme cold," according to CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen. By dawn on Wednesday, January 30, temperatures at O'Hare International Airport had reached -23 with a wind chill of -52, nearing the all-time record low of -27. Chicago was officially colder than the South Pole, colder than Mount Everest's base camp, and even colder than Mars.
And city officials are responding appropriately. Public schools, museums, libraries, courthouses, and government buildings in Chicago announced closures for Wednesday; and Rich Guidice, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, advised residents to shelter in place. "We ask everyone to limit your time outdoors, and work remotely from home, if possible," he said in a statement. "If you must drive in these conditions, please allow extra time for travel, keep your vehicle in working order, and be patient."
Meanwhile, in Kentucky, where temperatures hovered in the single digits on Wednesday, Governor Matt Brown told a radio host that school cancellations in the state are more evidence that America is "getting soft." He added: "It does concern me a little bit that in America on this and any number of other fronts, we're sending messages to our young people that if life is hard you can curl up in the fetal position—somewhere in a warm place—and wait till it stops being hard."
But making adjustments to business as usual for extreme weather events isn't "soft"—it's humane, not to mention common sense. Data shows that employees can be just as productive when using location variety, if not more so. Plus, just think of how much productivity is actually lost when employees inevitably call out sick to avoid commuting in hazardous conditions. It seems counterintuitive to force employees to dip into their PTO when they are able and willing to work. And let’s face it, do you really want to risk putting your employees lives in danger? Consider those consequences.
But the show must go on, as they say, and if you must absolutely bring your employees into the office, you should consider the time-based flexibility types TimeShift (a reordering of the working hours) and MicroAgility (the ability to pause work to attend to the unexpected). TimeShift, for example, can keep employees off the roadways and off public transit during the coldest and/or most congested hours. And we've described MicroAgility as a way to keep interruptions from becoming major disruptions, which seems like a fitting analogy for flexibility in general this week.
This cold weather is severe and deadly serious, but with flexibility, companies can keep their employees safe, warm, and even productive amid the extreme temperatures.