It’s only a matter of time until we start seeing estimates of what the big snow storm of 2014 will cost Buffalo area businesses. With travel bans in effect, many companies are experiencing employee absences and may be closed for several days.
In the past, major weather-related events have kept many people from reporting to work. The U.S. Department of Labor estimated the Blizzard of ’96 and Snowmageddon in 2010 forced 12.5 million and 800,000 workers to stay home, respectively. Given the greater Buffalo area is the second largest population center in the state (after NYC) and has over 500,000 in the labor force that leaves many displaced workers.
With thousands of people unable to get to work, what opportunities does this create for nearby businesses? With several restaurants and retailers now offering free WiFi, appropriate messaging or offers could bring in quite a few workers in need of a connection or a meal. Also, Internet service providers might encourage people working from home to increase their bandwidth. Meeting/web conferencing or professional office rental services may also be of interest to keep folks working and engaged.
These unexpected and oftentimes catastrophic events also create opportunities for companies to test their remote working capabilities. After Hurricane Sandy, Guardian Life Insurance allowed 1,600 of its employees to work from anywhere they could for nearly a year. They set up a temporary office space, but employees also worked from home, coffee shops, etc. Company CEO Deanna Mulligan reported to Fortune magazine that the increased flexibility improved productivity and customer survey metrics. Mulligan also said the storm was “a blessing in disguise,” in terms of how it impacted company culture.
Earlier this year, the federal government was forced to allow many of its employees to work from home for four days, due to snow and ice conditions. The Global Workplace Analytics and Telework Research Network estimated that telework saved federal agencies $32 million in productivity.
As for this most recent snow storm, while Buffalonians are still in the midst of digging out, opportunities to test “seasonal” messaging and flexible work arrangements are apparent. While a few brave souls reported to Ralph Wilson Stadium to help with snow removal, many will keep their productivity up in addition to supporting local businesses during this (for many, very unwelcome) event.
By Kelly Staruck, Research Manager