For as long as I can remember, public officials have urged people to avoid travelling on the roads when expecting large snowfalls. Andrew Cuomo of New York declared a state of emergency
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York declared a state of emergency in advance of Winter Storm Juno, which was a forecast blizzard on the East Coast, demonstrating the altered and continuing nature of the times. New Yorkers were asked by Andrew Cuomo to work from home.
It is generally recommended that people stay home prior to large weather-related catastrophes. Officials urge residents to get out of vulnerable areas in anticipation of hurricanes, but they note that once the storm strikes, the only safe thing to do is to stay put - exception included.
Nowadays, many more people are able to work remotely from home. Many people followed Cuomo's advice, but a lot of others were unable to. In the 21st century, the difference between the kind of work we do and the things we value about our jobs speaks volumes.
Chances are good that, if you work behind a desk, you can do your job, or at least a few days' worth of it, from home. If your work requires you to see and touch other people, however, it is likely not possible.
Unless their home is the barbershop, barbers are unable to work from home. In no circumstance do many customers visit the barber during blizzards. No amount of working from home can substitute for the duties of beat cops, traffic cops and accident investigators. All medical personnel, including doctors, hospital nurses, EMTs, and ambulance drivers, must report to their respective places of work. Weather emergencies often require firefighters and other first responders to do their most important work. Though we don't often think of them in this context, hotel housekeepers and desk clerks do as well.
While I was driving through Jacksonville, Florida one evening just before Christmas in 1989, my car's timing belt snapped. My wife, our 3-year-old daughter, and I were traveling back to New York. To find a gas station with a tow truck, I walked through a cold, heavy rain to a nearby exit ramp. We checked into a Holiday Inn next door, and they brought the car to the station. The rain changing to sleet and snow just as we were getting to the hotel marked the start of one of the greatest ice and snowstorms ever seen on the Southeast coast.
The city of Jacksonville shut down completely. The city not only lacked even a single piece of snow removal equipment, but its rivers spanned by bridges immediately iced over. Stranded travelers were promptly accommodated in every hotel in the region. The members of the hotels' staffs were not the only ones stranded; the guests were too. Even if they wanted to try, most of them could not have gotten home. However, they did not forsake their posts or their visitors.
The staff at the Holiday Inn worked a total of 48 hours straight to take care of us. The restaurant transformed from a table service to a three-meals-per-day buffet. The Waffle House across the icy street, plus it, sustained us. ):
Where do emergency workers obtain their sustenance? Down South, the Waffle House is the place to go. It requires more than a storm that occurs once in a century to cause them to shut down. Our daughter was entertained by "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", if not us. We probably watched the VHS tape available for rent at the hotel 10 times.
Once the storm abated, the service station that had our car was without electricity. There was no timing belt, and no way to install one, of course. On their only white Christmas of the 20th century, we took Amtrak back to New York, passing through Savannah and Charleston. Rather than fly round trip between New York and Chicago for a business trip a week later, I chose to return via Jacksonville, pick up the now-repaired car, and drive it home.
On a frigid Sunday morning, Jan. 7, 1996, about six years later, the New York region was hit by a major blizzard. By then, I had started my own firm at Moviehouse Mews, the onetime movie theater in Hastings on Hudson, New York, and was working with one full-time employee in our office. I didn't want to lose a few days of work since we were just getting ready for a hectic tax season. The software could not be accessed from home as it was all loaded on the office computers.
On Sunday, I went to the office in order to remain there for the entire duration of the storm. I put a small refrigerator with a few supplies inside. My wife came by with our two girls just before the snow arrived to provide me with pillows and blankets. That night, I would sleep on the floor.
The New York City region still ranks the blizzard among its five biggest snowfalls. In Hastings, nearly two feet of snow fell and the gusty winds created deep drifts. A swimming pool surrounded by a chain link fence of 6-8 feet in height was located at the nearby apartment building. Certain spots on that fence were completely buried at the end of the storm.
It took several days before my employee could reach the office. Commuting from Manhattan, he encountered snarled trains. I, however, remained and worked until Tuesday evening. The Manor Market, a deli across the street, was open that Monday, at the height of the storm, and stayed open throughout - so even during that time, I was able to have hot food. I still don't know how they did it to this day.
This week, I had the privilege of not sleeping on a floor or relying on a deli for hot food. Working from home in New York was comfortable for me. On Sunday, when predictions for the coming storm grew increasingly grim, Eric Meermann, our Scarsdale office's "station chief", informed the staff that we were likely to leave early on Monday and close the New York office completely on Tuesday, with a potential for longer closure. He urged them to either have a day off or arrive in Scarsdale before the storm arrived. Scarsdale's phone system is now Internet-based, enabling employees in Florida and Georgia to answer calls directed to the office. The majority of our personnel are able to complete the majority of their tasks remotely. Even if an entire office is shut down due to a storm for an extended period, we can still do what needs to be done.
We tested our backup systems in October 2012. Our Scarsdale office and the computers we maintain there had their power cut as if by a major storm, and we pretended it was true. We instructed the Scarsdale personnel to work remotely, and we replaced our primary servers with ones located in Atlanta. Although the test went smoothly, it revealed a glitch in our process for reverting to the primary servers. In case the disaster we practiced for ever came, we knew exactly what to do.
Only two weeks after, Superstorm Sandy struck Scarsdale and disabled our servers.
Not all emergencies are regional and weather-related; many are personal. Working from home enables staff members to rapidly adapt to whatever life presents, such as a family member's sickness or a child's after-school event. Job satisfaction is widely recognized to be greatly enhanced by the ability to control one's work life and work schedule. Giving our people flexibility in order to attract, train, and retain talented employees is not only a sound business strategy, but also good employee relations, as it aligns with our firm's goal of keeping them around as long as possible.
Workers are not always given the opportunity to work from home by every job and workplace. Cuomo's advice to work at home seemed especially pertinent as I sat at my dining table with a hot cup of coffee, watching the snow fall. I am grateful to all the people who, even though they couldn't, still went to work that day, and I am glad I could.