Care.com

Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

recovering journalist. content and strategy at Care.com. writing about policies, problems and benefits affecting working families.

How to Actually Work from Home on a Snow Day - and Be Productive

When meteorologists warn of blizzard conditions, chaos ensues. 

With proper planning, productivity doesn't have to fall like the snow.

Schools announce closings. Storm warnings leap into in effect. Milk, bread and eggs disappear from supermarket shelves.  And, in major metros, offices close, meetings are rescheduled and professionals hunker down to work from home.

But snow days don’t have to bury business operations. With proper planning, your organization’s productivity can weather the storm as employees work from home.

Here are a few tips for how employees, working parents and managers can make working from home work for them.

For Working Parents

You love ‘em dearly, but your kids can be a major distraction when you’re working from home – especially if they’re running around singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” in their best Anna voice all day. Here are a few tips for getting work done on a snow day.

1. Make a Schedule
If you want to get anything done, you’re going to have to set office hours and give the kids projects or screen time while you get work done. You can even make a game of it, where they’re “working” while you’re working. Whatever you do, make sure your family understands they must respect your “office hours” so when the door is shut, you’re off-limits.

2. Carve Out a Dedicated Office Space
If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to dedicate a home office when you’re working from home while the kids are home (and potentially stuck indoors). Make sure you’re office space is clean (no toys allowed!), with a desk, Internet access and anything else you’ll need to complete your work tasks for the day. “Even though you’re at home, you have to find a way to pretend that you’re going to a space where the kids are not there,” recommends Robi Ludwig, PSY.D, a contributor for Care.com.

3. Get Over the Guilt
It’s natural to feel guilty when you’re focusing on work instead of your children, but the reality is that you have a job to do and your team is counting on you to get it done. Remember that guilt too shall pass – and there’ll be time later for sledding and cocoa. “Your child will survive if you’re attending to something other than them for a couple of hours throughout the day,” says Ludwig.

For Managers

From an operational standpoint, a the unpredictability of a snow day makes it a bit more disruptive than typical telecommuting, but strategies for managing remote employees should be built to scale. Utilize those same strategies when you’re team is going to be working from home on a snow day, so that when the snow falls, your productivity won’t.

1. Set Clear Expectations
When employees are telecommuting, it’s super important that they have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them in terms of deadlines, goals, hours and reachability. According to the Society for Human Resources’ 2014 report on workplace flexibility, only 43 percent of respondents reported managers established specific goals or parameters with telecommuting employees.

“Flex work programs only function seamlessly when boundaries are communicated early on,” says Maren Donovan, CEO of Zirtual. Set these boundaries up front – for both short- and long-term flex work arrangements – and you’ll avoid misunderstandings and resentment.

2. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate
Out of the office doesn’t mean on an island. Regular contact via email, instant message, phone or even video conferencing is crucial for employee engagement. In the case of a snow day, use your “The Office is Closing” announcement to communicate how and when you want your team to stay in touch while working from home.

3. Provide Context
Snow days are different than typical telecommuting. They’re unpredictable – not only in terms of when they occur, but also what other obstacles they’ll throw at your workforce. For example, a power outage could knock out Internet access for your entire team. In the case of working from home during an extreme weather event, let your team know that this is a temporary arrangement; that you understand the difficulties of the situation and value whatever work they can accomplish.

Sending the clear message that you appreciate your team’s flexibility in spending a snow day working from home can boost morale and establish a measure of employee engagement among your temporary remote workforce.

For Everyone

Working from home can be a challenge if you’re not used to it. But, as long as you have Internet, a phone, a computer and a plan, there’s no reason you can’t have a productive workday when the weather outside is frightful.  Here are a few tips to help you out.

1. Stick to a Regular Schedule
As much as possible, it’s important to stick to your normal workday routine when you’re working from home. Every day worked from home should “mirror” the schedule you’d keep in your regular office environment. This will make it easier for you to bucket tasks and stay on the same page as your team.  It may even help you get a jump on the day, since the commute isn’t going to be a factor.

2. Over-Communicate
Email, Skype and text messages will be your best friends when you’re working from home. If you want to have a productive workday, respond to emails promptly and make sure to keep your team in the loop about what you’re working on. And if you have to run out to shovel the walkway, make sure to tell your team that, too.

3. Prioritize Work and Home Tasks Separately
Harsh winter weather adds snow removal to your already endless list of household tasks. It’s hard not to be distracted by dishes, laundry, child care and the like when you’re working from home. Avoid work and home tasks bleeding into one another by making separate to-do lists: one for home and one for work. If you think of personal tasks while you’re working, add them to the list – after all, the driveway isn’t going to snowblow itself.