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When the weather outside is frightful

Dec 30, 20024 mins

Ways teleworkers can keep working when the power goes out

The ice storm that hit North Carolina in early December put teleworker Mary McClintock into a deep freeze.

She was without power at her home office from Thursday through Sunday. No power meant no PC and no files. Though she charged her cell phone (and filled her car’s gas tank) in anticipation of the storm, she couldn’t alert customers because she couldn’t access her database on her PC. Her cable modem was dead, so she couldn’t access the corporate network or e-mail her contacts. Her corporate office 20 minutes away also lost power.

Even her local phone company was down; callers to McClintock’s line were greeted with a busy signal instead of voice mail for four days.

Her first reaction: McClintock called her manager in Tennessee to have him contact those customers whose numbers he knew, letting them know of her plight. On Friday, she spent the night at her husband’s insurance agency office across town, which had power. She spent the night and got in a few hours work.

“I didn’t say, ‘I don’t have power, I’m not going to work,’ ” says McClintock, a project manager for remote access solutions with Nortel Networks in Durham, N.C. “We all know our objectives and customer commitments. Of course we’ll make that extra effort to find a place to hook up.”

Ice storms, blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes can wreak havoc on a teleworker’s home office. If power, telephone or Internet service is lost, what can you do to get back in business?

Aside from going elsewhere to work, you might consider a backup power solution. Here’s a thumbnail of the options:

UPS: For short power outages, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) will provide battery power from 20 minutes to six hours. The longer the life, the higher the cost. Prices range from less than $100 to $1,400.

Electric generators: For longer spells, consider an electric generator. Portable gasoline-powered units cost several hundred dollars and can provide power to a variety of small appliances, lights and the PC. Permanently-installed stand-by devices require professional installation and can top $8,000. Shop carefully and make sure you buy one that can handle your projected energy load.

Alternative energy: Solar panels or wind generators can cost thousands as well, and depending on the panels’ size, wind speed or brightness of the sun, can provide power to stay working. A good place to start is:

Here are some ways to prepare if a storm threatens to disrupt travel or utility service in your area: .

  • Print out your customer contact list. PDA users should update the data frequently and make sure the batteries are fully charged.

  • E-mail key contacts to warn them you may lose contact, and change your e-mail vacation message to deliver the same message.

  • Recommend your employer post disaster preparation tips to its corporate telework Web site or create a page of tips.

  • If the corporate office is more than a drive away, take space in a telework center, executive suite or a friend or associate’s office that still has power.

If you’re powerless to use the computer, don’t rule out using pen and paper.

Quite often, it’s left up to teleworkers’ own common sense and initiative to figure out how to get back to work. Of the four firms we contacted, none of their teleworking program guidelines address protocols for remote workers who lose access to utilities needed to work. As in McClintock’s case, the expectation is that workers will make every effort to get back to work.

Moreover, managers shouldn’t hesitate to call teleworkers back into the office if home offices are without power, says Bob Fortier, president of Innovisions Canada, telework consulting firm in Ottawa, Ontario.

But by the same token, managers shouldn’t hesitate to send workers home if the corporate office has no power. Following a 1998 ice storm that hit eastern Canada, some businesses and federal offices lost power for a month. The federal government promoted telework to get employees back to work, Fortier recalls.