In the wake of Isaias, you’ve likely thought about how to maintain productivity when the power goes out after a storm, as over 2.2 million homes and businesses experienced last week. What about if a snowstorm or wildfire sweeps through and you lose your internet connection? If you are new to working remotely, this may be the first time you’ve thought about what is needed to keep you productive during and after severe weather.
This is not to say that you, and your team, should be working during a raging wildfire or in the eye of a hurricane! But, all too often, these storms leave remote staff unable to work for days after a storm. And as remote work starts to shift from a “pandemic response” to the “new norm,” remote and distributed workers should consider what they need to stay productive during and after severe weather.
Rather than focusing on survival necessities (which should already be in your personal / family disaster preparedness kit), your work from home resource “kit” should focus on what you need to stay productive. I wanted to share with you some tips on equipment and action items that have enabled me to work through multiple storms over the past 10 years, including brown-outs in Georgia, hurricanes in Virginia, a typhoon in Japan, wildfires in Southern California, and snowstorms in Maryland.
If this is your first hurricane season, wildfire season, or experience of working from home, use this list as a starting point to prepare for potentially severe weather when working remotely.
Learn how to pronounce the storm.
While this isn’t, by definition, “necessary,” I find it useful to be able to correctly pronounce the storm potentially wreaking havoc on my work schedule. When Isaias (pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs) first became a concern, I felt ridiculous trying to sound out the name, so I looked up the correct pronunciation. Make an effort to learn storm names for the same reason you would learn to pronounce an unusual last name – its good manners.
Make sure you can power electronics.
Much like Captain Kirk in every episode of (the original) Star Trek, whenever a storm approaches, I run around the house demanding more power. The first thing to go is usually the power, which is why I’ve invested in multiple uninterrupted power systems (UPS) and battery packs. I rely on external power sources for the following:
- Internet connection. To maintain power to my modem and router, I have them plugged into a 1500VA UPS. As long as I don’t let the rest of my family plug anything into it, I can get 6-10 hours of usage.
- Computer setup. A UPS will only power most computer setups for an hour or two, which means it’s not as beneficial for laptops. However, for anyone using a desktop, being plugged into a UPS is essential to prevent lost work when the power goes out.
- Phone. I have an Anker power bank at my desk that can charge my phone eight times. Not only is my cellphone also my work phone, but it can provide me with a mobile hotspot if necessary.
- Laptop. Consider purchasing an additional battery for your laptop, especially if your power is often out for more than eight hours at a time (sorry Apple users, this won’t work for you). In addition to another battery, I own an inverter that will charge my laptop from my SUV. These also come in quite handy during cross-country trips.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up generators as a possible power alternative. Many friends and colleagues who have lived through severe storms, or experience regular power outages, have invested in a generator to supplement their power grid. Depending on size, a generator can power work equipment and essentials such as refrigerator and some lights. Generators aren’t a perfect solution, though – they have a finite capacity, usually don’t automatically kick in to maintain power in case of an outage, can be loud, and can be smelly. If you are living in an apartment complex that doesn’t allow generators (even solar ones), or only experience short-term power outages, generators may not be the right solution for you.
Secure your internet connection.
Depending on your internet access (cable, Ethernet, satellite, fiber optic, dial-up, etc.), there are times when your connection may go out or become spotty, especially if you have cable or above-ground internet. Unfortunately, below ground connectivity is not an option for everyone, which is where mobile hotspots come in.
If you only occasionally have power outages, or your outages are short-lived, a cellphone hotspot might suffice as long as you are prepared to charge your phone more often, and your data plan can accommodate the load. If you have frequent or prolonged power outages, a dedicated mobile hotspot may be a worthwhile investment.
Different from a cellphone mobile hotspot, a dedicated mobile hotspot can provide a greater Wi-Fi range, better security, and longer battery life than the hotspot from your phone. Dedicated hotspots usually require a monthly subscription regardless of usage.
Consider canceling or rescheduling meetings.
If you know that a storm is going to be severe, or you are directly in its path, consider rescheduling meetings. When tornado watches and warnings start to pop-up in my area, I usually move my meetings. While I don’t know if a tornado will touch down in my area, I know that connections drop more often during periods of high winds. If you know that in your area snowstorms slow internet connectivity or you may lose cell service, communicate with others in the meeting about moving it to another day.
Communicate with your team.
Communication should be a cornerstone of your preparedness plan. Make sure to keep everyone up to date on the storm headed your way, even if it’s just a quick email. When it became clear that Isaias was going to brush us, I reached out to everyone on my team. This type of FYSA (for your situational awareness) outreach helps manage team expectations, especially if you need to clear debris on your property after a storm.
While severe weather and storms affect businesses and individuals, businesses usually have backups and continuity disaster preparedness plans. Individuals, especially those who are new to remote work, probably don’t. While this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, I hope that with this information, you feel ready to ride out whatever storms come your way.