Commentary: Polar Vortex Could Boost Productivity

Although the frigid temperatures and dangerous cold blanketing the Midwest and Northeast United States may be making people miserable, it could be a boon to productivity for the nation’s employers, according to one workplace authority.

“When it gets so cold it becomes inadvisable to go outside, it could be a great time for employers to encourage their workforces to focus on those projects for which they may not otherwise make time,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Wind chills are expected to reach -55 degrees in parts of Northern Illinois, and Minnesota could experience temperatures that feel like -60 degrees.

“Distractions are very limited when workers have no desire to go outside or leave the comfort of their desks or home offices,” he added.

“Workers who need to come in to the office will likely not want to leave their desks very often, opting instead to remain indoors, and potentially keep to themselves instead of socializing with co-workers. They can use this time to check things off their to-do lists,” said Challenger.

“Employers should keep coffee or tea stocked and ready, and think about ordering food to the office during periods of extreme cold. This will help build morale during the depressing cold while encouraging workers to focus on their tasks,” he added.
For companies that are able, employers should encourage workers to work from home during periods of extreme cold, said Challenger.

“Remote work is good for a lot of reasons, but especially during sub-zero weather. Employees can start earlier or work a bit later with very few distractions, since they likely will not want to venture outside. When workers eliminate commutes and normal morning routines, they get a lot of time back,” said Challenger.

“Employees will appreciate that flexibility, which will help build a stronger connection between worker and employer. This is especially true when extreme weather cancels a school day, throwing a wrench in many working parents’ plans,” he added

TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS TO BOOST PRODUCTIVITY DURING EXTREME WEATHER

  • Cancel or reschedule meetings. According to a 2007 study by MITSloane, meetings have increased in length over the last 50 years, with executives spending up to 23 hours a week in them. Since extreme weather makes it difficult to travel for meetings, offer to cancel them or reschedule them to a later date. This frees up time for workers to focus on other, pressing tasks.
  • Allow telecommuting and flexible schedules. When temperature reach dangerous levels, employers should encourage workers to work remotely either the full day or part of the day. Eliminating commutes will give workers more time to focus on key projects.
  • Keep warm beverages on hand. Have plenty of coffee or tea to help keep workers warm.
  • Allow personal heaters. For those whose buildings allow space heaters, let workers keep heaters in their offices of cubes to help stay warm.
  • Order lunch. This will keep workers from having to go out in the cold. Give them time to visit with their co-workers or allow them to eat at their desks.