We’re still literally digging out from a mammoth blizzard that struck Chicago and much of the Midwest starting Tuesday afternoon. In case you missed it, the “Snowpocalypse” (among other names) shut down two airports, immobilized Lake Shore Drive, and blew part of the roof off Wrigley Field.

The snow was still flying most of yesterday, so most brick-and-mortar business offices in Chicago were closed (including ours). But insurance never sleeps, so plenty of virtual business was being conducted while Streets and San struggled to plow streets and haul cars off Lake Shore Drive.

Giant broker Aon Corp. kept its offices open, but urged stuck employees to work from home if they couldn’t make it in (although Aon CEO Greg Case made a point of face time). 

On a smaller scale, Steve Paczolt, my go-to source for area agent issues (Paczolt Insurance and Financial Group is in my home town), closed his office yesterday but stayed in close touch with clients via cellphone and the Internet. “We’re on Facebook, but not many of our clients are there yet, so most of our communications comes by e-mail,” he said.

Steve was smart enough to alert clients Monday via e-mail that a storm was coming. His note included steps they could take before and after the storm to keep their property safe. His biggest concern was the possibility of flat roofs collapsing under the weight of the 20 or so inches of snow that got dumped. Luckily, although there is plenty of it, the snow is fairly light and hasn’t yet caused any damages, he said.

In fact, so far none of his clients have filed storm-related claims, and his call volume yesterday was no different than any other business day, he said.

Not everyone was as determined as Greg Case to show up at the office. Nor did they have to, since many employees have the technology to work from home. Still, there are issues that need managing with the work-from-home scenario.

In a recent interview, Peter Handal, president, CEO and chairman of Dale Carnegie Training, pointed out several remote work best practices:

  • Safety first. If getting to work in bad weather comprises employees’ safety, remote work should be an option for them. Employees live at various distances from the office and unless everyone can make it into the office, management should offer the whole team the option of working from home.
  • Stay focused. To help keep remote workers on track, managers should check with them regularly to see how they’re progressing on the day’s assignments. Periodic “check-in” e-mails will help everyone stay focused.
  • Make meetings virtual. Scheduled meetings with clients can take a hit from bad weather, especially if the parties involved get hung up on travel snafus. If a meeting can’t be rescheduled, employees can call in on a conference line from home, or even on video via Skype.
  • Trust them! You hired them, so you should be able to trust your employees to be professional enough to conduct business from home when the need arises.

Do any of our readers care to share their blizzard stories? Feel free to comment here!