How did your business fare in the snow last week?

Author: 
Philippa Bindley, Norfolk Chamber

The ‘Beast from the East’ covered the county in at least a foot of snow in some parts with Norfolk grinding to a standstill, literally on the roads, with train services and bus services being cancelled. This forced many schools and businesses to close their doors, as employees struggled to get to work with dangerous conditions or cancelled transportation.

Our Events Manager, Philippa Bindley explains how as a business we coped with the weather and what we learnt.

“Wednesday started at 6am for me, peering out on the window to see a white blanket of snow covering my garden and the roads, trying to work out if I could drive or walk in. At 7am once layered up with jumpers, skiing jacket, hat and wellies I ventured outside to check out the roads and walk the dog, and decided the only way forward was to brace the weather and walk to work.

“As a manager I was in contact with my staff and other managers while wading through snow to walk to work. Through hearing from staff about their roads and those who had attempted to drive to work and had to turn back, we decided the best way forward was to close the office, to avoid staff travelling in dangerous conditions and preventing the risk of them getting stuck on the roads or at work. For us, staff safety was paramount.

“As I turned round and walked home again the next thing on my mind was how are we going to make sure we were still able to provide a level of service to our customers?

So what did we do to ensure we provided good customer service?

“As a management team, we discussed what plans need to be put in place and worked from home.  

“First the basics - we started with informing our customers on social media and online that our offices were closed and diverted our calls to an appointed manager. We then encouraged staff to access emails using webmail to respond to anything urgent.

“We pre-emptively cancelled our training courses for the rest of the week, informed delegates and made sure they were aware by asking them to confirm they have received the emails and called them. Everyone was informed, meaning that no one turned up to a cancelled course because they haven’t seen an email.

“We also asked staff to cancel external meetings for the rest of the week to limit driving in case the weather continued (which it did).

“The International Department were able to process electronic export documentation through the online system they use at home, meaning that customers were able to get the vital documentation they needed for their goods. They processed at least 10 documents that day and were able to help customers with their enquiries by email.

“Even though this was a reduced service, we still ensured that we were still able to give our customers a level of service to enable them to continue their operations.

In hindsight – what would we have done differently?

“Always the optimist, I’m often caught saying ‘It will be fine’, however we could have taken the forecast/Met Office warnings at face value and put a plan in place, but the last thing any business wants to do is shut the office.

“We could have sent round the adverse weather policy to staff members to read so they understood what might need to happen.

“We will look to have a contingency plan in place, even though we might not have to use it for the next 6 years or so.

“We will be looking at software/IT to allow us to be mobile and for staff to work from outside the office as part of agile working. This will form part of our strategy to have a presence in local areas.

“We will be having a proper debrief with staff to learn what else we could have done, and it’s important we ask our employees how they felt we handled the situation.

“Could we have been more prepared? The answer is yes, we should have had a contingency plan in place, however we were able to react immediately (even with our CEO, Chris on holiday skiing in the French Alps) and still provide a service to our customers.”

We would like to hear how our members and Norfolk businesses coped with the snow. Did you remain open or have to shut up shop? Were you prepared? Comment below or email me at philippa.bindley@norfolkchamber.co.uk

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