An online article in New York Magazine following the recent northeastern Blizzard-That-Wasn’t addressed an interesting implication of technological integration to the workplace: the impending death of the adult snow day. As an individual who telecommutes every day, I can agree with the general content. While friends stayed up late snapping photos on New York City’s abandoned 3rd Avenue, I prepped for conference calls with California. While former office co-workers enjoyed a day and a half of couch time and Netflix, I drained power on two laptops and a smartphone. I didn’t have the days off; we have clients around the world that aren’t stopping just because there’s a little snow in Manhattan.
So indeed, I commiserate with the author on missing the joy of seeing your school scroll across the news ticker and knowing you could go sledding the next day instead of sitting in social studies. Yet there are no complaints from my end. The benefits of telecommuting are much farther reaching than the negation of one or two work days, even as evidenced in scholarly articles. Frank recently cited some of our own observations in flexible work environments, and I can only agree. Indeed, it’s one reason why Present Tense was such an appealing proposition: my time would once again become mine, making every day just like a good snow day.
Nostalgia aside, the death of the snow day in favor of a more plugged in workforce might be a great change for employees and bosses alike. There are, after all, undeniable advantages.
Employee Longevity… and portability. We don’t have an office building. Not only does this keep overhead low, but we can live where we are comfortable. There is something to be said for feeling as though you are “home” in a particular town or city or even country, and something more to be said for being able to perform a job you love and challenges you from wherever that home might be. Most studies on telecommuting address the reduction of stress when the commute is eliminated; just imagine the outcome on your health of being able to move to a better school system when a baby is born or relocating when a parent is ill. You are where you need to be and still able to keep working with the same company, providing the same level of output. Longevity with companies is in a steep decline, according to research cited in Forbes and others. So why push away those who want to travel? If I do happen to get sick of the snow and fly south for the winter, I wouldn’t need to quit. All part of the advantages of a portable job.
Productive Flexibility. One of our contracted writers gets his best work done at 3am. I find I’m most productive around dinnertime. One of our contributors prefers to wake early and send in submissions before getting on with the rest of the day. And during a snow day, none of this is different. While it would be lovely to relax all day, I certainly don’t need any more excuses to fire up Netflix. Instead, every day is a case of weighing what I need to do, errands I need to run, projects I want to accomplish, and work deadlines to meet. Stores are closed, so I can substitute errands for standing out in the snow and taking some photos or perhaps just sleeping in. The gym isn’t open, so I’ll make a lovely breakfast after sleeping in a bit. But the real joy is I can do this every day. I can shift errands around and go outside. I can accomplish more work the day before so I can sleep in (and still get to the gym). And since everyone at work is doing this, there’s no problem with saying “I’ll get to this in an hour, just stepped out for a walk and a coffee.”
Focus. Clients want the work done, and I want to spend more of my time on doing that work. Just because we work differently, doesn’t mean their deadlines are any less urgent or their quality standards any less strict. One big difference, though, is that when I sat in an office, work was measured on timesheets. I could get a project presentation done in two hours but still have to be there for four because I needed to be there a certain amount of time. That, really, is what makes the snow day so appealing: so many hours in an office are wasted each day, we forget what we can accomplish when we prioritize. Many of us, upon returning from a vacation, are inundated with how much there is to do and we overestimate how long it will take us to catch up. But how long does it really take to sort through those emails, many of which might no longer be relevant or are just on some terrible listserve? How much work really did get accomplished by the team in your absence? On the snow day, I prioritized what needed to happen and when, so that I could get on with watching the snow. When that work was done, I could go back to explaining the joys of the 90s through Twin Peaks to those not born in time to appreciate the series. I’d completed my work, nothing was hanging over my head, and I even already knew who killed Laura Palmer. It was a snow day with even lower stress.
Indeed, the snow day is certainly becoming more rare than the Sierra Nevada red fox, at least for those out of school, but all is not lost. With the right technology and being able to set both boundaries and priorities, the allure of the occasional day away from the office can transform many office work schedules into something more productive.
Forget the schools ticker. Every day is a snow day.
Elana Duffy is co-founder and COO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. Working with everyone from authors to Fortune 500 companies, we provide a range of writing, editing, and training services. Lana is also a veteran of the US Army, a masters of engineering graduate, and a freelance writer in NYC. She is the co-author of the first in the Present Tense “singles” short ebook series, 10/10, for sale on Amazon and other major retailers.