Lessons learned when Mother Nature TRIED to shut down my business

Karen Utgoff didn't let a little snow and the massive blackout that followed keep her from getting work done.

When I wrote my post last month urging everyone to keep moving forward, I didn’t imagine that western Massachusetts was about to have a snowstorm that would knock out electricity to my office for 6 days.  I know I wasn’t the only one in this situation, nor was I the worst off; the extended loss of power pushed many of us into new territory.  While my colleague Jeanne Yocum took a more serene approach, here’s my Type-A take on the week in response.

While coping with the blackout, staying in place felt like an accomplishment – never mind moving forward! But now that I’ve had time to process the experience, I can see that it did serve to remind me of important points that are easy to overlook in the midst of a smoothly functioning routine.

Communications is of paramount importance

Fortunately, I never lost cell or office phone service so I was always able to communicate with clients and colleagues within and beyond the blackout area. I know others were not so lucky and even some large organizations working with emergency power had difficulties because employees and customers were unreachable. In the face of this experience, I am committed to maintaining communications platforms and equipment that are independent of each other and to renewing my efforts to have at least two – and preferably three – ways to reach those I work with.

Flexibility is a great advantage

My smart phone and laptop gave me the ability to work from any location. Normally that is a convenience but during the blackout it was critically important. While it isn’t possible to move manufacturing or retail, technology can allow top management to continue working from remote locations.  This is especially important if you have customers at a distance who will not necessarily be aware of local conditions. In the future, I am likely to weight the flexibility (and redundancy) a new technology provides more heavily in purchase decisions. For example, the experience has underscored the advantages of my smart phone through which I had uninterrupted Internet access and email.  So, what I thought was a luxury turned out to be the one essential tool that always worked for the gathering information about the blackout I needed to make decisions for the week

Necessity is the mother of incremental improvement

We all had to work around limitations, focus on the essentials and generally make do throughout the blackout. For me, it turned out that some of those new ways of doing things worked pretty well. For example, I tweaked the way I organized daily workflow to anticipate the shorter workday and now find this new approach actually makes me more efficient with the lights on. I’m committed to implementing this as a permanent change in spite of my longstanding, difficult-to-break routine.

Now that we are all up and running again, I’m sure none of us want to repeat this experience. But take a moment to think back on your blackout experience to learn about your business and, possibly, identify one or two easy-to-implement improvements. Maybe they will even keep you moving forward.

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