Snowed in? 10 Ways to Make Working From Home Workable

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Did a blizzard blanket your commute route and keep you from plowing through your work at the office? Or maybe you have to stay home with the kids because schools are closed.

Telecommuting can provide great benefits during emergency weather situations, says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a subscriber-based online job search service specializing in remote work and other flexible positions. She recommends companies and their staffs be ready with an occasional telecommuting arrangement, even just one day a week, before bad weather hits to create a more seamless transition to working from home.

Sutton Fell and others offered these 10 tips to prepare for emergency telecommuting. (Plenty of good ideas, too, if you are already snowed in. Talking to you, East Coasters!)

1. Identify your work space

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If you don’t have a home office set up already scout your attic, garage, closet and kitchen or dining room table. And they don’t call them laptops for nothing if you want to just balance yours on your knees as you sit in the easy chair the fireplace. However, try to avoid as many distractions as possible.

2. Gather your gear

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Among the essentials for quietly working: headphones, cell phone, earplugs, lamp, mouse pad, laptop and charger (Please, ConEd, don’t let the power go out!), pen, paper. If needed, can you connect to your printer, especially wirelessly?

3. Stay charged

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Keep your devices’ batteries charged ahead of the storm, including your laptop and wireless phone. Even if you lose power and your Internet connection, you’ll be able to continue working offline awhile and can upload your work later when you’re back online.

4. Make backup Internet plans

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Know which neighborhood establishments offer free Wi-Fi ahead of time, in case you need a backup. But don’t show up empty mittened, Sutton Fell says. Load a tote with a power strip. You will be popular at Starbucks.

5. Save your work — a lot

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One fallen tree, one blast of wind, can take your work away in a second, Sutton Fell warns. So, save often. And remember that as long as your cell service is on, you can create your own personal hot spot as a backup to your regular Wi-Fi.

6. Swap child care duties

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You’re likely not the only one suddenly stuck without day care in your neighborhood. Consider swapping children for a few hours. Or if your partner has vacation days to use, consider asking him or her to be on full-time child care duty while you work. You can trade duties later.

7. Set family expectations

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Sometimes you just have to focus. Set rules for when you can or cannot be disturbed, Sutton Fell suggests. Set a code signal for an emergency, or write your schedule out for others in the house. Prioritize based on what you must get done.

8. Set work expectations

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Even though recent studies show most workers want to work from home at least sometimes, almost two out of three companies have no formal policies around work flexibility. Discuss ahead of time with managers how much you should be able to do from home during a snow day. Keep up with emails? Teleconference, Skype or FaceTime meetings? Produce and share documents, designs and other data? Be as clear as possible about these expectations.

9. Arrange for your pay

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When you work from home, you still should get paid, say human resources advisers. State laws and company policies vary, but generally speaking, an exempt employee (salaried versus hourly) performing any work during the workweek must be paid his or her full, normal salary. So an employer that closes due to rain, snow or other emergencies must pay a normal salary.

However, writes The Boston Globe, an employer that stays open can require salaried workers who are absent due to inclement weather to use vacation or personal days if they’re not working remotely.

For hourly workers, rules are different. Hourly workers need not be paid if they’re sent home and don’t work. Retailers, for example, need staff to ring up sales and stock shelves, which are not jobs they can do from home.

However, if you are an hourly employee and can work from home on a snow day or other emergency, make sure your company has a system in place to record or recognize your hours and pay you for them.

10. Schedule activities

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Make a list of activities ahead of time kids and adults can do while they’re home due to a snowstorm. That doesn’t mean video games or snow forts all day. Prepare snacks the night before. Are there homework projects needing completion? Closets that need cleaning out? A snow day is a good day to tackle projects that keep other family members busy while you work — at least some of the time.

How do you handle a snow day? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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