This was going to be an article about how there had been a slight slow start for the New Year for some of us – especially those boringly like me that were struggling to overcome flu – but then how things but how things had thawed and with renewed cooler focus the business ball really got rolling despite the credit crunch. And then we were completely taken over by the snow and its aftermath and that’s much more fun!
Yes, it is ridiculous that snow brings the UK to a halt. To quote Boris Johnson, in London and South East England – which unusually bore the initial brunt – we had the “the right kind of snow – just too much of it!”, but as he indicated it was an unusually large amount, statistically a once in every two decades phenomenon – as the awe on even my four teenage children’s faces was testament to, they having never seen snow like it! As soon as they realised school was no-go – they quickly changed out of their uniforms and were up and away playing in.
Anyway, I’ve been struck by the impact of the snow on our business life – particularly its psychology!
Yes, it’s cost a lot of money. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) estimated 20% of the UK’s working population, or 6.4 million people, did not make it to work and that it cost the economy at least £1.2bn and that’s a conservative estimate. Yes, there probably could have been more joined up planning by the various national authorities. Blah, blah, blah! But, we always grumble about this kind of stuff don’t we?
Personally, as a working parent, I must admit, it was nice to take some time out on Monday to enjoy the snow with my family. Come yesterday though, the novelty of my children’s company and their continued avalanche of snowy footwear in our wet hallway had definitely melted off and I found myself in ready agreement with the schools minister, Ed Balls, that with hindsight the 6000 closed schools had been unnecessary cautious at remaining shut for a second day, leaving 500,000 children in the Capital alone not at school. Today, however, I sit here in quiet bliss, the sunshine pouring through my garden office window enjoying my usual working peace and my undisturbed morning latte!
Mind you, it was surreal. The quiet white blanket of the snow created peace, an utterly different and unfamiliar landscape, plus opportunities for sheer “back to basic” enjoyment as we discovered our inner child. The global warming doomsters remained silent and joined in the fun, though the conditions were a stark reminder of the awesome power of extreme climatic conditions. Simon Jenkin writing in yesterday’s Standard summed it up succinctly: “In other words the city did something it rarely does. Forced by circumstance to stop working properly it could only look itself in the face and see that face in a new light. With mobility reduced almost to zero – how blessedly empty the streets looked – London had to go local, retreating to its component streets and neighbourhoods. It might have been celebrating a jubilee of nature, with every park given over to some midwinter ritual.”
There was a harsh lesson in disaster recover and capacity planning and the financial fall-out for individuals. 10 out of 10 to the BBC for publishing its Q&A Snow chaos and your rights on the website to help business owners and employees alike navigate their way through the inevitable issues thrown up. I’ve been struck by the emotional tone of the media coverage, particularly the charges of absenteeism levied at parents – weren’t we only simultaneously being accused of being selfish and neglecting our children!? Am I the only one to spot this irony? Also, do we really think that this will make our gleeful children who were simply enjoying their unexpected extended weekend the work slackers of the future at the first sniff of adversity!?
Top marks too for schools websites which kept parents up to date on school closures and reopening plans.
Of course, technology potentially had much of the answers for maintaining business continuity in a sensible and safe manner – by enabling more people to work at home. I guess, for a lot of us that was business as usual anyway but not for everyone. Some people showed tremendous – but often dangerous – resourcefulness in using unusual means of transportation to get to their place of work.
It is quite common for me to charge around like a mad thing on my business, meeting clients, networking etc. Too much in fact. But this week I’ve stayed put at home as did many of us. How good did that feel and actually how good to reflect properly on my business and focus on the “important”. Business priorities were quickly re-evaluated in terms of “urgency”, however we define that; with face-to-face meetings and networking opportunities rescheduled to a warmer day. I don’t think I was alone in actually reflecting for once on life and my business. We shouldn’t abandon these skills, or that sense of reality and forward foresight as the snow thaws.