When bad weather arrives it causes great disruption. Juggling work and family commitments becomes even harder when the kids can’t get to school, or the roads are closed and the normal office commute isn’t possible. Even if you aren’t affected your customers might be, causing a knock-on effect.

Taking the bad UK weather in May 2013 as an example, the Federation of Small Businesses estimated the cost to SMEs was £174 million with loss of demand and unplanned closures causing the biggest impacts.

There’s no suggestion that personal safety should be compromised to keep businesses running, however careful planning, and the use of cloud services, can allow companies to carry on working when the weather deteriorates.

Clear skies with full clouds

Some business owners instinctively take a sharp intake of breath when the ‘cloud’ is mentioned. Fears over security, access and control can lead to the conclusion that internet-based services are not safe. However this isn’t the case. Used correctly, cloud options enhance business operations; making it practical, and easy, for employees to work from any location.

Even organisations that don’t require multiple sites or flexible working conditions should still look at cloud options, to improve office efficiency and provide a safety net for when colleagues can’t make it in.

Keeping in touch

When working from home, email is the most common way of keeping in touch with colleagues and with customers. As a multi-purpose tool it keeps conversations flowing, generates sales and is key for issue-resolution.

When the weather creates chaos, having a cloud-based email service means colleagues can still communicate with each other and resolve customer issues. Even better, if customers can access their emails from home, sales can still be generated.

Moving beyond emails, there are business-led instant messaging and unified communications services. As expected Google and Microsoft are at the forefront of this movement, providing easy ways to instant message colleagues or hold web meetings.

Being able to see which colleagues are available and create ad-hoc virtual meetings is invaluable when people are split over different locations, some at home, others in the office. Especially when this physical separation was unexpected.

Changing appointments

Bad weather can happen unexpectedly. Part of the business chaos this causes is appointments and meetings being cancelled and rescheduled, especially if no-one is in the office to co-ordinate changes and keep everyone updated.

Advanced email platforms, such as Microsoft Exchange, include calendar syncing as part of their service. When a meeting has to be cancelled everyone gets notified immediately, and can work together to find a new time. Or, as previously mentioned, web conferencing tools can be used instead.

Working with documents

The biggest barrier for unexpected home working can be accessing work documents. There’s no simple way of accessing files on a computer hard drive, when that computer is in a different location.

Storing documents on a network file server is a step in the right direction. Assuming employees have been given the access details for home use, which normally involves some kind of VPN set-up and IT support.

With a little forward-planning, organisations can deliver a complete cloud storage solution which is integrated into normal work life and automatically available for people when stuck away from the office.

Security and unauthorised file access is a big concern for cloud storage, so choosing one designed for business use is essential. With a business cloud service the IT department still controls who accesses files, and can revoke permission at any time.

The alternative is that employees will use their own consumer cloud services (Google Drive, DropBox, iCloud, the list is endless) with no way for the organisation to control what happens to documents.

With the right set up, employees are encouraged to use the cloud service for saving documents at all times, which means if they suddenly find themselves stuck in a snow drift, all they need is a web browser (or syncing software) to access their files and carry on working.

Keeping a clear outlook

The cloud means you can keep communicating and working efficiently in unexpected situations. Without it the weather, or other disruptions, will undermine business operations. Bad weather will interrupt normal operations and every company needs to develop a plan to cope.

Integrating cloud services now means you’re prepared for dark skies ahead.