08 January 2015

Is your business prepared for extreme weather?

With extreme weather events being forecast more regularly, is your business prepared. Make sure you have a plan to help you cope with severe weather conditions

It’s normal for us Brits to complain about the weather, but in the early part of 2014, many businesses were justified in their complaints, with flooding and snow problems seriously impacting their business. Make sure the same doesn’t happen to you this year, by planning ahead for bad weather.

Most small businesses aren’t prepared

According to the FSB, almost 60% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) don’t have a plan to cope with extreme weather events such as flooding. This is despite the fact that two thirds have been affected by bad weather in the past three years. In addition, 29% don’t have the right insurance in place.

The most significant problems caused by instances of bad weather are disruptions to staff and customers (46%) and to suppliers and problems with transport and utilities (32%).

How you can prepare your business

With severe weather conditions seemingly on the increase, make sure you are sufficiently prepared.

Assess the risks

Consider what activities are essential to delivering your services and assess what risks your business faces from unexpectedly bad weather. For example, what would you do if flooding caused a power outage at your office or if snow caused roads to be impassable, so your products couldn’t be delivered?

Create a business continuity plan

This plan can help you to cope for extreme weather conditions and other unexpected circumstances. This doesn’t have to be a huge document, but does need to cover some key areas, such as:

  • Key business decisions. How would you make the decision as to whether the business would close or remain open? What criteria would this be based on and who would make the decision?
  • Your staff. Generally you would expect workers to make reasonable attempts to come into work, unless you decide to close the business. But if they can’t make it in, who would they need to contact and how should they let them know? Could staff cover for their colleagues if they’re unable to make it in and would you consider flexible working times during this period to allow for travel disruptions and longer journeys? What should staff expect – would they be paid if they couldn’t make it into work? From a legal point of view, you do not generally have to pay employees who fail to come to work due to severe weather. However, you could offer to pay them on the understanding that they make up the hours or agree for them to take the time out of their annual leave. However, you can’t force them to do this. Whatever your decision, you need to be consistent with all of your staff. Simply paying everyone irrespective of whether they were present or not could cause resentment from those who managed to get to work. Plus, this makes less financial sense for your business, particularly if the disruption is likely to last for more than a day or two. Also, if weather conditions deteriorate throughout the day for example, you have a duty of care to think about the safety of your staff in being able to get home.
  • Your premises. What would you do if your workplace was affected, e.g. there was no heating, your office flooded or you couldn’t access it at all? If you rely on customers coming to your premises, how could you help to ensure they could get to you safely? Are you responsible for clearing pathways from snow for example or is this the duty of your landlord?
  • Your technology. Does all work need to take place at your premises or would employees be able to work remotely? Would it be possible for all job roles and what systems do you have in place to allow this? While cloud technology can make it easier to work remotely, you also need to consider the security of your business systems.
  • Information. How would you communicate your plans to staff, suppliers and customers and who would be responsible for this? This is where having an up to date client email list could make the difference, but also make sure you include other avenues such as voicemail, your website and social media accounts. Can you redirect your main business phone number so that calls can still be answered? It’s also worthwhile creating some general messages in advance that you can use. When a disruption occurs, you need to be able to react quickly and professionally.

​Monitor forecasts

Extreme weather conditions can often be predicted, so keep abreast of the forecasts and communicate your intentions to staff if disruption seems likely. Make sure they have all been given a copy of your plan, so they know what to expect from you and vice versa.

Assess your insurance

If you’re based at one of our locations, we look after the buildings insurance, but contents insurance is your responsibility. Do you have a policy and would it give you adequate protection? You may also want to consider business continuity insurance, which can help to cover costs incurred.  

Create advantages

Consider whether you could turn disaster into a positive for your business. Could you reward the customers who visit you during this time, offer online offers or provide discounts to customers affected by delivery problems?

Don’t forget that while bad weather is a definite possibility at this time of year, contingency planning applies to other unexpected events too.