I'm finally starting to wrap my head around the 100/500/1000 Year Flood (depending on who you talk to) that hit my town of Boulder, Colorado a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I'm just slow, but during the actual event, and in the immediate aftermath, I felt there was little time to reflect because every second was spent on reacting. Or, if I'm really honest, the quiet moments were spent sitting in shock and confusion. It was a surprising, challenging, and surreal event. However, as with any tough experience, there are silver linings. Many, in fact, but the two I'm going to focus on are in relation to work, and to the company that I started and consider my fourth child (after my first two human children and our family dog). The two big silver linings of the Boulder Flood in relation to my professional life are (1) How thankful I am that FlexJobs is a virtual company and (2) Virtual really isn't always so virtual.
Here's some background: I started FlexJobs out of my home office and I built it in that model -- our whole team works from home offices around the country, from Florida to Connecticut, Oregon to Texas, and numerous states in between. While we have a bunch of Coloradans, I'm the only located one in Boulder. A couple of Wednesday nights ago, I was awoken in the middle of the night by torrential rain and a thundering roar of a sudden, crushing river behind our house. Since we typically have just a tiny, dry creek bed (and "creek" is ambitious), it was pretty terrifying. Without hardly any light, it was nearly impossible to see how close the raging river was getting to our house, and worse, what was coming at us from upstream.
By 4:00 AM, firemen and emergency workers were going door-to-door in my neighborhood to make sure people were accounted for. Since the roads were impassable, they wanted to make sure that anyone who needed help could get it. Ironically, the husband of one of my FlexJobs colleagues is a fireman, and they live about an hour away. I found out the next day that HE was one those on my road that night knocking on doors, heroically braving the torrential downpours, flooding, mud slides, and debris! I couldn't believe the coincidence. So even with a virtual company, during an intense time of need, a connection with a colleague was present.
Thankfully, when the storms subsided, my house and family were safe. Unfortunately, we were on "lockdown" and unable to leave our home for four days. During that time, we had very limited cell/internet, and I was only able to communicate with the FlexJobs team minimally. While I felt frustrated by my lack of access, obviously there were more important things to do and focus on -- such as assessing our food and water situations, keeping two young children occupied and not freaked out, and then packing all of our valuables and some clothes for the evacuation which eventually came.
Once I was confident that my family, friends and neighbors were all safe, my thoughts turned to my company. I realized what a big benefit it was to my company that we weren't ALL impacted by this natural disaster. I was the only one, and my unplanned for 4-day "absence" didn't slow down our overall productivity at all. In fact, after we were evacuated and I had phone access again, I was able to join a team call. It was the best thing! My team had all of these amazing developments and accomplishments to share with me, all while I'd been incommunicado! Not only can I say it made my day feel much more optimistic and normal, but from a business perspective, it highlighted yet another significant benefit of telecommuting.
Telecommuting allows me to hire the best people for my team regardless of their location. This in turn gives our company a "disseminated workforce." Had we all been in location, there's a good chance that all of us would have been out of commission for multiple days, and our office could have been damaged or inaccessible for even longer. Instead, only I was the one out of commission, and everyone else was cruising along at 100 percent.
Thankfully, our company came through unscathed.
Telecommuting offers benefits in many other ways when it comes to natural disasters, such as allowing people to work from home if they are unable to make it into the office. Recently, McGraw Hill Financial revealed that Hurricane Sandy was a "change experience" for their company's telecommuting policy. Since their headquarters were on 55 Water Street in New York City, all of their employees had to telecommute for quite some time. They realized that productivity actually increased, and it has led them to more thoroughly embrace telecommuting options for current employees and to incorporate telecommuting into new roles. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar stories from Sandy and other natural disasters.
I thought that I knew all of the benefits of telecommuting before this experience. After all, I run a job site dedicated to finding telecommuting and other flexible jobs. My team telecommutes, I telecommute, and I pay close attention to trends and information in this area. But one of the silver linings of Boulder's 100/500/1000 Year Flood was that it opened my eyes to one more.
That, and my colleague's husband got a little chuckle seeing my husband in his skivvies.
Follow Sara Sutton Fell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/flexjobs