In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a sort of Wild West sprang up in enterprises in New York City and surrounding areas affected by the unprecedented post-tropical cyclone. Some office were ravaged by flooding that took servers offline. Other buildings merely lost power. But despite the chaos and continuing problems, many employees managed to continue working, even while transportation snarls kept them at home.
Superstorm Sandy might very well be the biggest validation of mobile technology, cloud services and teleworking.
According to Forrester Research, a third of American employees work from home occasionally, but that number jumped considerably in New York and New Jersey following the late October storm.
Roberta Witty, a research vice president for Gartner in its compliance, risk, and leadership group, wrote in a Nov. 1 blog post, "I once wondered whether the work at home trend would result in a massive commercial (office space) real estate crash. Sandy may teach us that work location diversity is good. My guess is that ‘work from anywhere' will be seen (après Sandy) as a capability that reduced the economic impacts of the storm (as large as they still are), and helps the ‘Mean Time to Recover' for business services."
One marketing manager for a global technology firm accustomed to working across time zones maintained productivity using Dropbox, GoToMeeting, project management software Basecamp, and other cloud apps, sometimes accessing them via iPad. Enterprises with offices distributed geographically are often best equipped to absorb the impact of large disasters like Sandy, as they tend to have backup systems in place.
Another PR professional turned to SugarSync to stay connected while her office worked to restore power. And armed with Skype and her smartphone, she stayed on top of conference calls and meetings — always a priority in the client services-driven world of public relations.
Social technology also helped some smaller enterprises find ways to get back to work after the storm. The website Sandy Coworking was quickly created to help "power-less" New Yorkers plug in again. Its crowdsourced map guides users to cafes and other public places with electricity — and free Wi-Fi — where workers can charge up their phones, laptops, and tablets and get online. What's more, the map includes regular businesses and companies that are functioning as usual and are willing to "co-work" and share their space, electricity, and wireless network with displaced business owners and workers.
Indeed, Stephanie Balaouras, a Forrester Research vice president and research director serving security and risk professionals, suggests using social media as a workaround to establish and access temporary collaborations such as Google Drive, Box or even a private Facebook group in the event that a company's own enterprise platforms are down or difficult for remote workers to access. These services can be easily accessed on a range devices, she adds.
The kind of spontaneous, flexible collaboration that has kept many Sandy-hit businesses working would not have been possible been possible even a decade ago, and we only have technology to thank for that.