How to manage work in the snow and plough on through winter

05 January 2012 -


You need a snow plan for your organisation or the weather will beat you, says motoring expert Peter Rodger

Unless your organisation sells those things for which freezing conditions increase demand – such as energy, skiing equipment or thermal clothing – that is bad news for the ability of yourself and your colleagues to get in and out of the workplace.

Evidence is clear that many British motorists are simply not ready for wintry conditions. Remember the past few chillers? Workers stuck in the snow, YouTube footage of a car sliding down an ice-coated road with its passengers getting out as it did so, and a clip that showed a startling skill and preparedness divide – a brilliant bus driver driving smoothly up an icy Saltburn Bank in Teesside around two hairpin bends, passing a series of hapless car drivers struggling on the slope.

Strategy checklist

Managers need to ensure that it isn’t their employees who are the ones sliding down the slope this winter. Have you decided whether to invest in winter tyres for your own vehicle? Have you considered how your team can work efficiently from home? Great if you have started to think about these things – you need to make sure you and your immediate team keep going through the weather.

Yet the most successful managers think about their entire organisation – not just themselves and their own team. Have you thought about how your business is going to keep going through bad weather? Have you thought about whether the company fleet of cars has winter tyres to help the staff get around when it’s cold or the country is gripped by snow and ice again? Have you considered what vehicles you are using with the possibility of colder winters ahead? Do you have the same pattern of visits and timings in the winter as you do in the other seasons?

Many readers will be looking at this and thinking “I’m in the Pennines/North East/Scotland – we have bad weather every year, not like those wimps down in the soft South”. That’s true – but do you think about how best to handle it or do you just tackle it when it arises? Do you actually plan and work through what’s best? Be honest – perhaps you don’t. Short-term tactics have their place, but a good weather strategy can reduce the need for ice-fighting.

Business challenges

Driving and weather are like any other piece of the management puzzle. You need to look at what the business needs to achieve, and ask what tools, what skills and what plans it needs in place – then do something about it. Work out what vehicles your business needs, what equipment is needed to go with it (see below) and perhaps what advice or training the people who drive in the business need. And, while you may focus on the business fleet, please don’t forget employees who drive their own car, just because they are using their own equipment.

And remember that winter is about more than headline-making snowfall. Deep cold, heavy rain, enduring darkness, stiff winds and thick fog can all present business challenges. The thought processes are the same – apply the methods you would use in risk planning in other areas. It’s amazing how different driving becomes when you think about it as part of business-process, rather than as something you do privately. It’s also amazing how much of so many businesses are dependent on people being able to get around. So plan around events that threaten to stop you. It snows in the UK every winter, slowing things down. But to survive, most businesses need to keep moving.

Peter’s top gear

Winter tyres Great for the winter, oddly! They make a difference when the temperature gets below 7°C. Made of different materials to regular tyres, they behave better in the cold (not just ice and snow). They don’t do as well in the summer, when it’s warmer – but then there’s no such thing as a perfect compromise.

Snow chains Great for getting you through deep snow, giving you grip when rubber simply isn’t tough enough to cut into the white stuff. You have to take them off when you reach clear road though. They are a pain to put on and off – and your hands are always less effective when they are cold.

Snow socks The little brother of the snow chain… another way of getting a grip on the white stuff, be it soft or hard. Driving on them on a clear road won’t do them a ton of good, but is less dramatic than chains clunking along.

Peter Rodger is chief examiner of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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