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Some people able to work from home in storm

Some people able to work from home in storm

Technology makes commute unnecessary during heavy snowfall
Some people able to work from home in storm
A plow clears snow Wednesday on Liberty Street in Schenectady.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

CAPITAL REGION — Wednesday’s storm was a perfect excuse to work without going to work.

Information technology is allowing many companies to let their employees work from home with limited decreases in productivity, and actual increases in some cases.

About 600 of 1,100 employees of health insurer CDPHP went to work without setting foot Wednesday in the Albany headquarters, spokeswoman Ali Skinner said. She was among them, working from home in Milton (and getting a lot done).

“You don’t have the distractions of the office,” she said. 

RELATED: 'Respectable' snowstorm hits Capital Region

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CDPHP has chat and video-conference capabilities that let teammates talk to each other as easily at home as at the office.

The work-at-home option isn’t available to employees who are in phone centers or other interactive roles with the outside world. They are an important part of the health care system and must be on site to respond to insurance policyholders and care providers. During a massive storm, CDPHP may shut down entirely, but that’s rare, Skinner said. Wednesday’s snow didn’t qualify, although the company did release employees in the midafternoon, so they could go home while there was still daylight left.

Marketing and advertising agency Fingerpaint is another company that utilizes technology to let its employees work at home when travel is hazardous, said Bill McEllen, leader of its operations in Saratoga Springs, where it’s headquartered.

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“We have what I think is a great inclement weather policy: Unless it’s snowmageddon, you can assume the office is going to be open. That said, everyone is adults. There is nothing worse than risking something bad happening, if you can do something from home.

“Our core value is people first.”

The day before heavy snow is forecast to hit, the 100 or so employees in Saratoga Springs will discuss what needs to be done, produce a plan to do it, then rely on phone, emails, internal instant texting and video chat to get it done the next day. The company’s computer servers are remotely located, and accessible from outside the office.

It wouldn’t work over the long term, McEllen said, but for a single day it’s fine.

“Advertising is a team sport, so there is a ton of collaboration that goes on, but we’re also in a highly mobile, highly tech-savvy world.”

McEllen worked in the office Wednesday, because he can walk there from home. But half of his colleagues stayed home, and others left the office to head home as the snow piled up.

Another company with a strong work-from-home policy is Overit, an Albany creative agency that employs 34 people.

“We certainly do allow it, we encourage it,” Chief Operating Officer Paul Fahey said of working from home during snowstorms.

Lacking distraction from and interaction with colleagues is both good and bad, he said. “These are great days to get tasks completed. They’re not ideal for collaboration.”

Overit uses ActiveCollab as a team- and project-management tool and Mattermost as an instant messaging tool. The two allow Overit’s 34 employees to be in close contact even if they’re not in close proximity. It’s not as much contact as when they’re working in the same office, but it’s enough that the company can rely on it during these heavy snowfalls.

Fewer than a dozen employees came in to the office Wednesday, Fahey said, mostly those who live nearby and have sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicles.

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