Hurricane Sandy may have caused numerous employers to quickly realize the benefits of “working from anywhere” for their employees. Time Magazine estimates that Sandy will result in losses of $60 billion dollars. Without millions of employees being able to perform at least some of their jobs from home or other locations, the cost of Sandy would be much greater. Especially in New York where over 250,000 people in Manhattan alone were without electricity for at least one week and downtown offices were closed for number of days, very recent technology allowed business as “almost” usual.
Many employers already have telecommuting programs allowing their employees to work remotely anywhere from full time to a few days a week or a month. So they already have systems set up so that employees can access their work files remotely, allowing workers to dig right in after a disaster. Almost all professional workers now have laptops and/or tablets, so they can do their jobs from anywhere they can get an Internet connection and have at least enough battery power to get them through their work day. They have secure access to their employer’s data through VPN’s (virtual private networks) and likely the data that workers need to access is stored in the cloud (using remote Internet servers to store data) so if their data center in Manhattan was down, another server elsewhere would pick up the slack. New Yorkers ingenuity had people working from friends’ couches, or at tables inside WiFi-touting coffee and fast food shops. One group found an Irish pub in Manhattan with a 4G WiFi hotspot and telecommuted from the backroom of the pub. (Hopefully, they did not turn in their bar bill for reimbursement).
A recent article from the Huffington Post says “work from anywhere” mentality is, for now, the new normal in NYC. It may also, if a certain set of forward-thinkers are correct, be the new normal in the near future: Employees have embraced telecommuting, just as employers have learned to accept remote workers so long as they stay connected and productive. No need to put in face time if you’ve got FaceTime, you might say. . . Unconventional though some of these locations may have seemed as offices, [an employee] succinctly summed up the reason for their viability “If you have stuff to do and you have to get it done,” you can do it anywhere.”
The virtual workplace presents a myriad of employment law issues which we will address with frequent updates. With Sandy alone, wage and hour issues abounded as noted in a recent Seyfarth Management Alert. For example, working from home or another remote location counts as work, for exempt and non-exempt employees alike.