Consumer devices and applications – like smartphones, tablets and Skype – helped a lot of people get back to work remotely after the storm on the east coast, but in some cases corporate security policies or human error ultimately got in the way.
At Text 100, a PR firm, New York City workers were told on the Friday before the storm that the office would be shut down on Monday because of Sandy, and to make sure to bring home laptops and other gear for working remotely.
“Not everybody did,” said Rowan Benecke, regional director of North America for Text 100. The company’s office, on Park Avenue near E. 25th St., was out of power and not accessible last week. “The people who didn’t take laptops and VPN gear are reduced to using webmail, so they can’t get access to file servers and databases behind the firewall.”
Webmail at least let those workers do email from any device they had access to, like tablets, home computers, or phones. But the corporate firewall kept them from getting at documents.
That has kept Benecke busy logging onto the server to send documents to those workers who can’t access them.
There are also people who just aren’t used to working remotely and they’ve needed some help getting up to speed, he said.
Benecke also been trying to help out his boss, who lives in Greenwich, Conn. and has been out of power since the storm. “She’s been running out to her car to charge up her phone. She’s trying to manage business from her car basically, parked in her driveway,” Benecke said.
Work has gone much more smoothly for others in his office though. “My biggest impression has been how similar it’s been to telecommuting. For those people who had laptops and power, it was business as usual,” he said. “The biggest difference is that Skype and mobiles have been much more the way of working this week than most.”
At more locked-down businesses like investment banks, where employees are typically only allowed to use sanctioned applications and devices, last week was a mixed bag. We talked to one person in the industry who said that he was able to get plenty of work done from home, since his power didn't go off and his Internet service was never interrupted.
But some investment banks haven’t invested in redundant systems and at least one was at a standstill since the storm because its offices are without power and it doesn’t have a backup trading floor, according to this person, who was not authorized to talk to the press on the record.
Mary Kay Judy, who does architectural and cultural heritage conservation, lives in Brooklyn and has had power throughout but some trouble with phone services. She got lucky and spent the week before the storm working in the field which meant the following week, when the storm hit, she was planning to do a lot of paperwork. She was able to do that easily from her computer at home once the storm hit.
There are other factors, though, that have probably kept productivity low, even for people in the best of circumstances. “Everyone is trying to work but it’s hard,” Judy said. “No one is mentally in a place to focus.”