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What a Snow Day Can Teach You About Your Organization

Andrew Koturanov/

Here in Washington, we woke up to a thick blanket of snow from the largest snowstorm of an already active winter season.  The federal government, schools and stores have closed. It got me thinking about what a snow day can tell you about your office, agency or company. It’s a good test that reveals a lot about how you are organized, your technology and your culture.

At my company, we regularly work across multiple client sites, at home, in our D.C. office and in multiple states—snow or no snow. Flexibility is one of our core values. So when a snow day hits, we just keep going. It’s not that different than any other day working from home except for the parents of young children whose schools are closed.

For federal agencies, the situation is more of a mixed bag. We’ve seen impressive new initiatives like those at the General Services Administration that enable employees to work almost anywhere and at any time. They are breaking down the traditional structures to create more flexibility and lower costs. They can also take on a snow day without missing a beat. GSA is showing that adjusting your organization to increase flexibility has a lot of benefits. It can speed decision-making, improve productivity and creativity, and help improve your culture.

Other agencies have more traditional arrangements, and a snow day results in a serious loss of productivity. This is a perfect time to think about how to move your organization toward increased flexibility and productivity. Here are three key questions:

Are we organized to maximize employee productivity and empowerment? Many organizations still hold on to complicated hierarchies that slow decision-making and make front-line employees feel like they don’t own their work. Think about how many reviews it took to get the last initiative you undertook signed off on? How many people reviewed the last deliverable you put out and how much value did each review add? If everything you do requires endless reviews and meetings about reviews, chances are you aren’t structured well and need to find a way to streamline decision-making. Employees who can’t move forward without multiple approvals and meetings aren’t going to be all that productive at home.

Do our people have the technology they need to stay productive? This question is pretty obvious. If people don’t have laptops, mobile devices, etc., they won’t be able to work away from the office. Are you using cumbersome and outdated VPNs and barriers to accessing files that could be streamlined without compromising security? Giving more flexibility to your employees has a lot of benefits in improving creativity and productivity. GSA didn’t move to a more mobile and flexible workforce just to stay productive on snow days.

Do we have the right culture? How productive people stay on a snow day can also tell you a lot about your organizational culture. Do people take any chance to goof off out from under the gaze of their boss? How great can their work be at the office if that’s the situation? You want people who are committed to your mission and are finding anyway they can to further it.

What else are you learning about your organization today?

(Image via Andrew Koturanov/

Alan Pentz is the CEO of Corner Alliance, a Washington-based consulting firm that focuses on helping government leaders manage innovation. He is a former Capitol Hill staffer and holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. Contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at @apentz

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