I’m writing this as I wait for multiple contractors and insurance adjusters to come to my house. It will take awhile for my family to get back to normal after the nastiness that was Hurricane Irma. While we have a lot of struggles ahead, we are very fortunate to have a house we can live in and a business that, although impacted, has weathered the storm. Here are some tips and tricks we learned so far that have helped us keep moving forward.
Obviously, not all natural disasters give you the opportunity to prepare. But if they do, these steps can help minimize frustration for your customers and minimize lost revenue.
Set an away message on your email and phone
As soon as you are concerned you could be impacted by the storm, change your away messages to indicate you are preparing for the threat. No need to be dramatic, just say you’re getting ready. And if possible, give them another point of contact in case they have an urgent need. Here was my first away message when we thought Irma might hit us.
Hurricane Irma: Greetings! I'm here but probably counting batteries, filling up water jugs or hammering plywood over windows. So it could be longer than usual for me to get back to you. If you have an urgent need, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. All the best!
Reach out to all upcoming commitments
As fate would have it, we were scheduled to have our first Biz Dev Camp in Miami the week after Irma would hit. Hurricanes are unpredictable, so it was hard to say if the event would or wouldn’t happen. The key was being open, honest and transparent. Here was the first message we sent to let attendees know we were keeping tabs on the storm:
Keeping an eye on Hurricane Irma: Hi everyone, Just a quick note to let you know we're keeping an eye on Hurricane Irma and will let you know if there is anything to be concerned about. It's scheduled to be off the coast of South Florida this Sunday, but it's way too early to tell with any accuracy. Stay tuned!
It’s critical to let any clients know if deadlines may be impacted. And if you aren't sure, check to make sure your contract has a “force majeure” clause. This basically states that you aren’t responsible for contractual commitments if there is a “greater force” that prevents you from meeting the responsibility. That superior force could be an act of nature or another catastrophe that by definition is beyond your control. Here is a sample clause, but be sure and consult with your lawyer for what will work best for you:
A party shall not be liable for any failure of or delay in the performance of this agreement for the period that such failure or delay is:
• beyond the reasonable control of a party,
• materially affects the performance of any of its obligations under this agreement, and
• could not reasonably have been foreseen or provided against, but
will not be excused for failure or delay resulting from only general economic conditions or other general market effects.
While there are big commitments, you’ll also have smaller ones on your calendar. Reach out and let them know you’re switching your availability to maybe. If you can keep the meeting then great, but if not they will understand.
Set up a good communication channel to keep everyone updated
If all hell does break loose, you’ll want the ability to share what’s going on in an easy manner. We used a bcc: email list and Slack. Whatever you choose, plan on sending messages from your phone since you may not have power or wifi access. USB batteries will keep your phone operational long after your laptop takes a nap.
Let employees know what to expect
Before letting everyone go home to prepare, have a meeting to discuss and share the policies that are being put into place. If you work on a distributed team, some employees may live outside of the impacted area. So will the office close for everyone? If so, when will the office reopen? How often are employees expected to check in? What if some people take significant damage and others are relatively unaffected? Addressing these issues ahead of time will build confidence and avoid awkward conversations after the disaster.
Pro tip: When deciding when to reopen, take a cue from your local government. It can be tough for people to come back to work when their kids are home from school.
Upload all important documents to the cloud
That is the first time I’ve ever typed “to the cloud” and I feel ridiculous saying it. But in this case, it’s important. Many of us keep documents on our computers, and sometimes we only have paper copies. Put everything in Dropbox, or Google Drive or one of the other bajillion services. Backup your computer to a cloud-based service. Scan or take photos of any important papers. You really don’t know what could happen, and you probably should have digital backups anyway.
Come to grips with a changing reality
When it started looking like we were going to get smacked, I knew things would be different after the storm. Letting go of my current reality would be key to keeping a good outlook on what came next. I started joking that I was planning for the shittiest vacation ever. I’ve been through this kind of disruption before, once going without power for 23 days. Let go of normal. It might not be back for a long time.
As Soon As You Know
If you are lucky
If you know the natural disaster will miss you, change your away message to say that you’re playing catchup from preparing for the storm, but should be back to a normal response time in a few days. Send this message out on your communication channels and to any commitments you had as well. You’re still going to need some time to catch your breath, so don’t rush back into things. Nobody expects you to be back today and you’ll end up making mistakes if you try.
If you will be impacted
If you’re going to get hit, change your away message and notify your communication channels that you’ll be without power and internet for a few days minimum. You’ll let them know how things are after the storm. You may think you can stay in touch on your phone, but in Miami, after Irma, a friend had to drive an hour outside of town to get a cell signal. So you just don’t know. Plus, there is a good chance you won’t have time with all the new responsibilities that arrive.
After The Storm
If things aren’t that bad
Often people end up with some minor damage but nothing to call a disaster as much as an inconvenience. Change your away message to say that you’re cleaning up from the storm, but should be back to work soon. Let everyone else know as well. And take your time. This was stressful and your city isn’t fully recovered. Plus, you’re going to want to check in on your neighbors who may have suffered severe damage. They may need your help.
If your life is Disrupted
Often, after a disaster, we struggle with what to do. This is normal. You’ve been through a traumatic event. Try not to compare your situation with the situation of others. There are many who are worse off and many who are better off. But you have to handle your situation.
Clear your head
Most of your old concerns like a difficult client, closing a deal, or finishing that blog post will disappear into the background as you stare at what the storm left in its wake. Your priorities are shifting and that’s why you contacted everybody before things got crazy. Forget about what was important. Right now you need to give yourself some space to adjust to the new tasks at hand. For me, I fired up the grill, boiled some water and made a pot of coffee. Then I sat down and looked at the 10-ton live oak that smashed my car and hit my house. It took a while, but I forced myself to be happy it didn’t crush the house. Instead of doing anything, I sat there thinking about what needed to get done. I gave myself permission to go slowly. I put together a list and prioritized it. As an owner, there were two work-related items on the list that were on my mind, and that’s ok. There is no separation of work and life in these moments. Do what needs to happen so you can see progress both in recovery and your mental burden.
Also be sure and give everyone else the space they need. Your family and your neighbors are just as stressed.
It will be different for everyone, but there are a lot of new things to do. It won’t go fast, so celebrate when something gets completed. And take the time to make sure things are done correctly. For me, social media was a nice place to share what was going on and have friends and family make suggestions on companies to call and things to be wary of. You’re going to be hiring a lot of people you’ve never met before and they’re going to ask to be paid in cash. Go slow and do your due diligence. Verify someone really is licensed and insured. After they screw something up or leave in the middle of the job, it’s too late.
There will be a lot of waiting. I strongly encourage you not to do any real work during this time. Your mind isn’t ready, it’s still wondering where the insurance adjuster is. Instead, reach out to individuals you work with and see how they are. Hearing from others will make you feel better. Many people will offer to help you with your job. If they can then let them. It will be good for you now and when you return. And they will feel good that they were able to help.
Your family and friends need to know you're ok. Take some of the downtime to reconnect. Being storm veterans, my wife and kids went out and got some games for us to play when the power went out. Friends who weren't impacted came by and took me out to dinner. I can't begin to express how much spending quality time with the people I loved kept me centered.
At some point during the week after the disaster, you’ll start thinking about work more than repairs. Don’t dive back in, but review your list of priorities and see what changes you need to make. If work is dominating the top of the list, and you have power and internet, consider re-entry the next day.
Reconnecting with your job
A new beginning
Listen very carefully…you won’t catch up. Remember how I said to treat the time away from work as the worst vacation ever? Unlike a vacation, people know you haven’t been sipping mimosas with your toes in the sand. So take your to-do list, and your inbox and whatever other system puts responsibilities in front of you, and file them away where you can’t see them but can get them later if you choose. Today is about a fresh, and reasonable, start. It is not about catching up. Don’t approach day one as being behind, approach it as starting over.
Reach out on your communication channels and let everyone know you’re back in action. Let them know you’re re-prioritizing and ask them to reach out if anything is urgent. Often you’ll find important things found a way to get done without you. And other important things have shown up. The point being, the world didn’t wait for you. And that’s a good thing.
Bridging the gap
Depending on how long you were out, you could find yourself in a cash flow crunch. There are a lot of programs that are setup to help with this. Small business emergency loans and mortgage relief programs can ease the burden. Also, a lot of people will be asking how they can help. Personally, I’d say you’re open and if they have any leads that getting you back to work is the best support they can offer. It’s not a loan you have to pay back and it gets the team rocking.
Being ok with the rollercoaster
It will be months or longer before things are back to normal. Or at least until the new normal takes shape. Work won’t be like it was, and home won’t be like it was. The sooner you accept this, the better you’ll feel.
There will be a lot of ups and downs in the weeks ahead, and the best thing you can do is be open about it. Don’t make excuses, but do be transparent with co-workers and clients. They may forget that you’re still dealing with the fallout. And share the good with the bad, no need to be a Debbie Downer.
Most importantly, make sure to take care of yourself. Don’t sacrifice your personal time. If you love movies, watch a movie. If you’re a runner, go for a run. Heck, play with your dog. Now more than ever you need the mental health benefits that those activities provide.
As for me, things are moving forward. We have a good picture of what the next few months hold and a plan to get back to normal. The Bureau Community has been amazingly supportive and the team I’m privileged to work with has picked up my slack. Oh, and I have all the firewood anyone could ever want. Like ever.