Suburban businesses respond to cold with telecommuting, days off

The historical below-zero temperatures Monday sent business owners and executives into high gear as they decided the best strategy on whether to remain open yet ensure the safety of its workers.

Heavy snowfalls often provide a clear choice, but the frigid temperatures resulted in more difficult decisions that sparked meetings among some executives to develop a game plan for the day.

Zurich North America, a global insurance company in Schaumburg, closed Monday. Executive Mary Gardner was at the helm of the corporate crisis management team and led 4 a.m. conference calls making sure thousands of employees in the Midwest received notification of office closings and early dismissals, said spokeswoman Jennifer Nowacki. She added that the company's mantra is “Prepared. Informed. Resilient.”

“With historic cold temperatures in our subzero city today, Mary and her team are working to make sure employees are safe by closing Zurich's offices in the Midwest,” Nowacki said.

The Schaumburg Business Association closed Monday but plans to reopen Tuesday. The business group also canceled its legislative forum meeting with the superintendents of school districts 211 and 54 Monday, said SBA Director Kaili Harding.

The weather also forced Abt Electronics in Glenview to cancel about 700 deliveries on 120 trucks Monday, said company spokesman David Viggiano.

“This is the first time in ABT's 78 year history that an entire day of deliveries will be canceled due to cold weather,” Viggiano said. Abt canceled delivery only four times in the past, but those were all due to snow, Viggiano said.

The NPD Group, a research and consulting firm in Rosemont, closed its offices Monday and employees were asked to work from home, said company spokeswoman Kim McLynn.

“We've been able to carry on meetings by conference calls and Webex,” McLynn said. “I have noticed a lot of out of office notices from other companies in the area.” While the company's headquarters is in Port Washington, N.Y., its Rosemont office has 125 local employees, she said.

“Because we're a satellite office and often hold virtual meetings, we're all set up to conduct business as usual,” McLynn said. “Also, the nature of our work, consumer research, doesn't require most of the employees to be physically present.”

Between 30 and 40 companies that are part of the Human Resources Management Association of Chicago said they closed Monday, beginning much of their planning on Sunday, said President and CEO M. Bernadette Patton.

The association found that one company decided to close through Tuesday at noon; four others were physically open but offered lenient exceptions for excused absences; and one organization had out-of-town customers already positioned for an early meeting Monday and staffed it with a minimal workforce.

“Most companies don't have closure policies for such a specific reason as snow or frigid temps, but nearly all have a defined process for assessing situations like those we are facing today to determine the best course of action,” Patton said. “Some companies determined their action early yesterday (Sunday) but others waited until the early evening newscasts when more information about city/regional services and transportation was available.”

AT&T, which has its Midwest headquarters in Hoffman Estates, said many stores remained open on Monday with regular hours. However, some were closed or hours were shortened due to the weather conditions, said AT&T spokeswoman Mollie West.

Spring Hill Mall was open for most of the day, but managers decided to close the West Dundee center by 6 p.m. However, Macy's, Kohl's, Carson's and Sears remained open.

Deerfield-based Walgreen Co. said its offices and stores were all open Monday, although employees whose positions allow them to telecommute had that option, said spokesman Jim W. Graham.

“However, anticipating the challenges that today's weather would bring, we reminded our employees of safety measures for commuting to work and for protecting themselves from extreme cold,” Graham said.

Schaumburg-based Motorola Solutions remained open as well, but encouraged its employees to use their discretion. If working from home was an option, the company recommended it, said spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch.

“The weather conditions have not had an impact on our operations,” Ebenhoch said.

Nokia Solutions and Networks in Arlington Heights also remained open Monday, said company spokeswoman Carol DeMatteo.

“We have advised employees to be alert to weather conditions, plan accordingly and consult with their managers for altered work schedules,” DeMatteo sad.

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