The snow was falling briskly, and the television continued to announce traffic snarls, accidents, and a growing list of school and business closings. Anticipating the coming winter storm, my company’s HR Department had sent a broadcast email the day before to remind employees about the company’s emergency weather hotline number.

Would I get an unexpected day off of work? I dialed the number at 5:30 a.m. to check. The recorded message stated that the company was open for business as usual. But it gave no reference to today’s date (as in, “Today is Friday, Dec. 1 and this is the latest update.”) It sounded like the generic message that probably played every other day of the year.

I continued to get ready, and just before leaving the house (earlier than usual in anticipation of a long commute), I checked the message once again. Same message; same feeling of uncertainty about whether the business would be closed when I arrived.

With so many businesses and schools being closed, the roads were less traveled, and I actually arrived at work earlier than usual. The parking lot was mostly empty, and the lights were off in the main lobby and Security Desk. I drove to a side entrance where I could use my ID badge to enter, and was relieved to see a smattering of other employees already at work.

Coworkers grumbled about the drive into work, and wondered why we were open, when so many other companies were closed. Some shared my opinion that the hotline message should have clearly indicated that it was current. I spoke with a colleague in HR, who agreed, and changed the messsage.

While it made me feel good that my opinion as the communications expert was heard, I also know that a coworker had spoken to the same HR person hours earlier, with the same suggestion. When I told the coworker that I had spoken with HR and the message would be changed, his reaction was two-fold:

* It was too late, because most employees would have either fought their way into the office or turned back by then.
* It was frustrating that the common-sense opinion of a “common employee” didn’t seem to matter.

This storm, too, shall pass. With employee engagement getting a lot of attention within corporations, this kind of situation bears watching, however. One other suggestion that the company did act on was to buy lunch for everyone who made it into work. Also, most employees left early, while it was still light, after spending much of the day distracted by weather-related discussions.

All-in-all, questions as to the benefits of staying open when many other companies either delayed opening, or decided not to open at all that day.