After Hurricane Irma hit Florida–and one of his Florida-based remote employees was forced to evacuate with his family–Anil Dash, CEO of the software company Fog Creek, called the employee and told him to do whatever he needed to do to be safe. Dash also realized that as climate change makes hurricanes and other disasters more destructive, it was a situation his employees would likely face again.
Fog Creek now offers “climate leave”: up to five days of leave for extreme weather each year, or longer in the case of an extended, officially declared state of emergency.
During Irma, Dash heard about people at other companies who were worried about evacuating because they didn’t want to lose their jobs. “For our team, hopefully that’s never a concern,” he says. “But then I said, you know, I don’t blame people for wondering, because if it’s not in writing, it can change at any time. You want to be able to trust as an employee. For me, I think one of my main jobs sitting in the CEO seat is to say, let’s have a place where you don’t have to guess about the terms of your employment, about whether the company has your back when you’re in the worst stress you can be in.”
The small software company, which was founded in 2000 in New York City, has close experience with a disaster. Though most employees now work remotely, in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit Manhattan, many members of the team had to evacuate. The building that housed the company’s data center was flooded, and employees had to carry generator fuel up 18 stories to keep systems running for its customers.
At that time, the company also told employees to take the time they needed to deal with the aftermath of the storm. But now that practice is codified. The amount of time off mirrors the five days that the company offers for sick leave. “As with everything we do, we trust people to make good choices, make a good call on this stuff, and a week is plenty of time for people to deal with most ‘ordinary’ extreme weather,” says Dash.
The company is also trying to prepare for climate change in other ways, including researching renewable energy and looking at data center efficiency. Because employees telecommute (and those who live in New York City can take public transportation) in a typical week, no one commutes by car.
A remote workforce also makes the company more resilient: In the case of a wildfire or flood or other disasters in one location, employees elsewhere can still keep working. In New York, the company recently moved into the same building that housed the data center and flooded in Sandy–but because of the storm, the building was rebuilt to become much more resilient.
Since Fog Creek announced the new program, Dash says that other companies have reached out to ask about creating something similar. He plans to watch what they do, and to also tweak Fog Creek’s program as it’s tested in future disasters.
After reading the recent government report on the risks of climate change, he says, he also realizes that climate-related disasters are even more likely than he originally thought.
“[It’s] more dramatic than even those of us who accept the scientific consensus I think were paying attention to,” Dash says. “You say okay, well, you can’t have a ‘storm of the century’ every three years. The math doesn’t work out. So if we say this is what it’s going to be like, then you build your business practices a lot differently.”