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January 4, 2011The fierce blizzard that slammed the Northeast U.S. in the last days of 2010 reminded me of the importance of a few things: hot chocolate with marshmallows, a pair of thick waterproof boots, and a strong work-at-home business culture.

Catalyst’s offices were closed for the holidays when the storm hit, but if the blizzard had struck during normal business hours we would have been prepared. Equipped with webcams, headphones, and the latest virtual meeting software, Catalyst employees can connect with one another regardless of location. Bad weather no longer means work has to stop.

And this is a good thing!

Economies lose money when harsh weather strikes. Meetings are cancelled, opportunities are missed, and clients and customers aren’t served. Last month, the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated that the UK lost £1 billion a day amid record snowstorms, while in 2009 AOL Daily Finance estimated that snowfall can cost America a staggering $48.8 billion per day in lost sales and productivity.

Losses could be minimized for businesses that value and prioritize agility over face-time. In my last blog post about working from home, I discussed just how crippling a rigid office-based organization can be. In the comments section, one reader asked, “What do you recommend for staying in touch and in tune with your colleagues from afar?” I noted the importance of communicating your availability to your team, how I play close attention to time zones and personal schedules when organizing virtual meetings, and why I appoint an “IM buddy” to take questions and comments via instant messaging during meetings.

As the snowflakes fell last week, I thought about some additional tips. Here are three more that can help ensure a W@H culture is cohesive and productive—even during the harshest storms:

- Collaboration is essential. Employees working remotely and in-office should use web-based collaboration tools to ensure that team members work in harmony. Among other features, these tools enable users to share ideas and chart progress in real time.

- Stop and review. Review new work-at-home arrangements frequently. Does all the necessary software and hardware work properly? Is the virtual environment conducive to getting the specific job done? Frequent review ensures that team members are optimized for success.

- Virtual hang-outs. Schedule “water cooler chats” with colleagues that you connect with virtually. How are you? How are the kids? Sharing non-work interests and activities builds cohesion that can go a long way in keeping your virtual team engaged.

Do you have any suggestions on cultivating a strong W@H culture? Let me know in the comments below.