Lorenzo Rozzi, who owns a newsstand in downtown Portland, couldn’t believe what he saw when he looked down Temple Street at 3 p.m. Thursday, during a storm that was expected to drop 6 inches of snow by the end of the workday.

Office workers were fleeing the city.

“Look at them getting out of here. They’re all abandoning us,” he said. “This is a namby-pamby society. Everybody is afraid.”

With his customer base dwindling, Rozzi closed up shop and joined the exodus.

So it appears that the “snow day,” that unexpected holiday cherished by generations of children, has become part of adults’ world, even in Maine.

While some blame the media for alarming the public with over-the-top coverage of winter storms, others say the attitude change is rooted in technology that makes it easier to stay connected to colleagues and clients while working at home.


For one thing, today’s cellphones can handle many of the same functions as computers on work desks. And over the past three to five years, new technology has enabled workers to participate in video conferences and access their companies’ password-protected networks from their home computers, said Tim Fitzgerald, director of research, development and innovation in Unum’s information technology department.

“We have a virtual private network with the same level of security as if you are in the office,” he said.

Fitzgerald, who lives in Lisbon Falls, decided to work from home on Thursday, rather than drive to the insurance company’s office in Portland. Not only was he safer, he said, but he was more productive because driving in the snow would have added 45 minutes to his evening commute.

At one point Thursday, he was on a conference call with 31 people in Unum offices around the country.

New technology lets companies maintain productivity even when workers are at home, said Mary Clarke Guenther, director of corporate communications for Unum, which is based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

On Thursday, Guenther worked from her home in Chattanooga, which got 7 inches of snow from the same storm that hit Maine.


“We are able to maintain a standard workweek even though I’m sitting in my living room and have a cat in my lap,” she said.

The company’s Chattanooga office was closed early Wednesday and its office in Columbia, S.C., which got 1 to 2 inches of snow plus freezing rain, was closed Wednesday and Thursday. The Unum office in Portland was open, although some employees were allowed to work from home.

Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook was open, although the production workers on the second shift were let out early and the third shift was canceled.

Portland City Hall closed at 3 p.m., and state offices in York, Cumberland, Kennebec and Androscoggin counties closed at noon.

L.L. Bean in Freeport kept its retail stores open while closing its non-retail operations at 2 p.m.

During dangerous weather, the company encourages employees to use their own judgment about whether to come to work, said L.L. Bean’s spokeswoman, Carolyn Beem.


Unlike Unum employees, L.L. Bean’s employees aren’t expected to work at home.

“It’s one afternoon in the middle of winter. It doesn’t happen very often,” Beem said. “Like school kids, we take a snow day.”

In fact, the outdoors retailer, which sells cold-weather clothes and recreation equipment such as skis and sleds, would take a financial hit if it didn’t snow at all.

“Snow is a good thing to celebrate,” Beem said. “If it’s going to be winter, we should have snow.”

Not every employer can let its staff work from home. For emergency workers such as police, and for road maintenance crews, a snowstorm means more work.

For a big overnight snowstorm, the Maine Turnpike Authority calls in 74 people to keep the highway plowed and sanded.


Many of the authority’s office workers could work from home, but that wouldn’t be fair to employees who must come to work, said the authority’s director, Peter Mills.

During the blizzard of February 2013, blowing snow made it almost impossible for plow crews to see the road. Mills said the storm made him ponder whether the authority should ever consider closing the highway to protect its workers. But he concluded that the highway must remain open for emergency vehicles.

“We don’t close,” he said. “You’ve got to have people out there, no matter what.”

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]


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