Business continuity and house insurance have lots in common
Business continuity is a bit like house insurance – it’s something you hope you never use but a bill you’re happy to pay to guard against your life quite literally going up in smoke. Most big companies have teams whose job it is to make sure that their business keeps going regardless of what disaster might strike. They work out strategies, employ business continuity specialists and practice recovering from a disaster at least twice each year. Just like home insurance it’s a huge industry.
Remote work adds resilience at no extra cost
One of the little noticed real plusses from the huge rise in remote working has been the added reliance that comes with it…. for free!
Increased employee productivity and satisfaction arising from remote work have been well documented. Most employees say they are much happier working remotely as long as there is also the opportunity to meet their work colleagues face-to-face.
Companies themselves see huge savings in office rentals, particularly in cities, where rents are so high that there is a strong incentive to shed as much space as they can. Renting or owning an office also comes with a whole lot of hassle with the need to maintain, clean, insure as well as attend to employee health and safety.
Remote working for business continuity trial
It could hardly be described as a planned trial but the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that for office-based work, business continuity could be achieved simply by telling staff to take their laptops home and work from there. Some companies needed to carry out emergency upgrades to telephony and their remote infrastructure and given the rush in which all of this happened, it was achieved with surprisingly little disruption. Before this, while remote work was a small aspect of contingency plans, few companies had given serious consideration to the sole use of remote working for business continuity, preferring to employ specialist companies to provide back-up offices on warm standby in case of disaster.
Business continuity strategies need to be redrawn
This isn’t good news for organisations who inhabit the business continuity sphere. Remote working is likely to sound the death knell for specialist companies providing warm standby facilities in empty offices on industrial parks generally in the middle of nowhere. These offices sit empty, waiting for a disaster like an office flood, fire, gas explosion, terror attack or earthquake to occur. Other than when they’re occasionally inhabited by the business continuity team carrying out resilience testing, tumbleweed blows through these shells of offices. With sufficient thought and some added resilience for remote workers these facilities can be largely dispensed with.
To achieve resilience in this new world, companies should be looking to:
1. Put their IT in the cloud
In most cases after an initial outlay to move applications this should result in year on year savings, with the added bonus of outsourcing a lot of hassle. It also negates the need to engage a separate supplier for Disaster Recovery. You can specify what Disaster Recovery set up you want and in case of a catastrophic failure, most cloud providers should be able to switch to an alternative data centre virtually seamlessly and instantly.
2. Redraw business continuity plans around remote work
Do you have the infrastructure and organisation to be able to send your workforce home to work if their office was turned into a smouldering wreck? If not you need to fix this.
3. Ensure everything is backed up
This means making sure that employees are not saving important documents locally. Ideally provide all remote employees with laptops that prevent or limit what can be stored locally. Everything should be stored centrally, either on your servers or in cloud-based storage.
4. Address network and power resilience
If employees are accessing your own data centre then make sure there are contingencies if the communication network, VPN (if you’re using one) or power was to fail. Many of these issues go away if your computing is in the cloud but make sure you check that your cloud service provider has adequately addressed these concerns.
5. Run a remote work security audit
Try to eliminate security weaknesses from your remote working infrastructure and procedures. More often than not it’s employees who cause breaches of security rules by giving away credentials to phishing or social engineering attacks or by inadvertently downloading Trojans, rather than some clever IT hack.
6. Ensure that processes work for office and remote work in an efficient way
Too many companies during the COVID-19 pandemic carried on using processes designed for office work, despite most of their workforce working remotely. Don’t even consider a business continuity strategy that sends all of your employees home to work in a disorganised mess. This is a very poor and inefficient way to work, not to mention demoralising and stressful for staff.
7. Use the right remote work tools
These include Video Conferencing, Meeting, Messaging, Task Management and Knowledge Base tools as well Employee Monitoring as if you feel these are required. Without the right tools you’ll work a lot less efficiently and make life a lot harder for your remote employees.
8. Devise an employee engagement policy that supports employees and managers
Sending people home may be a solution to business resilience but is pretty useless if you start losing employees as a result. You have to try a bit harder to look after staff. In particular make use of an employee engagement tool to ensure that managers are looking after staff and to get early warning of dissatisfaction.
9. Go truly remote
The more mature remote businesses no longer worry about an employee’s location. Clearly if all of your employees live within 5 minutes walk of your office and torrential rain floods the office, then it’s probably going to flood their homes too. The more distributed the workforce, the more secure and resilient a business becomes.
One of the often unnoticed advantages of remote work is that it adds resilience and in the process further reduces business costs. A company with cloud computing and remote workers is highly disaster resilient whatever the scenario. The use of remote working for business continuity is a very valid approach to keeping your business going after a disaster.
Gren Gale is a consultant and author specialising in remote work and project management.