Business Continuity – The People Component
ORGANIZATIONS OF ALL TYPES AND SIZES HAVE HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO CONTINUE OPERATIONS BECAUSE OF THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK.
The scope and nature of the pandemic means we have to expand our thinking about how we plan for business continuity. We’ve put together our thoughts and observations on some of the prominent issues that have arisen along with ideas on actions going forward. These pertain primarily to service organizations as manufacturers confront a different array of problems when it comes to keeping production lines and supply chains open and functioning.
Remote Worker Access and Support
This topic has been addressed extensively elsewhere including here. The growth in the remote workforce has tested the resources and infrastructure to support it. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that around 4 in 10 workers in the U.S. who could work from home did so at least part-time. It’s now estimated that by the end of March, 66% of the workforce that could work remotely, did so – fulltime! Some of the problems and solutions arising from this growth in the remote workforce include:
Secure and sufficient internet access:
- Workers using older routers might need advice on how to tether to a mobile device or to acquire a device for creating a mobile hotspot.
- Demand for VPN services to reduce security risks continues to grow but surging VPN traffic is testing the capacity of some networks and adding equipment to handle the increased demand can take time.
Remote access to the tools and support they need:
- Use of the cloud and SAAS offer avenues to safely use migrated applications and data but are there legacy apps or data that is not cloud-accessible? What mechanism is in place to use these? Is it possible to expand cloud usage? Is it feasible to substitute SAAS offerings for specific internally hosted applications?
- Users who typically rely heavily on IT support might now find they can’t readily get it. Organizations that can’t fulfill their remote users’ support needs might have to look to outside vendors for short-term help.
Employee Productivity and Training
- Some critical initiatives and customer support activities will proceed. Maintaining some baseline of worker productivity might be required by inflexible SLA commitments or other demands. Managing a remote workforce can be challenging:
- Are sufficient reporting procedures in place to track productivity? Are there plans in place to recalibrate priorities and re-direct workers to critical activities if necessary?
- Do workers have the knowledge and tools for collaboration?
- If a large segment of the workforce should sicken at the same time and rising absenteeism becomes unavoidable, are staff augmentation services available?
- If there is the need for establishing or continuing in-person worker training is it possible to move that training online? Will using an outside training vendor be required?
- If individuals with key institutional knowledge get sick, is there someone who has been cross-trained to handle their duties until they return? Are important processes documented?
- Are any of your partners/suppliers critical to your ongoing operations? If so, do you know their continuity plans so you have other options if they can no longer fulfill their commitments.
Employee Hiring and Onboarding
In general, hiring has taken a hit although some types of organizations have seen a spike in demand for their products and services and they continue to hire new workers. There are thousands of open jobs for online retailers and groceries and some job openings for professionals in such industry segments as on-line learning, remote meeting and communications, and IT infrastructure/networking also exist. Filling such positions in this environment highlights certain challenges:
- In-person interviewing has been replaced by online interviews. Online interviewing platforms vary in functionality and features. There are a number of options so select the one that best fits your needs and take the time to understand the nuances of conducting online job interviews compared to in-person interviewing.
- New employees still need to be onboarded. Firms that have not used remote onboarding before should review all of the forms and procedures to insure they can be made available remotely. Focus on communicating expectations to new hires and make sure they know whom to contact with their questions and concerns. A list of experts and their field of expertise could be a useful tool for new employees. Early online introductions of co-workers help make new employees feel part of the team.
External communications with customers and suppliers is critical – and beyond the scope of this piece (again, an internet search can provide much useful information). Communications with your remote workforce requires diligence and continuity. Here are some thoughts on creating and maintaining ongoing, two-way communication with that group.
- A communications tree of some sort can be useful in a situation such as this. It can illustrate who is to communicate with each segment of the workforce, the subject matter they’ll be responsible for, and the frequency of communicating. This will help make sure that the right message gets to the appropriate people at the right time. Identify who will serve as the main point person for each type of communications and their backup in case they get ill and cannot work.
- It’s better to over-communicate. Keep employees informed about the status of business operations, health insurance benefits available and other employee assistance programs, and new company policies resulting from the pandemic. Don’t let rumors displace facts and become distractions.
- Make sure remote workers are immediately informed of any changes in technology that affects them and any details they need to know about accessing or using the technology. This might take repeated messages.
- Consider putting together a summary of important communications and the date these messages were distributed. If a segment of the workforce becomes ill and is unable to work for some time upon their return they will need updating on the important information they missed.
- Credibility is critical and if lost it’s difficult to regain. Make sure that all communications are vetted and reliable. Think about circulating fact sheets and updates that offer insight into current business issues that can counter misinformation.
- Regularly solicit and analyze feedback from the workforce. Determine whether changes are necessary in response to their input.
We’re all sailing uncharted waters
Changing course when something isn’t working as well as intended is the norm during times of uncertainty. Business continuity requires adaptation – sometimes on the fly. We’ll continue to offer our thoughts and insights we acquire as we move forward and we’re interested in hearing from you on ideas and tactics related to any of the topics we’ve addressed here. Hopefully, it won’t be too long until we’re looking in the rear view mirror at these tough times.