Maintaining both the short and long-term viability of your business is dependent on the effectiveness of your work force. One of the keys to maintaining employee productivity is the ability to continue business operations during a crisis situation. But crises don’t wait for a convenient time. From unplanned downtime to a major disaster, a crisis is anything that impacts your standard business processes in a negative way.
According to recent research, 70 percent of small businesses in the United States experienced a data loss in the past year due to technical or human disaster alone. Despite these many incidences, too few small businesses have a disaster recovery plan in place to minimize these risks. Today, it’s imperative that organizations of all sizes recognize and plan for the potential risks that exist in today’s IT-focused climate.
The following tips provide a fresh look at how IT can help your business prepare for a crisis situation. These are steps you can take to strengthen your business continuity planning (BCP) and disaster recovery process.
Step No. 1: Keep your employees connected
Identify who is responsible for “making the call” regarding the nature and type of emergency, and empower that person to notify employees when conditions warrant. This person should determine the level of crisis and what the next steps will be. You should have a plan in place to inform employees of the situation both during work hours as well as non-working hours. Ideally, you will want to use a few different means of communication such as broadcast voice mails, e-mail messages, SMS messaging, and a phone number that employees can call to obtain additional information.
Once the level of crisis is determined and communicated, you will need to estimate the duration of the situation. For example, severe weather and power outages are usually short in duration. Alternatively, a flu pandemic (such as one caused by the H1N1 virus) can last significantly longer and would therefore require a different type of plan.
Plan for the Short and Long Term
Step No. 2: Plan for the short and long term
For short-term emergencies, you will want a way to inform your employees of the status of work: Will the business be open that day and operational? Will a skeleton crew be required? Or will the facility be completely closed? To keep business running through an emergency of short duration, employees will probably need to access key business information and have the ability to respond to incoming requests from customers. Remember to also test your VPN and make sure all employees know how to use it.
For longer term situations such as a pandemic, you can expect that at any point during the six to eight week peak duration of the outbreak, approximately 40 percent of your work force will be out of the office. Excessive absenteeism has its own challenges, including information transfer between employees, productivity issues, and interrupted supply and delivery to the business. Keep in mind that your business partners may face similar challenges and this can also impact your business.
Step No. 3: Understand the human element
Depending on the situation, employees may be hesitant to travel. Sometimes leveraging a remote solution instead of a business trip or on-site presentation can be the wise decision. There are many remote meeting solutions available such as Web and videoconferencing, as well as traditional conference calls. These solutions offer your employees peace of mind during times of crisis and have the additional benefit of reducing your business costs for travel to customers’ locations.
Many businesses have taken steps to ensure that their work force remains both happy and productive by offering flexible hours and telecommuting policies. These types of policies can offer you a way to keep business operational while still meeting the needs of your employees and their families. Several studies indicate that employees who are provided with flexibility about where and when they work are not only more productive, but have greater job satisfaction and company loyalty than employees who are not provided these options.
Testing Outside the Box
Step No. 4: Testing outside the box
Planning ahead is the most important step in handling business crisis situations. Downtime-whether it is a result of a power outage, hardware failure or human error-affects your IT infrastructure, your employees’ productivity and the company’s bottom line.
When developing a disaster recovery strategy, create as many different crisis scenarios as you can. Imagine walking through the recovery steps for each to make sure you aren’t overlooking minor details that could cause major problems. It is essential for your company to develop and test your plan before it’s needed; that way, the first time it’s executed is not during an emergency.
BCP is something that organizations of all sizes and in all industries must take seriously. In order for a business to survive and recover from any type crisis-whether a flu outbreak, power failure or loss of data-preparedness is not only appropriate, it’s essential. And it serves as another opportunity to reaffirm IT’s value to the business.
By starting small and following a systematic approach to BCP, any business can take what appears to be an overwhelming task and turn it into an efficient and productive exercise.
Jim Lippie is President of Staples Network Services by Thrive Networks. He is responsible for guiding the company’s overall business strategy. Before being named president in 2005, Jim served as Thrive Networks’ director of business development. Jim also spearheaded the company’s successful acquisition by Staples, Inc. Prior to joining the company, Jim was a partner at Client First Associates, a management and organizational development consulting firm.
He is the author of “Five Management Principles in One CREAD: A Management Guide to Live By.” Jim received a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a Master’s degree in Urban Affairs from Boston University. He can be reached at [email protected].