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Remote Work and Business Continuity Planning Challenges

Last Updated on June 7, 2020 by Alex Jankovic

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Before the Pandemic of 2020, we all knew that remote work is a viable option for many organizations. The telework blockers were not necessarily always of technical nature. They were a combination of old-school perceptions that lingered for ages. Some of them are that it will kill our productivity or destroy organizational culture, and the clear preference of some micro-managers who realized that nagging of their employees could be "virtually" impossible over the Zoom or Microsoft Teams platforms.

Due to the Pandemic impacts of business shutdowns in early March (here in Canada), many organizations were forced to flip the virtual switch. Practically overnight, all the remote work excuses were gone, and all naysayers were now embracing the "new" way of working and collaborating.

Finally, many of the organizations were in the twenty-first century. The sad fact is that it took a global pandemic to change many C-suite perceptions.  

What the future holds

If you follow the news, you may read that many companies are now boldly announcing that remote workforce and teleworking will be a preferred way of their operations going forward. The technology companies such as Shopify, Facebook or Twitter are taking the lead as they were always operating in this mode.

What is interesting is the fact that we see a few developments in the Canadian Public sector as well. Transport Canada recently announced that telework is here to stay, and it will be a preferred way of working for many of their employees. It doesn't mean that everyone at Transport Canada will be working from home going forward, but many will. Some parts of the business or handling of security-sensitive information just can't be done safely at our homes.

What we can safely envision is that the office environment is here to stay, but it may look vastly different once organizations re-work workspaces and implement social distancing initiatives. The work in the office going forward will be different, and in some aspects, it will introduce a new set of challenges for Business Continuity Planning efforts.

Business Continuity Planning Challenges with a Distributed Workforce

If you read our articles or follow the industry leaders, you now know that Business Continuity Planning is a process. It requires the engagement of the whole organization, and it touches all aspects of business operations. It even extends to your vendors and suppliers.

During the planning process, a Business Impact Analysis analyzes and outlines business requirements. The Business Continuity Strategy development process determines what the best options to protect your business operations.

A split operation capability (ability to execute your functions at multiple locations) and alternative facility/site were always viable strategic options for organizations that may experience disruptions with their facilities, or require a temporary space for their workforce.

The question is, how will this work going forward when most of the workforce is working from home? Is an alternative facility even an option now knowing that social distancing will need to be taken in the equation when planning for disruptions? Cramming your employees at an alternative facility, and in a small room with many workstations to restore your operations will be problematic.

Business Continuity Planning will be different

The Pandemic of 2020, will change how organizations plan their continuity of operations. Here are some of the "new or enhanced" challenges which Business Continuity Planners will need to address are as follows:

  • Employees Internet Connectivity – employees will be required to have reliable and fast internet connectivity at their home offices. The BCP planning efforts will need to be extended to their Internet Service Providers (ISP) to ensure that critical functions employees are on different ISPs, which will eliminate single points of failures (e.g. everyone is on Rogers's internet network). This could be especially challenging if the staff dispersed over multiple cities, provinces/states or even countries. Similar planning principles should be applied for mobile networks as well. The connectivity diversity will be a key for organizational resiliency capabilities.
  • Security Considerations – data and access security were always a challenge. Being in the office made that just somewhat easier to handle, but it didn't eliminate all of the risks. The BCP planning efforts will require additional points of collaboration with the IT Security initiatives. Planners will need to ensure that their efforts are meeting IT Security policies and IT telework initiatives.
  • Access to Vital Records – Business Continuity Planners always needed to work with IT organizations to ensure access to all vital records for staff during disruptions. Many technologies that enable this functionality exists for a while (e.g. OneDrive cloud sync, SharePoint, document scanning etc.), but the challenge could be secure availability of all Business Continuity Documentation and vital records to the remote staff.
  • Communication and Notification – An ability to communicate during the business disruptions was always a challenge and a focus of Business Continuity Planning efforts. Planners will need to pay extra attention to ensure that process exists to account for critical functions and service remote resources and an ability for the team to collaborate securely and effectively (e.g. collaboration tools, emergency notification platforms).
  • Plans Testing and Exercising – One of the favourite Business Continuity Planning activities are testing and exercising efforts. An ability to execute your BCPs is imperative to organizational resiliency readiness. Exercises are the best way to ensure that your plans are viable and that stakeholders know what to do during the business's disruptive events. Tabletop Exercises are the best example of this activity, but typically they were executed in the controlled office space. Going forward, Crisis Management Team members and Business Continuity Planners will need to test and document an ability to restore critical functions over the online collaboration tools as a primary way of crisis communication.
  • Cross-Training – A functional and process critical resources cross-training was always a focus of Business Continuity Planners. An ability to eliminate all single organizational points of failures (in this case, people) will ensure that organization operations are restored in a timely fashion and with minimal losses. Going forward, the cross-training efforts will need to be coordinated with resource connectivity capabilities. Having a whole functional team on a single internet or a mobility provider will not be an option.

Our planet will love it; the business will adapt

The bottom line, telework or remote work, whatever you call it, is here to stay. There are many benefits to humanity and for organizations. Cleaner air, less traffic, working in sweatpants or pyjamas and more time with our families are just some of the benefits telework will bring to the people.

Organizational benefits could be an ability to reduce their operational costs by shrinking real-estate footprint or to hire talent in other parts of the country (or the world).

However, telework will introduce new Business Continuity Planning challenges. The above examples are just some of the challenges Business Continuity Planners will need to address going forward. The planning process will need to be enhanced and evolve to integrate the majority of the permanent telework workforce.

But this is nothing new. Organizational resiliency is built over time and requires constant evaluation and improvements. This is why Business Continuity Management is a Program. It never ends.

StratoGrid Advisory is a Business Continuity Management (BCM) Advisory firm in the Ottawa/Gatineau region that can provide you with the experience and knowledge needed to successfully implement a BCM Program in your organization.

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