The realities of COVID-19 have most companies now operating in a full or partial virtual environment. For years, there has been a push for flexible work arrangements and virtual workspace. The Pandemic has vastly accelerated this controversial approach to office life. Based on research and a growing amount of employees feedback, it is likely that this new work environment is here to stay. According to this article from CNN Business 68% of large company CEO’s plan to downsize their office space. In this weeks blog, we will explore the impacts to business continuity planning of this work-life shift to remote work.
Companies who have shifted to a virtual model have less physical space to secure at all times. A fire, flood, power outage or pandemic need not shut down your entire operation. Sure, those things still might happen at employees homes or even impact multiple employees, but we have always managed that risk anyway. An employee whose house burns down will likely be unavailable for work whether they work from home or have an office to go to. Companies still need storage, server space and a physical address but there is and will be less of it going forward. This will certainly require adjustments to your business continuity plan. You may no longer need to inform employees about inaccessibility to the office, provide transportation or educate on evacuation procedures for the work space.
Even if there is an event which impacts a wide geographic area, the diversification of assets/utilities needed is across every employee’s footprint. You can almost look at is as having dozens or hundreds of “pods” and as long as X% of them are functional, you can maintain full operation.
Employee satisfaction is also a big plus. Most employees are more satisfied with schedule flexibility.
The biggest complaint from employers is that their employees multi-task and are distracted by home activities rather than working. Screaming kids, barking dog, that kitchen remodel that you’ve been meaning to do for years can serve for some serious distractions. It can be difficult to stay focused on a task and your employees may find themselves taking more time to complete the same task than when they are in an office environment without any distractions. This is probably the largest negative tradeoff.
Reliance on home infrastructure to support employees can be an issue as well. Your office space can be set up with redundant power systems and high speed business-class internet access. It isn’t feasible to require each employee to have backup generators or VPN lines installed. Weather events, high traffic and poor infrastructure could have impacts and could impact some employee populations more than others if they do not have the resources to ensure stable access to your company network. Tread carefully here when thinking about how to handle it. And, of course, there will be the occasional employee who will take advantage of this reliance on personal infrastructure and claim that they lost power or internet when they really did not. How are you going to prove that they did not? The recourse in this situation is not clear.
Finally there is a developing concern about the impacts to company culture. People who spend time physically together in one place form stronger relationships than those who remain completely virtual. Your employees may grow away from these relationships just as we all lose touch with high school and college friends over time. Work can be tough. But it makes us feel good to know that we have friends with us, in the trenches, fighting hard and keeping each-others spirits up.
Communicating with employees on the go is not always easy. Maybe they are checking their email, maybe not. Studies show emails are opened about 20% of the time while text messages are opened and read 98% of the time. With strains on internet access and company email systems, you may miss out on key communications relying on email alone. However, cell service is becoming as, if not more, reliable than home wifi. Text messaging key and emergency notifications to your employees may be the way to go. At the very least, they can respond to you from almost anywhere with a device they are sure to have in their possession at almost all times. Small companies can set up a group text but that would give everyone access to each-others phone. Messaging services like Alertfind and Dialmycalls can provide these services at affordable prices and will send individual messages to each employee with their responses monitored and displayed on a dashboard.
Employees that are part of a highly interactive team tend to be self-accountable. They will probably know who is multi-tasking among work and watching TV or running errands. However, to ensure this, encourage or require employees to use their video cameras. Non-verbal cues are key to communication. While it is best achieved in person where you can view a person posture and facial expressions clearly, video is still better than phone or email where zero non-verbal communication takes place. This will also help to ensure team accountability.
Employees who are self-contributors get away with a lot more though without constant supervision. But having someone watch them all day is neither efficient nor providing job satisfaction. Ask yourself-does this employee NEED to conform to the office 9-5 schedule, or does it really matter as long as they are meeting their deadlines? If you can allow them to manage their schedule as they see fit with little to no impact to other's work, why not give them that flexibility and chance to prove that they can manage their schedule? This will require shifting to a deadline model for tasks for these employees. You need to be very clear that if you give them the flexibility to manage their day to day schedule to maybe work a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night, then they must manage to meet or exceed their deadlines. They also may need to provide more written status updates or perhaps use a system like Microsoft Works to ensure they are engaged with work and not slacking off.
Utility outages in the office may not have the business impact that they once did. However, widespread outages due to a storm or illness due to a pandemic may have more of an impact. Review and adjust your business continuity plans accordingly. Engage an outside expert such as Tempest Risk Management to assist with this effort at an affordable price.
The loss of key personnel is a direct threat to your company and will require adjustments to your business continuity plan. The best way to prevent loss of tribal knowledge and skilled employees is to provide a satisfying work environment and strong company culture to promote stickiness and employee retention.
We are entering a new phase of work culture around the world. Those who can adapt will ensure success over those who do not. Please share other risks not covered in this blog. More importantly, share your ideas for how to be better prepared and adapt to this culture shift.
Good luck, be smart and keep it simple
Tempest Risk Management LLC
If you are interested in engaging Tempest Risk Management to provide Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a no cost, no obligation consultation.
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