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Continuity in adversity

A flexible approach

For many companies and public sector organisations, unforeseen events can have a catastrophic impact.  In fact in the UK, even well-predicted events can bring work to a standstill.

Back in February, we found that for much of the country, 'snow business = no business".  In April, while our leaders descended on London to save the world's economy, the host city ground to a standstill as demonstrators in fewer numbers than a premier league football match came to town.

And now we face the prospect - or not - of a flu pandemic.

These are the kind of event that have  big impact on mobility, and stop employees getting to work.  How does your company react?

You must make an effort to get in!

One company in London, with both the snowstorms and the G20 protest, sent an email to all staff instructing them that they had to make the effort to come in, even defining what constituted a 'good effort'.  This was despite the fact that most employees already have remote access available.

Another company notified staff that if they lived within 5 miles of work they had to come in, with the alternatives being to take a day's paid or unpaid leave.

It is worth thinking through what is required.  Someone could make the effort, and fail - perhaps spending half a working day trying to get to work.  Taking out time, in fact, when they could have been sitting at home by the fire - and working efficiently.

Of course, many people simply vote with their feet - and a good deal of common sense - and stay home whether they can work remotely or not.

Remote working is a key ingredient of continuity planning

Even if having large numbers of staff working remotely is not your company's preferred normal way of working, it is something well worth including in business continuity planning.  The events referred to above were short-lived interruptions - but what if there were an event making the office unusable (floods, fire, terrorist attack) for a long period?  Or a long term disruption to people's ability or willingness to be mobile (train strike, bird/swine flu)?

The advice given by companies to struggle in would be particularly inappropriate in the event of a pandemic.  Requiring people to travel through public places and in public transport, to sniffle and cough amongst colleagues would be very irresponsible.

And the likelihood in a pandemic is that that the authorities would choose to close down or scale down public services such as schools, leaving almost a third of the workforce with childcare issues to deal with.

How do you plan for this?

Companies that already have strategies and technologies for enabling staff to work on a remote or mobile basis will probably be in a better position to extend the offering to more of their workforce.

For other companies, it's a question of examining what people do and where they do it, and planning for people to be able to work remotely on an 'as needed' basis.

This involves having work processes accessible afar, and reducing the factors that tether staff too firmly to the office.  It also involves having the technologies available to allow remote working, and protocols about the legitimate use of home computers if needed as a last resort.

It also involves having a clear idea about what people should be doing when they work at home.  For some people, this may not be an issue.  But for some people, it may mean reorganisation of the tasks they do to prioritise those that can be handled remotely.

There also needs to be a clear telephony strategy, to ensure that the phone can be answered by staff who, at least for the duration, morph into 'virtual call centre' staff.

This is an issue for all staff entrusted with emergency planning - integrating remote working as a response should be integral to business continuity and emergency planning.



May 2009




All material copyright Flexibility.co.uk 2009