used with permission from HP Tech@Work
by Tom Gerencer
What happens to your business when the entire workforce suddenly has to work from home?
Flood. Cyberattack. Global pandemic. These are just a few of the worst-case scenarios that can disrupt business operations. Few of us expect to face the types of calamities best reserved for disaster movies. But as many business people are once more realizing, the unforeseen can happen in a flash. A good business continuity plan takes that into account.
What happens to your revenue? Your staff retention? Or your client list? Can you maintain operations during an extended, staff-wide office closure?
This is why every small and mid-sized company should not only have a business continuity plan but one that makes it possible for employees to work remotely when office access isn’t advisable.
A report in the Harvard Business Review estimates that each telecommuter does an extra day of work per week compared to brick-and-mortar employees. In a business of 100 workers, that’s a lot of extra productivity per week – and even more per year. This means you could actually improve productivity during a crisis.
In the event of a situation where your workforce needs to shift to work at home, planning ahead can make all the difference. Don’t just tell employees to work from home and then leave them hanging. Make sure you provide adequate connectivity, communication and collaboration tools, cybersecurity, cultural backing, and coaching.
Their success — and the continuity of your business — depends on providing them what they need to do their job. Let’s look at how the right remote work integration can ensure workforce continuity even during long-lasting emergencies. Here’s how to keep operations running with remote workers.
1. Use telecommuting to protect business continuity
A business disruption that keeps employees out of the office may last a few days, a week, or even months. Companies that prepare for long-term absences with telecommuting plans will reap significant productivity benefits. Prep your company for forced remote work now by building a cross-functional planning team.
Select team members from management, IT, and HR, and pick from your pool of communications specialists and line-level employees. Get input from every corner of the business on expected pain points to better generate possible solutions. Start small and early by choosing test employees from each group to work from home right now one or two days each month.
2. Be ready to lead remote workers
No business continuity plan works if management isn’t ready for a seamless changeover. Communicating your work-from-home plan to the corporate family is essential to engender trust and confidence during uncertain times. Be transparent, sharing crisis contact details across multiple channels including voice, IM, email and social media.
Leading remote employees isn’t as simple as telling them to telecommute until further notice. Projects, programs, and evolving situations require managers to stay connected to teams and guide their progress.
Communicate with employees
Company leaders should work with their human resources staff to identify and distribute informative materials about how to work from home effectively. You could try finding books or articles on the subject and distributing them free-of-charge. Or send out a regular email or video newsletter with helpful tips for telecommuting. If none of that works, writing and sharing your own content is perfectly reasonable.
Train on a team management app
Source a remote team management app like Monday, Trello, Jira, or Asana now, before you need it. Trello is a great free option for small businesses, while Asana is a scalable pick for small to mid-sized companies. Make sure all staff are trained on your tool of choice so you can avoid usage-related headaches when a crisis hits.
3. Use the right software to communicate
When the inevitable strikes, don’t get stuck with the right hand wondering what the left hand is doing. During a disruption, business continuity software like Slack is an excellent stand-in for being able to pop in and out of someone’s cubicle without the extra formality of phone or email.
It’s also critical to not only provide but support — from an IT standpoint — tools to facilitate virtual team communication and collaboration around the globe.
Apps for video conferencing, fast video chat, shared desktops, and remote monitoring should be a central part of your business continuity plan.
Here are a few telecommuting apps that add value.
- Zoom: One of the top-ranked video conferencing tools from users. Zoom delivers legendary stability, call transcription, and a long-lasting free option
- Cisco Webex Meetings: An easy, stable video conferencing solution for up to 1,000 attendees at once. Allows screen sharing for a low cost. Works in 45 countries
- Skype: The best option you already have installed, Skype for business is a free remote work powerhouse that works on phones and laptops and can even translate
- Cisco Jabber: For fast pop-in video chats that create a true “being there” feel. Easy to learn and use for a quick question or a longer talk. Includes file sharing
- Microsoft Teams: The best video conferencing option for remote work you may already have if you use Windows. Allows up to 10,000 attendees per meeting. Comes with IM chat
- BlueJeans: Video conferencing with a dial-in-from-phone option for remote workers without computer access. Comes with transcription and meeting recording
- TeamViewer: Need to track and monitor employee devices while they telecommute? TeamViewer does it. Includes multi-factor security and remote desktop
Free services such as Uberconference and FreeConferenceCall are also available for enabling voice-only group meetings with embedded recording features. A built-in smartphone video call via FaceTime can sometimes suffice, depending on your business.
But if you allow that kind of connectivity, make sure to get it on your VPN to protect mobile data exchanges. (See the security section below for more on setting up a VPN.)
Pro tip: Create a list of backup contact info like cell numbers and backup emails. Make it accessible to everyone who needs it so team members can still move the needle in a pinch.
4. Ensure workforce continuity with remote access
Entire teams can grind to a halt when one employee can’t access an important file. Having a plan for remote access to file storage can keep you moving forward during a prolonged emergency. Get remote desktops up and running now. Test them and train all team members in their use.
Also, make sure workers can connect to crucial company tools from mobile devices. This includes revisiting your BYOD (bring your own device) policies and procedures to ensure they’re applicable and effective for both normal and challenging times.
If you haven’t already, it would also make sense to explore subscribing to cloud-based productivity tools that can be remotely accessed, managed and secured.
Microsoft Office 365 is a quick-win solution for unplanned remote work and can alleviate many of the aches and pains that sometimes accompany so-called perpetual software models and facilitate better productivity for your distributed workforce.
It stores all your team’s files, documents, and emails in the cloud. It’s packed with communication tools like Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. Remote security is part of the package, and chances are you’re using it already.
5. Get IT hardware ready for remote work
When push comes to shove, your business continuity plan should be ready with a telecommuting hardware policy. Cybersecurity should be top-of-mind. More than half of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) believe their remote workers have been hacked in the past year, and many partly blamed BYOD policies, according to a 2018 iPass Mobile Security Report.
It’s important, therefore, to provide workers with the most secure solutions possible, even if it means stretching the budget a bit. Will employees be allowed to use home desktops and laptops? Will you restrict them to company machines for security? Knowing the answers can prevent headaches down the road.
We’re all in for MS Office 365 because it doesn’t require core changes to the way a business operates. It’s mission-ready with security in place no matter which machine an employee works on.
6. Harden telecommuting security before an emergency
Companies that don’t put telecommuting security in their business continuity programs will suffer. Data breaches already cost an estimated $3.2 billion each year. That creates a difficult reality for firms that don’t prepare for the possibility of remote work. And home computers and connections add new uncertainties.
If you haven’t already established virtual private network capacities, now is the time to do that. VPNs essentially establish encrypted tunnels between endpoints to ensure data can be safely transmitted. As such, these should be a fundamental part of any telecommuting plan.
Consider device security
Companies should also consider the devices themselves that employees use. All too often, we think about cybersecurity in software terms, installing antivirus or firewall applications and thinking we’re safe.
But more often than not, hackers target the soft underbellies of networks, or the least secured endpoints. These days, that’s endpoint devices like laptops and printers. You can avoid allowing those to be points of vulnerability by investing in the best equipment your budget will allow — and then some.
Invest in security features
HP has heavily invested in building out a portfolio of endpoint solutions that have been hardened at their core to protect, detect and recover from cyberattacks quickly. Its laptops, for instance, bake in next-level security features, from deep learning that recognizes malware to isolation security for Windows 10, to keep company and employee data safe.
Employ robust backup and recovery solutions
HP also offers the world’s most secure printers, which adapt over time to protect users from emerging threats. And with backup and recovery solutions being core to any continuity plan, HP backup and recovery infrastructure will protect and restore critical IT services.
Use secure tools
MS Office 365’s security encompasses all points of access. Also, look to telecommuting apps that let you track employee activity like TeamViewer.
7. Protect company culture
A frequently-overlooked part of telecommuting plans is corporate culture. Many small to midsize businesses are fairly old school. They think that when an employee is working from home, they’re more likely to goof off and become distracted, resulting in a loss of productivity.
But there’s ample recent evidence to suggest the opposite — that people working remotely take less time for breaks, work more hours and waste less time on inconsequential activities than in-office employees.
Some businesses already get it. In fact, a 2018 survey by Zenefits found that two-thirds of small businesses already allow some remote work, and more than 70% credit flexibility with increased productivity and satisfaction. But if you’re among those still clinging to outdated attitudes towards remote work, it’s time to shift your mindset. Adjust your corporate culture. And change.
One way to start doing this is by reading up on new ways to integrate remote work into business operations. Software developer GitLab, for instance, made its mark in this area by doing away with traditional offices and allow all of 1,200 employees, distributed across 54 countries, to work remotely.
GitLab’s guide on remote work should be considered essential reading for anyone putting together a telecommuting plan as its provides valuable lessons for correcting any ill-advised preconceptions.
8. Create a business continuity checklist
Employees should be trained and up to speed on all your approved telecommuting apps, policies, and plans before an emergency. To keep the transition smooth, share a business continuity checklist with them so they can get things ready around home and hearth.
Here is a sample business continuity checklist to get you started:
- Invest in a generator: It’s hard to buy one when the power goes out. A low-cost gas generator can keep your bandwidth high even during power outages
- Stay connected: Remote work fails without secure and fast connections. 5G is best, but if it hasn’t reached your area yet, upgrade to a 1 Gbps plan for speedy telecommuting
- Practice mobile WiFi: Most phones work as mobile WiFi hotspots. Test yours now so you can make the switch if the unexpected happens
- Know the security policy: Can you use your own laptop and network connection? Know what devices and connections are okay during remote work
- Have backup contact info: Make sure you can swap info with managers, direct reports, and team members so you don’t miss out on vital updates
- Keep your access: Keep all necessary login information where you can find it if you have to work remotely. Test home access to schedules, calendars, and email too
- Maintain equipment: What equipment will you work on if you can’t get to the office? Have an approved remote work laptop or home PC ready to go
- Have a WiFi printer: Hard-copy moments require a printer to work from home without hitches. Look for smart printers with automatic ink replenishment
- Set up a remote office: Be prepared with a home office in case of emergency. The best home office setup ideas include ergonomic desks, chairs, and docked laptops
- Secure your router: Don’t rely on factory settings to keep your connection safe. Set up your home router with a dedicated password so prying eyes can’t snoop
A business continuity plan without a telecommuting component could extend downtime and skewer productivity. Plan for IT, management, HR, and communications pain points to keep from grinding business to a halt in times of trouble. Source the right apps for communication and video conferencing now, before you need them. Then make sure managers and employees are trained to use them.
Test remote access to critical files, and decide whether employees can use home laptops to work remotely. Finally, have a plan in place to ensure data security throughout the crisis.
A small amount of preparation now can minimize the fallout and ensure you hit the ground running when things return to normal.