Mobilising your workforce to ensure business continuity in the wake of COVID-19

By Martin Koval - March 18, 2020

As our community deals with the rapidly evolving challenges posed by COVID-19 (coronavirus), businesses are utilising technology to adapt and maintain operations. Below is a checklist of things to consider when it comes to technology to keep your business running smoothly.

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As the response to the spread of COVID-19 evolves, it’s important to ensure your infrastructure is adaptive and scalable to meet potential changes to your business needs to keep your operations running smoothly. The checklist below outlines the key things to consider.

Adapt and deploy your crisis response and business continuity plans

A business continuity plan (BCP) should provide systems and processes to follow so your business can recover and maintain its operations as quickly as possible in a crisis. If you have a BCP, now is the time to put it into action.

The first critical step in deploying your BCP is assembling an issues management or crisis management team with representation from critical operational areas of the business. This will include marketing and communications to formulate messaging and manage communication with your internal and external stakeholders; IT to ensure your systems are deployed and monitored to maintain business as usual; finance to monitor cashflow, reassess budgets and forecasts and to assess impacts of investment in critical infrastructure to navigate the issues or crisis; and HR to assist in managing change and ensuring you meet your employer obligations while ensuring staff care, morale and performance is upheld.

To ensure businesses run as smoothly as possible as you deploy your BCP, the key people from each critical area of your business need to be empowered to make decisions about the operations of their team. With IT, for example, the IT representative in the Issues Management team needs to be empowered to make decisions about staff rosters, ordering equipment or services and re-prioritising projects. Collaboration with your finance and HR teams will also be important as you make decisions around how resources should be distributed.

As you deploy your BCP, ensure your business maintains clear and regular communication with staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders to manage emerging needs and avoid misinformation. To avoid misinformation, it’s therefore critical that your communications team has a clear communications strategy including key messages, your business’s position on the crisis and a plan for potential escalation scenarios.

Review your capacity

With more people expected to work from home as the response to containing COVID-19 evolves, ensure your IT systems have the capacity to handle the increased load. Consider the effects of an increased load on your business’s systems, but also your people’s at-home systems and infrastructure as well. Before everyone starts working remotely, assess capacity across three key areas – software licences, your business systems and connectivity infrastructure.

Many remote access systems have user or connection limits. Check the number of licences you have for the different systems and products you use to ensure your business can provide access to all your people. If you need to purchase additional licences, many providers are offering discounted pricing (see the table at the end of this article).

Also check if your IT systems and infrastructure can cope with the additional load from more people working remotely. For example, servers, firewalls and routers are designed to support a certain number of users. If the load on these pieces of infrastructure is too heavy, it can impact your whole IT system causing a range of issues with data security, connectivity and productivity. Assess the capacity of your IT systems now and investigate upgrading components that may cause bottlenecks and latency when overloaded.

Working remotely will also result in an increased load on telecommunications infrastructure. Ensure your people have assessed the quality of their internet bandwidth at home and contact your telco or ISP to see what options there are for speed upgrades if needed. If your people need to upgrade or use additional data on their mobile devices, work with your HR team on a plan to reimburse people for these expenses. You also need to communicate to staff about efficient use of bandwidth including running only the necessary applications, working offline and connecting periodically and limiting the use of video when browsing the internet or joining a team call.

Mobilise your workforce

For many organisations, remote working is the norm but for many others it means a significant change to the way they operate. In many cases, organisations already have many of the tools and resources to support remote working. Now is the time to ensure all these tools and resources can handle the increased demands of your workforce working remotely.

To keep things running smoothly from anywhere, ensure your people have access to the tools to continue their work, including both hardware and software. Tools such as laptop computers, phones, tablets and mobile wireless devices can be deployed quickly to mobilise your workforce.

Review the software subscriptions currently in place that can be leveraged or deployed to help staff work remotely. There are a range of software options to help staff communicate and collaborate without having to be physically in the same place including:

  • Microsoft Office,
  • Google Docs,
  • Skype for Business,
  • Teams,
  • Slack,
  • WebEx,
  • Zoom,
  • GoToMeeting and others

To keep everyone on the same page, make sure you provide clear guidance to staff on what tools are in place and how to use them. And if you have the opportunity, testing these tools in the office before people work remotely is an efficient way to test different programs and resolve technical issues that may arise.

Scaling your IT Support

Along with your business’s issues management or crisis management teams, your IT support team will likely experience an increased workload. As part of your BCP, develop a plan to scale your IT support now and assess how this will change in different scenarios. For example, identifying the critical escalation points where you will need to scale your IT support is critical. These escalation points may include events such as school closures or mandated lockdown. Also ensure all your business’s critical IT information is stored in a central place.

Your key IT staff likely hold all the knowledge about your IT systems including passwords, key processes and solutions to technical issues. Ensure the contact details, critical information and passwords are documented and stored in a central location so this information is available in the event that your key IT staff are unavailable. To minimise the risks of absence due to cross-contagion within a team, consider implementing a staggered work-from-home arrangement for critical staff.

For any systems and infrastructure that relies on an outsourced IT provider, contact them to understand their contingency plans. Contact these providers to check what they’re doing to prepare and how they will respond as the situation evolves. You will also need to understand how they can support your business and what processes will be put in place to manage their increased workload and competing demands.

Assess your cybersecurity risk

Unfortunately, unexpected events such as COVID-19 create an opportunity for cyber criminals to take advantage of weaknesses in IT systems and infrastructure. It’s therefore critical to ensure your business is diligent about maintaining strong measures to minimise your cybersecurity risk.

Firstly, check that your business has all the basic protections in place. These protections include strong passwords (include capital letters, numbers and special characters) that are changed regularly, 2-step or multifactor authentication and mobile device management. This is particularly important as many of your people will be signing into your business’s IT systems from new locations.

Ensure your people understand their obligations to minimise cybersecurity risks when they’re working remotely. Have your people read and sign the relevant IT policy and make sure your IT team distributes regular communications about the secure use of IT systems, managing scam emails and setting up a secure remote working environment. These communications should also include a reminder to staff about being diligent with their hardware such as phones, laptops and tablets when they take these items out of the office.

To further minimise your cybersecurity risks, put communications protocols in place for critical business decisions and instructions. This could mean confidential and high-impact conversations occur on ad-hoc or regular phone calls instead of relying on emails and online messaging channels.

Test now

No amount of preparation can prevent every issue – consider a ‘stress test’ by having all staff work remotely for one day, to identify and iron out the kinks.

IT and remote working resources

Due to the increased demand for technology that enables people to work remotely, many providers are offering special pricing, discounts and free access to their tools to keep things running smoothly. Below is a selection of resources you may find valuable:

Organisation

Resources and discounts available

Cisco Webex - video conferencing and collaboration

Microsoft Teams - remote working, video conferencing, collaboration and shared file storage

Google G Suite - remote working, video conferencing, collaboration and shared file storage

Slack – chat and collaboration

 

Zoom - video conferencing

GoToMeeting - remote working, video conferencing and collaboration

Telstra – telephony and internet

Optus – telephony and internet

Australian Cyber Security Centre – part of the Australian Signals Directorate

 

 

For questions or concerns about managing your business continuity as current conditions evolve, contact your Pitcher Partners specialist for support. We’re here to help, provide support and answer your questions.


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