Home Alone: When Disasters Affect Staff Who Are Working Remotely

disasters working remotely

As recent news events have shown, people working at home might be safe from getting COVID-19, but they are vulnerable to other problems that business continuity professionals have never had to think about before. In today’s post, we’ll look at what those problems are and suggest ways BC professionals can protect their organizations from being impacted by them.

Related on BCMMETRICS: Take It Easy: It’s OK to Go Slow With Your COVID-19 Back-to-Work Plan

In calling this post “Home Alone,” I’m not imagining that remote workers are the only ones at home during the times when they are working. These days, if they’re parents, there is a good chance they have children doing remote learning at home as well. What I mean is they are physically isolated from their company’s infrastructure and support staff.

Dodging a Bullet

Many of our clients have begun to breathe easy regarding their remote work solutions. At most organizations, the feeling is that after a lot of hard work, they have got the work-from-home piece sorted out. Office staff are able to carry on their activities. Teams are able to function. The work is getting done. The company has dodged a bullet.

Every company who has pulled off a successful transition to a remote work solution deserves to be congratulated. It was no easy feat. The workers also deserve congratulations, as well as continued support from management.

No Time for Complacency

However, it would be a mistake for either the C-suite or the business continuity management (BCM) office to get complacent about their remote-work solutions.

The shift to remote work has also created unprecedented new vulnerabilities—vulnerabilities that BCM teams have never had to give much thought to before.

Two recent news events show why we still have work to do in terms of hardening our remote-work solutions.

The first is the outage of the Zoom video-conferencing app that flared up on the East Coast, in the Atlanta area, and in the U.K.  late last month. (Zoom also suffered widespread outages earlier this week, according to Downdetector, though Zoom says there was no interruption of service.)

The second event is Hurricane Sally earlier this week, which caused the loss of power to half a million homes and businesses in Alabama and Florida.

I wish there was a way of knowing how many remote workers were left twiddling their thumbs after those two events, how much work was delayed or abandoned, and how much revenue lost. My guess would be that the cost of these problems for business was substantial.

And the impact of the West Coast fires on people’s ability to work from home can only be guessed at.

Homes Are Less Resilient Than Offices

Corporate office buildings, as we now know, are not a good an environment for keeping people safe from airborne viruses. However, they are good in terms of being hardened against power and network outages. In this respect, they are much more resilient than people’s homes tend to be.

The examples I gave above will have tipped you off about some of the big vulnerabilities that come with working from home. Let’s get on with the full list, as well as my suggestions on how your organization can protect itself from impacts in each area.

Threats Facing Remote Workers

The following are the main threats to the ability of home-based workers to do their jobs:

  • Power outage. This is the biggest potential threat to the productivity of home-based workers. BCM offices need to think about how they would respond if a loss of electrical power prevents key staff or large numbers of staff from doing their jobs. BCM offices should also think about the impact of the related issue of power spikes. Organizations should consider developing policies on the use of surge protectors. Companies should identify critical roles and equip the people in those roles with gear such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) that will enable them to keep working even if the local power goes out.
  • Network outage or slowdown. With so many people working and studying from home, networks are mobbed, performance can be slow, and outages are more likely. BCM offices should consider providing backup internet connections, using alternate ISPs, for people in critical roles.
  • Natural disaster. Millions of people have been impacted by natural disasters this week, whether it’s Hurricane Sally on the Gulf Coast or the fires out West. Storms often result in the loss of power, which was covered previously. What about situations where people have to evacuate their homes? To the extent those people are able to work, would they be able to? Is there a place they could go? BC planners need to look at what they could do with people who are required to move because of a natural disaster. In the future, I can see companies setting up hardened regional hubs where people could go to continue doing their jobs even if they have to leave home.
  • Loss of critical applications. Companies have never been more dependent on massive cloud-based apps like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Slack, and those apps have never been under greater strain. Companies should have at least three remote meeting apps set up and ready to go. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. There will be outages. Strive for redundancy.
  • Loss of communication with the organization. Organizations need to make sure they can get in touch with their employees working remotely, and these ways need to be robust and redundant. The BCM office needs to develop a strategy to disseminate information, whether by phone, email, or emergency notification system (ENS). For more on ENS solutions, see How to Create an Emergency Response Plan

These are the main threats to remote workers’ ability to do their jobs, and the areas where BCM staff should look first to create protective redundancies.

Hardening the Remote Work Solution

By and large, companies have done a great job in implementing remote-work solutions. However, as recent news events have underscored, home-based employees face unique threats to their ability to do their jobs. Remote workers are more vulnerable than office workers to power, network, and app outages, among other problems. BCM staff should harden their remote-work solution by providing redundant resources for home workers, especially those in key roles.

Further Reading

For more information on working remotely and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

Business continuity consulting for today’s leading companies.

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