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Business Continuity in the Age of COVID-19: Preparing Your Systems – and Culture

By Amy Hoyt, Point B:

In the world of disaster recovery and business continuity, we’re used to thinking in terms of how we can put manual processes in place until IT and other automated systems can be recovered. But the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has turned this challenge on its head. Now, as millions of employees vacate their workplaces to work remotely, organizations must find ways to quickly shift manual processes to their IT systems.

It’s easy to underestimate the magnitude of manual processes companies still rely on every day, because they tend to take place quietly in the course of business when a workforce is on site. In most organizations, on-premise employees are still needed to get products handled and shipped, provide repair and maintenance, authorize signatures on documents, record critical data, and sign for shipping. In some cases, there is no substitute for physical presence, but the more we can think about moving to remote options, the more business can continue effectively.

COVID-19 has forced a sudden shift to more remote work, with little time to think through the security and legal ramifications.

What happens when support people are no longer on site to sign legal papers, document test results, or securely accept an important package? What tools and processes do you need to put these essential tasks online so workers can handle them remotely?

As your organization prepares for the ongoing pandemic impact, how can you ensure that your remote access systems and structures are secure, effective and legally protected? How can you set up a growing dependence on technology for success?

Begin by looking at culture. For some, the disruption caused by COVID-19 not only calls for a physical shift, it may also call for a cultural shift.

For example, organizations that still operate under a traditional command-and-control leadership model may need to rethink a cultural assumption that employees need to be on site—and in sight—to deliver a full day’s work. It starts with asking the question, “What roadblocks exist to being able to effectively work remote?” And then solving these issues as much as possible to enable people to be productive, creative and secure when managing their work through technology. Likewise, cultures that are slow to make decisions and act on them may need to shift gears to become faster and more flexible. Find ways to enable leadership to be comfortable with being uncomfortable to find creative ways to support new ways of doing things.

If your culture needs to make a shift, you can build buy-in by letting your mission be your guide—and let your cultural shift serve as a bridge from your mission to your new workplace realities. How can your culture best support your mission during the pandemic? How can it inspire policies and processes to bring out the best in your people? Make your mission the lens through which you look at your culture and align your remote work processes and policies accordingly.

Gather the Right People to Do the Right Thing
To address your remote technology needs, bring together a rapid response team of people from Business Continuity and IT who are empowered to make decisions quickly and effectively to support your mission through technology options—including legal, security, user support, network set-up and control and increased license options.

This team will be responsible for identifying any IT problems and triaging the solutions to ensure your remote workers have what they need most. Members of this group can quickly cut to the chase by reaching out directly to remote workers with a few simple questions: What’s working, and what’s not? Do they have what they need to be effective working remotely? What do they need now to succeed?

Rethink IT Services to Meet Remote Needs
Once you know what remote workers need, evaluate your legacy network architecture and network security. Are the tools available disjointed or cohesive in sharing files, instant messages and email conversations? Can they take on important tasks that were previously manual such as whiteboarding or water-cooler conversation? Whiteboarding is possible with some communication platforms and having a great instant message platform can help replace hallway conversation. The more seamless and integrated your tools are, the more effective people are at accessing their information. Think about multi-factor authorization (MFA) so that technology works together and with user experience in mind.

Take a look at your tools and functions within this new remote workforce space. Assess current limitations and understand the potential impact of losing access to these services. Consider service recovery options for minimal, moderate, significant or critical interruptions. The more your business relies on these systems, the more critical it is to mitigate risk. Working remotely raises new issues of user support, software licensing and usability, legal affairs, and both physical and informational security. What matters most? Identify and organize your most critical business systems to give them priority.

Rethink Your Control of Authorized User Access
As you increase the ranks of your dependency on technology to enable a more remote workforce, consider the security and legal issues of user access. Have they become lax or outdated over time? Make sure your organization is fully enforcing security measures that prevent misuse of personal data over unsecure sharing, malware, intrusion and other nefarious acts. Keep your network up to date on the latest security patches.

This Emergency Is Not Over Until It’s Over
Unlike most business disruptions, such as a major earthquake or hurricane, this pandemic is not a discrete event. This will not have a clear end, but a gradual change that may never completely be back to what we knew as business as usual. Organizations will face rolling challenges, with longer than anticipated recovery ahead. Creating a resilient culture that moves with change enables your organization to mount a resilient IT response, stay in touch with the evolving needs of remote workers, and move quickly to address them.

Going Beyond—Not Back to—Business as Usual
At some point, as the pandemic wanes, organizations will shift their business continuity plans from recovery to a reconstitution phase. What will it mean to be “out of the woods?” Will we be able to go back to business as usual? Will we want to?

We may, in fact, find ourselves in a new world. What will this mean to your organization? Will that temporary exodus to remote working become permanent?  How will your IT systems for capacity, security and redundancy need to change? How can you use lessons learned to make your systems more resilient and responsive to rapidly changing needs?

Times of crisis can act as catalysts for innovation, preparedness, and a sense of common purpose. Organizations can take this opportunity to foster a culture of trust and empathy that brings out the best in their people, no matter where their workplace is located. Companies that “go remote” can create a more diverse workforce, gaining talented people who may not be physically able to make it to an office. Some will use this crisis to rethink what they need to succeed—maybe even redefine what it means to succeed. Companies that recommit to their missions and make the needed shifts in their culture to get through the pandemic may discover that moving forward, not going back, is the direction they want to take.

As COVID-19 forces rapid and radical change across all organizations, those who come out ahead will use this change as an opportunity to build more resilient systems and a more flexible, diverse workforce.

About the Author: Amy Hoyt is a business consultant with Point B.

Continuity Insights

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