The novel coronavirus and the effect it is having on the behavior of people and businesses are all over the news. The situation is escalating quickly, and to those of us involved in the management of an organization, planning and preparation leave little room for anything else on our plates these days. Regardless, while focusing on our business obligations we also have to balance our personal responsibilities. As announced cases of the virus increase, our personal fears and concerns will also grow. Those on our teams and within our organizations are no different – the more that we can do to reduce work-related stressors will help everyone involved.
Every day we hear of an additional company that has joined the ranks of Microsoft, Twitter, Google, Facebook and Amazon in telling its employees to work remotely. We are also hearing of more and more law firms that have taken this step. Tech companies, due to the nature of their business, often have the needed infrastructure already in place to manage remote workers. What about law firms? How many are prepared to support a fully remote workforce? How many have planned for, budgeted for and trained their users for an unknown natural disaster, pandemic or other situation that might arise and would warrant this alternate work strategy?
Regardless of planning, at this time it would be irresponsible for an organization not to be prepared, or preparing, for the potential of a forced office closure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now advising remote work whenever possible due to the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, and according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, 46% of organizations are already implementing a remote working policy as a result. Expect this number to continue to grow. Expect local governments to potentially begin enforcing office or regional closures. Expect your employees and clients to demand closures.
For the past few weeks, as news of the virus spreading beyond China and Asia began proliferating, the calls have been increasing and our engagement in direct planning and support of COVID-19-related preparations for our clients has been all-consuming. Organizations began realizing that it was time to begin preparing for the virus and the real possibility that their business might become impacted and, as importantly, that they would need to protect their employees.
Our clients have been reaching out to ensure that they are ready for continued business operations, but also to ensure that our organization would stay poised to assist in the event of larger virus outbreak. They want to make sure that they can service their clients if or when a decision is made to restrict access to their offices.
Plan for a Virtual Work Environment
Many organizations have either built or deployed their remote access solution for use under normal circumstances – teleworkers, traveling workers, workers that supplement office hours with night and weekend work, etc. These organizations may have specific policies or infrastructure limitations that restrict remote access to the general user.
Depending on the infrastructure in place, scaling up as the need arises for an entire company to work remotely may require additional hardware. However, most organizations are now operating in virtual or cloud-based environments where the ability to scale up is right at their fingertips should an office closure become necessary. If your organization does not have infrastructure to support a scale-up, undertake to backfill as early as possible. Orders, implementation and configuration do not happen instantaneously, and resources get scarce quickly.
Once physical-scale requirements are reviewed and under control, you need to review your licensing agreements. If your organization requires MFA and remote access licenses for external users, consider increasing the license count so you are ready when needed. Next, ensure end-user documentation is up-to-date and optimized. Take into account that users in a business continuity event may be operating in less than comfortable circumstances and will likely need to install applications on their mobile devices and personal computers. As a result, your IT staff will be stretched, so having the right documentation in place now will reduce your users’ need to rely on IT. Review your documentation and then redistribute it to all users, in paper form, so they will have it in an easy-to-reference format should the need arise.
Further, depending on the cause of your office closure, your IT staff may not be operating at full strength, so having the proper documentation will help everything run smoother.
For organizations that do not have a remote access solution in place, current events necessitate implementing one. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to identify how you can support the remote connectivity need. Simple solutions such as GoToMyPC or LogMeIn can be used in a pinch; they have limited scale, but they may fit your immediate requirements. Don’t forget security though. The last thing anyone needs during a BCDR event is a data breach or malware infection. Make sure that all systems require strong and unique password while also leveraging multifactor authentication.
Communication Is Key
Now is the time to communicate changes and plans to your employees. Given the viral outbreak, if you haven’t done so already it is a good time to revisit the organization’s work from home policy. Review the CDC and local authority’s recommendations – if users are not feeling well or have been around others who are not well, it is in your best interest to have them work from home until they can be sure they are not contagious.
If you need to implement a work from home policy, make sure that you communicate with your employees and your clients regularly on what you are doing as an organization to maintain business continuity. Things will be different, and it will not seem like a normal business day. Some things will take longer, and many things will not be as simple. Regular communications with your clients and employees will ensure that business continues while keeping everyone safe.