An IT disaster is challenging to cope with in the best of circumstances. IT is the lifeblood of modern organizations; anything from an email server malfunction to a full-blown cybersecurity hack can bring companies to a grinding halt if they don’t have defined protocols in place.
Before the shift to remote work, it was often taken for granted that managers could issue verbal instructions to their teams when something went wrong. If email went down, managers could tell everyone in the office what tools to communicate with instead. If the network were hacked, employees would all be in the same place, experiencing and addressing the attack together. When everyone was in the office every day, much of the confusion associated with IT issues could be quelled with in-person verbal instructions.
The shift to remote work eliminates the possibility of in-person instructions during a disaster, which presents organizations with a new set of challenges. How, for example, would a manager quickly let all employees know to log off the company VPN if the network is hacked? Or, if all cloud-based applications went down, would employees know how to continue working and communicating? How would managers let them know what to do?
Successful Remote Business Continuity Management
Remote and hybrid-remote organizations need to take a different approach to disaster recovery – especially when it comes to communication and training.
Business continuity management extends well beyond IT; it’s a set of strategies and protocols that allow companies to respond appropriately to unforeseen events and disasters. Business continuity should be holistic and highly prioritized among leadership. A successful business continuity management plan encompasses communication methods, existing resources and their alternatives, pre-event training, response steps, plan testing and more.
Every employee can be impacted and needs to know what to do when an incident occurs or disaster strikes. Here are factors to consider for business continuity management in remote or hybrid-remote work environments.
Communication is a significant issue in hybrid-remote work environments. Keeping in touch with your remote workforce and keeping them in touch with each other is already challenging across different schedules and in the face of other responsibilities.
In the event of an IT disaster, remote workers may be especially isolated. They don’t have in-person access to leadership or coworkers, and they likely rely solely on technology for communication with their team. If there’s an IT issue, news may not reach them as quickly or reliably; managers may have a harder time circulating instructions to a group of remote workers and confirming that everyone received them. For example:
- If email and other communication tools go down, what should remote workers do?
- How does your leadership plan to communicate with remote workers in an emergency?
- If employees lose access to a work-critical application, do they know what to do?
As you review your business continuity plan with remote work in mind (or develop a new one), think beyond IT. How will you communicate with your employees? What preparations do they need to make to communicate in an emergency? For example, they may need to print a hard copy of relevant phone numbers to access when email and contacts are down.
Preparation will look different for every organization based on their resources and setup, but some ideas to help teams prepare and communicate include:
- Have leadership collect team member contact information to be used in emergencies or communication outages. This may be optional, and should be done in conjunction with HR to maintain compliance and respect employee privacy.
- Ask employees to sign up for weather alerts for the county that hosts the central office and/or data center. This way, remote employees won’t be blindsided if a blizzard, thunderstorm, hurricane or other natural disaster causes outages.
- Have remote employees submit an alternative working location, should they experience IT issues at home or need to move their workspace. Record these alternative workspaces in a central document.
- Establish alternative applications where possible – for example, Google Docs may be the alternative to Microsoft Word. Include alternative file saving methods if central storage becomes inaccessible. Note these protocols in a centrally accessible document, but consider training employees on these alternatives as well – if their applications are down, their access to this document may be down, too.
- Establish alternative communication flows, and train employees so they know where to look for instructions when a communication system goes down.
- Clarify expectations in terms of remote employee hours and availability. Do they need to tell their boss when they’re taking lunch? If hours are flexible, do they need to plan their schedule with their manager, so someone knows when they’re on the clock? How long can they be absent from their computer? These factors will be important when critical communications go out to remote employees.
In all likelihood, you don’t need to train your entire organization. Some aspects of your business continuity plan may only involve IT or upper management, for example. Instead of taking a broad approach to training, determine which key people need different types of training.
For example, mid-level managers may need training on what to do if email or other critical apps go down. They may need to reach out to employees by phone to update them and instruct them on what to do.
Once you decide who needs to be trained, conduct training as soon as possible and offer periodic refreshers. Training ensures that everyone knows their role when a disaster occurs and how to carry out that role. That allows your organization to continue operations as soon as possible.
Controlled testing is essential to know how well your plan works, what needs to be tweaked, and who needs to be trained or re-trained. Consider doing a structured walk-through to cover the plan with all team members to ensure there are no gaps or weaknesses.
Simulation testing is also critical. In simulation exercises, you devise a scenario – like an email server failure, or a natural disaster causing outages in the data center – and play it out according to your business continuity plan. Although these exercises may take time away from the business, it’s worthwhile to ensure that you’ve covered all your bases and trained the right people.
These steps may help you get started with simulation testing.
Expert Business Continuity Management Consulting
IT disasters come from many sources, including cyberattacks, natural disasters, hardware failures, and more. Has your organization looked at how your business continuity management needs to change since the shift to remote work?
Many organizations find consulting with an expert third-party beneficial for ensuring there’s nothing they’ve overlooked. ZAG Technical Services is ready to help. Our world-class technical strategists, architects, and engineers can help you develop a plan or update your present one. Learn more about our disaster recovery and business continuity solutions and contact us today.