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Remote working - business as usual?

Working from home

Many UK businesses have adopted remote working as the only operating alternative during the lockdown. The experience of having the vast majority of their workforce has forced a number of organisations to think about remote working as a “business as usual” option.

However, many organisations have muddled through the process rather than having a firm strategy in place. As business now begin to open, now is a good time to reflect on what went well, what did not go so well, how to formalise “work (almost) anywhere” environment and how this affects their business continuity arrangements. In this guide for continued remote working as an integral part of business continuity planning, we highlight several areas for consideration in terms of creating intrinsic flexibility of working arrangements in an organisation as a means of integrating business continuity as part of “business as usual”

1. Audit your IT hardware and software and close any gaps in access and adoption

In order to work effectively from remote locations, it is more than likely that employees will require access to devices that can connect to the internet (as well as an internet connection). Laptops and mobile devices are the most obvious, however it may be that they would need desktop computers at their homes. Any data-security issues would need to be considered and addressed if employees are accessing the internet away from the office. Is there sufficient network capacity for long-term (to support a significant increase in video conferencing?

2. Do you have the right software platforms for the long term?

Having the right software platforms in place is critical. Whilst remote access capabilities are an obvious consideration, consider how well did collaborative work was performed. For many organisations remote access + email + shared drives are not enough. Processes may have worked under this scenario for a while but are they sustainable or practical in the long term? Software platforms that support collaboration between people and groups and allow actions to be tracked reliably can provide significant benefits and insight into what is happening in an increasingly digital environment. If you have Office 365, for instance, you normally get SharePoint – a great collaboration tool, bundled in. There are of course many other apps and collaboration tools that will help your employees to work remotely. Solutions such as Slack help your workforce keep in touch and see what others have done (and sometimes, what they intend to do).

3. Get employee comms sorted

One of the biggest challenges when working remotely is keeping the whole business in contact with one another. It is vital that you decide on how everyone can keep in contact and choose your preferred communication channels. For example, you may request that everyone sends daily email updates. If you intend to acquire a collaboration platform then you could set up dedicated channels for each department to keep in touch. Other options may be WhatsApp groups or other instant messenger offerings.

In addition to internal communications, you will need to decide how you communicate with customers and clients, and how and when teams will coordinate and hold meetings.

5. Employee working conditions

“Any port in a storm” tends to work in in the middle of a crisis but, when longer term arrangements are being considered, proper provision of effective working conditions needs to be considered. A big problem for many was the absence of printers in employee home – not everything can be done digitally Also, there are Health & Safety standards that need to be considered for employees who are working from home long term. During height of the coronavirus pandemic, it was not possible for employers to carry out usual health and safety risk assessments at an employee's home because of lockdown and social distancing measures. However, as these restrictions are lifted employers will be required to ensure that working conditions meet Health & Safety requirements, including;

· Ensuring each employee feels the work they are being asked to do at home can be done safely

· Employees have the right equipment to work safely (this includes proper seating, desks etc.)

· Managers staying in regular contact with their employees, including making sure they do not feel isolated

· Adjustments are made for an employee who has a disability

6. Outsourcing for scalability

A major oversight in any business continuity strategy is the need to scale-up rather than scaling down. It’s a mistake to build plans based on the concept of operating with less – in some situations you may need more not less. Outsourcing to specialist suppliers for things like call centre upscaling, additional laptops and office space at short notice are examples of where more, rather than less, will be necessary for some situations.

7. Security

Information security considerations can often be overlooked when the pressure is on to resume some semblance of business as usual. During the Covid-19 lockdown, many organisations were forced to accept a “Bring Your Own Device” (or should that read “Use Your Own Device”) approach as competition for additional portable IT equipment intensified. In this situation it was almost impossible to enforce standard security configurations as employees used their own equipment. Security arrangements need to be considered so that information assets are properly protected when remote working is being performed.

8. Business Continuity is about Preparedness & Capability – not documents

It’s probably true to say that business continuity will never be the same. Covid-19 created the widest and most challenging test ever encountered - even for those organisations that had plans. Many organisations who turned to their plans during this period found them unhelpful and irrelevant. The large, voluminous documents, prescriptive flow-charts etc. did not help. Going forward all organisations need to re-evaluate their approach to business continuity. Gone are the approaches of “if this happens, do this or if this happens do that”. The large prescriptive procedural blueprints and flowcharts are becoming a thing of the past. The “new normal” for business continuity planning will be “baking in” preparedness and flexibility into the operating fabric of the organisation.

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