I recently had the honor of visiting Ground Zero in NY. This is a place that strikes everyone very deeply and differently. For me, standing in that sacred space, now in the shadow of the 1776-foot One World Trade Center building and bursting with NY life, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the rebuild. How did they ever clean that up? How did people ever get back to work? How did companies headquartered in Lower Manhattan survive when that part of the city was shut down for so long?
Fast forward now to this week. There’s a lot of talk circulating about coronavirus and its potential disruption to everyday life -- how we work, live, and send our kids to school -- should a severe outbreak occur in the U.S. How will we deal with that?
Whether or not mass shutdowns occur with this particular illness is certainly debatable, but what’s not debatable is that, at some point, some kind of emergency will strike your business that has the potential to shut it down, be it natural disaster, a national disaster, or just a simple busted pipe that floods the office and wrecks your equipment. Heck, just last week, I drove past an office building with windows covered in plywood. Turns out, a car had slammed into the building the week prior, and they were still closed. Literally, anything can happen.
Emergencies happen all the time, and one that strikes could cause you to have to close for a while. The question is, would you be able to keep working if that happened, and are you certain you’d reopen again?
Successfully managing a crisis requires that you start thinking about it now and devising the strategy that will get your company successfully to the other side of it. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Determine which jobs can be done remotely and what it will take to make that remote work successful.
Quite likely, more people can work remotely than you think, but how they’ll do it requires a lot of planning. Your executive team, IT department, HR department, and facilities department need to devise and execute a plan that assumes everyone will have to work remotely for a long time in order to keep the business operational.
To that end, audit available IT hardware and software, and close any gaps in access and adoption. Explore communication platforms (video and teleconferencing), and commit to the communication platforms you’ll use. If your employees are unfamiliar with how to use them, provide training and opportunities for practice before you’ll actually need to use them.
Above all, be aware of the data security issues that will arise from everyone working remotely, and address them now.
Remember, you can’t just hand out laptops during an emergency and ask people to work somewhere else. You need to provide the structure and the security for them to do it successfully.
- Establish communications guidelines.
Communication and regular check-ins are important when teams are working remotely, so beyond the “how-to” work remotely (the programs you’ll use), decide on the timing of issues. For example, will employees be required to work during traditional working hours? If an employee receives an IM or email from you, how long do they have to respond?
Perhaps most important is how you will continue to communicate with customers. Part of staying in business will be responding to customer needs as if your doors were still open. What will it take to accomplish that?
- Identify ways to measure performance to do better next time (and possibly change your work structure permanently).
After the crisis is over (or, better yet, after your trial run is over -- you should practice), reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and why. This will make you better next time an emergency arises. In addition, since remote work is gaining in popularity, depending upon the outcome of this trial, you may decide to continue certain aspects of remote work on a permanent basis. Not only will your employees appreciate the flexibility in their schedules, but you may find you can substantially cut costs by reducing travel between offices, incurring conference expenses, and so on.
Emergencies are disruptive, but there’s no need for them to produce uncertainty about your future. With a bit of preparation, you can ensure that your business emerges successfully after a disaster and maybe even comes out stronger.