Many telework proponents tout the benefits of telework, such as reducing costs or increasing employee satisfaction and retention, but not enough attention is given to the benefits of teleworking for business continuity. All organizations have a need to protect their essential operations from natural disasters, pandemics, or man-made threats. However, not all organizations make telework a key component of their disaster recovery or business continuity strategy. Consider a few examples of organizations that survived terrible events due to their ability to work virtually:
- Headquarters for The Wall Street Journal was located feet from the collapse of Tower 2 during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The newspaper used an editor’s home, freelance journalists, and basic technology, such as email and publishing software, to ensure an issue went out on September 12th, the day after the attacks. It’s been over 100 years since the WSJ missed a publishing date.
- Tulane University experienced tremendous physical damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Students, faculty, and staff dispersed. Scott Cowen, Tulane’s president, established an emergency response team that relocated to Houston, Texas. Located several hundred miles from his traditional office in New Orleans, Cowen led a virtual crisis response plan and strategic rebuilding plan virtually via email, cell phones, and common website platform utilization. Additionally, several universities hundreds of miles away from Tulane offered online credit programs so that displaced students would not fall behind in their coursework.
- A supply chain company based in Orlando, Florida, had to quickly react in 2009 when an employee was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. Although the employees worked in a traditional, office-bound environment, most of the employees had laptops and access to the company via VPN. Leaders were quickly able to put together a plan to keep operations running as a majority of employees worked from home.
The learning point is two-fold. First, leaders should assess their organization to determine their essential operations, the people that perform the work, and existing technology infrastructure. Then, they can determine how the work can be done virtually if needed. Second, and perhaps more importantly, organizations need to practice. You can’t expect your contingency plans to work well if you wait until disaster strikes before testing it out. Telework can be done as an emergency preparation drill and practiced throughout the year. In the process, leaders of employees in traditional work assignments may discover the benefits of teleworking extend beyond continuity of operations planning.
Regardless of Mayan visions or predictions from tabloid psychics about the disasters coming in 2012, one thing is for sure: all organizations need to prepare for the ‘what-if’ scenarios. So while you’re stocking water and ammunition in your homemade bunker and wondering if you can stomach several months of beef jerky and freeze-dried fruit, you may want to give some thought to teleworking.