The last few weeks have been a challenge for most organisations as we all adapt to new ways of working which could be in place for some time to come.
Business continuity planning for many of us has generally been based on some typical scenarios – for example, data centre equipment failures or primary offices being inaccessible. The situation we find ourselves in right now has required organisations to rapidly adapt their business continuity plans as the global pandemic and physical distancing guidelines have created a scenario that most will not have envisaged.
In this post I will share how OWA is continuing to provide a full range of services to our clients and how some other organisations may need to adapt their business continuity plans for the future.
1. Get your priorities right from the start
If your business continuity procedures managed to cover the scenario which many now find themselves in then you probably don’t need to read any further – you’ve done well! For the rest of us, it is a matter of quickly adapting the plans which we already have in place.
In the service sector in which OWA operates, our team is the most important asset we have. Faced with the threat of a global pandemic, it is essential to put the safety and welfare of your people above everything else. Team members with dependants, whether they are children or vulnerable relatives, will need to spend time ensuring that they are being adequately looked after. It is essential to provide flexibility while people adapt their lifestyles to fit in additional personal duties alongside the new work routine.
So be as flexible as you can and your team will reciprocate – now is not the time to micro-manage or pretend that it is business as usual.
2. IT infrastructure
At OWA, we have enabled our team to work remotely for several years.
While we have offices in Oxford and London – collaborative spaces for the team to work together during key stages of a project – all of our systems are hosted in two secure UK-based data centres, and we became paper-free some time ago. It has therefore been relatively easy for us to close our offices and ask everyone to work from home. Our team already operates this way some of the time so the current conditions are well tested.
Our team authenticates onto our secure company network using a virtual private network (VPN) which has multi-factor authentication built in to provide additional perimeter security. We have used a VOIP-based phone system for many years so our telephone numbers essentially follow the users without us needing to put redirections in place.
Ensuring that your team can remotely access all of the systems which are needed when working from home is essential. If direct access is not possible then organisations should consider providing a remote access desktop, which effectively means that only screen, keyboard and mouse movements are sent over the network, with the processing being done on the organisation’s systems. This works very effectively if you need to manage larger files or datasets which may take some time to download and upload over a home broadband connection.
I’ve heard of some organisations that only have a limited number of remote access licenses for their systems and this has meant that they have had to prioritise access whilst trying to upgrade their systems.
Others have also required their team to authenticate onto their corporate network in order to access cloud-based services. This has caused a bandwidth bottleneck as it was never envisaged that everyone would be working remotely at the same time.
For many organisations having alternative business continuity office space, to which they can transfer over their operations, has been the cornerstone of planning. This obviously doesn’t work with the current physical distancing guidelines. Providing your team with the ability to work remotely is the most effective way of ensuring that your organisation can continue to operate in a whole range of known and unknown scenarios.
Many organisations are not used to operating remotely and this in itself can provide several challenges. It is important that team members can communicate easily with each other and customers. In addition to telephone and email communications, OWA has used instant messaging internally for some time. We find that this allows the team to communicate very quickly but is less intrusive than a phone call.
Screen-sharing technologies are also widely used within our team for project work and to enhance the remote meetings we have with clients.
When everyone is working remotely it is important to keep team spirits up, particularly in the current climate. At OWA, we have a daily team meeting each morning which is a mix of informal conversation, information sharing about the progress of projects and other company-related updates.
4. Stay vigilant
The world is in the grip of a global pandemic so it would be good to think that the usual threats from hackers and scammers might diminish – however it seems that they are simply adapting their methods to take full advantage of the situation.
Ensuring that your systems continue to have security patches applied is essential. Do not be tempted to loosen your security procedures to enable remote workers to gain access to your systems. This will just make it easier for those looking for exploits. Life is difficult enough at the moment without having to deal with a security breach.
Make sure your team is aware of the increase in threats and if possible ensure that incoming emails are security scanned before being presented to individuals. Scammers have years of experience producing very realistic looking emails and organisations are hungry to get the latest updates and information, particularly from sources which appear to be trusted. The risk of a user clicking on a potentially dangerous link in an email at the present time is very high, so organisations should do all they can to mitigate against the threat.
5. Learn and adapt
Hopefully Coronavirus Covid-19 will be the only global pandemic we face in our lifetime, but there are still some important lessons to learn from the situation we find ourselves in.
For many organisations this will be the first time whole teams have worked remotely – along with all the management and infrastructure challenges this presents.
Some team members will realise that they can perform their duties just as well from home without the time and environmental impact of commuting. Organisations may start to question why they are spending money renting office space when their teams can work just as well remotely.
Some will need to look at their systems and processes to ensure that their teams are able to work effectively from remote locations.
Although many aspects of ‘normal’ life, which have currently been put on hold, will return in the coming weeks and months, I predict that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how many of us work in the future – and hopefully there can be some positive benefits for our lives generally and the environment in particular.
At OWA, we embraced flexible and remote working several years ago and our systems and procedures have been adapted to enable this to happen.
We are happy to share our experiences and help organisations put the systems and applications in place to make it work effectively.