The Cloud, Teleworking And Natural Disasters

Telework can be useful workers all year round, but having an efficient system for working offsite really comes into its own when a natural disaster strikes and staff can’t get to the office. The benefits can be considerable, but you need to ensure that your cloud infrastructure is up to the task — and do some sneaky social networking planning as well.

Picture by Jonathan Wood/Getty Images

Making your systems cloud-accessible — whether that’s by using entirely public services or by running up your own private cloud infrastructure — is a key step in making sure people can work when flood, fire or other incidents impact your main location. “Enabling better business continuity and disaster recovery is very dependent on having an agile workforce that can get in and do their job as quickly as possible without having to rely on physical infrastructure,” said Gartner analyst John Girard.

Even if a disaster doesn’t directly impact your business, it can have effects on the overall supply chain or how work gets done. “Global supply chains and interactions between countries are becoming more critical all the time, so even small disruptions can disrupt a lot of companies,” Girard notes. For companies where staff travel regularly (itself an incentive to have an effective system), airline outages can be a major problem (whether those are the result of volcanic ash or industrial pigheadedness.

There’s an important difference between a basic disaster recovery scenario, which typically focuses on making sure core systems are up and running, and a full telework policy, which ensures that people can perform their job in locations outside the office. “Telework is a natural adjunct to a disaster management program,” Girard noted, but planning is essential. “You can very easily overstress a telework process by throwing business continuity problems onto it if it hasn’t been thought out in advance.”

In Gartner’s research, while 90 per cent of businesses have some form of remote access, only 60 per cent have plans which cover staff having no access to work for a period of longer than a week. Often it’s the simple tasks that cause problems, such as not being able to remotely reboot a server if it stalls.

Internal systems aside, you need to ensure that staff have decent equipment for at-home access. Girard has made the point before thatworking on tablets for extended periods isn’t actually effective. If the office isn’t going to be accessible for extended periods, having a keyboard, mouse and full-size screen makes a big difference to productivity. Some tasks simply don’t lend themselves to a tablet-only approach.

Girard suggests that social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter can also be useful as part of an emergency teleworking system, since they provide a communications system that’s likely to be in place and accessible to most staff.

Leverage social networks I’m seeing more of this going on “When people started talking about using social networking for emergency reporting and communication, it was seen as sort of a joke,” Girard said, but now it is a mainstream option. “75 per cent of business continuity programs will be using social media. The benefits outweigh the problems. You could have private Twitter feeds and private Facebook pages for your company — not because it’s the best solution but because it’s cheap and versatile.”

A basic checklist of technologies for telework which need assessing ahead of a disaster includes:

  • Do staff have fast enough internet access at home to reliably access work resources? “The NBN is going to be a great solution here,” Girard notes.
  • Have you set up sufficient permissions and security controls for external-facing resources?
  • Can browser-based systems be accessed on a variety of browsers?
  • Will your virtual private network (VPN) systems scale effectively when being used by the majority of employees, not just a subset?

While the right technology is vital, you also need to make sure that the business recognises that working offsite is viable. “Supervisors often don’t trust people when their workers are remote,” Girard noted. Setting a good example prior to a disaster can make a big difference. “The most important consideration is that key people needed to practice telework all the time as part of their jobs.” Regular ‘telework drills’ where staff are reminded how to work remotely can be just as important as actual fire drills.

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