Business Continuity Planning for COVID19 – What To Look For When Creating A Work From Home Arrangement.

Let's look at the scale of the problem - how serious is this pandemic?

For the elderly and infirm it is serious, since it presents a significant risk.

Those with pre-existing conditions are also more at risk, with age being less of a factor.

Quarantine is the best way to reduce the rate of infection.

HSBC has evacuated a floor of its Canary Wharf office tower after an employee was confirmed to have caught coronavirus. 100
HSBC employees at Canary Wharf were sent home for two weeks after one colleague
tested positive.

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HSBC stated that: "...We are deep-cleaning the floor where our colleague worked and shared areas of the building. Colleagues on that floor, and others who came into contact with him, have been advised to work at home. Based on medical and official advice the building remains open and operates as normal. Our first priority and concern is the health of our employees and customers – and we are encouraging our colleagues to monitor their health carefully and stay at home or call a doctor if they feel unwell.”

Most companies are busy updating their business continuity plans for a substantial Work From Home (WFH) option to be followed. Tescos have told more than 5000 staff to prepare to work from home. WeWork has closed it’s New York office.

Staff are being encouraged to self-isolate and further quarantining of buildings is expected to reduce the infection rate as much as possible, so that our medical system is not overwhelmed.

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How contagious and deadly is coronavirus?

The Prime Minister acknowledged the measures the Government are implementing will cause severe disruption for many months. He additionally stated that "......this is the worst public health crisis for a generation..... some people compare it to seasonal flu [but] due to the lack of immunity this disease is more dangerous....many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."

High media coverage has increased the public’s concern and a cautious policy is being proposed for people to restrict contact with others,  stay safe, stay at home and in particular, don’t fly.

The Airline industry could lose more than $113 billion in revenue this year alone.  The International Air Transport Association director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac stated that:

"It is unclear how the virus will develop, but… this is a crisis."

Government predictions are that "Up to a  fifth of UK workers could be off sick at the same time" and self-isolation will become a common occurrence.

This scenario is likely to be with us for many months, with subsequent waves of infection also being predicted.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) commented that:

“We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” (Ghebreyesus). “Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.”

In the meantime, the WHO expects things to get worse before the outbreak is brought under control, especially given how hard it is for some areas to test for and confirm cases.

“In the past two weeks the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold and the number of affected countries has tripled,” Ghebreyesus said. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher.”

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The scale of this epidemic is going to impact on every level of society. We have already seen 1 in 10 consumers panic buying and stockpiling and whilst this reaction may or may not be logical, the fact remains that people are preparing for the reality of expecting to self isolate.

What can companies do to respond to this situation?

Workforce depletion of this magnitude, despite happening on a staggered basis, will inevitably have an impact on the ability of companies to meet deliveries and client expectations.

For business models where working from home is feasible, this is a sensible approach to prevent contamination.

Microsoft, Nike, Cisco, Shopify, Twitter have all already implemented a mandatory WFH policy.

Flexible working arrangements not only eliminates transmission at the office but also on public transport (bus, rail and underground) where close contact is often unavoidable.

Business implications, how do we prepare?

Businesses have 3 principal responsibilities:

  1. To ensure as far as possible that employees stay safe and healthy.
  2. To help to minimise the spread of the virus.
  3. To ensure that those staff who need to self-isolate but are not ill can still maintain their contribution and output as near as possible to what would be achieved in an office environment.

Whilst the government is providing a wealth of advice and guidance regarding points 1 and 2 above, it’s up to individual companies how point 3 is managed. If a WFH policy results in problems such as reduced productivity, missed delivery dates, quality control issues or mistakes due to poor communication, this can have dire consequences for the company.

Adopting a WFH policy that provides a consistent and seamless ongoing service delivery is, therefore, a  key objective.

What does Success Look Like?

Companies who have a successful WFH approach typically understand the interaction and collaboration activities that matter in an office environment, then replicate that same approach as far as possible on a remote basis. In practice, this means that the natural in-person working methods and communication needs to be preserved in WFH systems.

Taking a simple  example, if two people are in the same office, it’s taken for granted that:

  • One person can look at the other’s screen
  • Both can clearly hear each other
  • Both can clearly see each other and can establish eye contact

If the same two people are then meeting remotely, their requirements are:

  • Can you clearly hear me?
  • Can you clearly see me?
  • Can you see my data and/or can you collaborate with me?

Impact of an inadequate system

In practice, even on a one 2 one remote meeting where the audio is unclear, people will often instinctively lean into the screen in an attempt to improve their ability to hear what the other party is saying. Nevertheless, poor sound quality often results in a misinterpretation of what the other party has stated.

Now add in video and some more people, all viewing the same part of a complex document, spreadsheet or image or diagram where both the audio is unclear and visual imagery is inflexible. The ability to present, share, understand and discuss issues becomes more of a challenge if most of the focus is just on attempting to pick up what is said and displayed, due to poor equipment.

Sharing multiple documents and media types across two or three teams of people makes the process progressively more complex again.

The following video clip will feel very familiar to many professionals.

What is the answer?

Where co-workers or teams communicate daily and meet regularly, the creative energy produced together with a group commitment to succeed is very strong. When a WFH alternative is introduced, the key objective is to preserve that connection with each member of the team - to be able to work and collaborate naturally together

That remote working experience must recreate as closely as possible the same experience as everyone meeting in the same room. If remote meetings do not measure up, there is a risk that such meetings become ineffective and unproductive.

Every person who has previously tried remote meetings and working from home will have at some point encountered the challenges of recreating the same working processes that you would naturally use face to face. Miscommunication, inefficient working and lack of technical and human connection start to impact on productivity and costs creep. Multiply this effect across many teams and individuals and the damage is significant.

Providing an easy to operate system that delivers clear audio and a very flexible visual capability will tap into that creative energy and help to develop a can-do attitude on a remote basis.

From our experience at Infacom, current deployments of international collaboration workspaces prior to this epidemic have demonstrated very clearly that complex work can successfully be managed on a remote basis.

In one case we have witnessed an advanced design and development department managing multiple projects in China, coordinating multiple teams and providing training entirely on a remote basis. Historically this activity had required repeated high-level visits to China. Whilst this department has not gone unscathed by the local quarantine regulations, the international remote working systems enabled critical work to continue, whereas beforehand the work would have either slowed or stopped completely.

Another multi-team collaboration has found the innovation of data handling and collaboration in the new workspaces so effective that it has developed an entirely new working methodology - which is now deemed to be more effective that the in-person approach.

Every cloud has a silver lining and in these kinds of situations, adversity will drive creativity.

Teams have the potential for finding new and effective ways of creating and collaborating in virtual workspaces and reducing their carbon footprint.

Our recommendation: ensure that your WFHteams have virtual workspaces that can meet and surpass their needs and productivity. The value achieved in maintaining continuity will speak for itself.

Mark Beaumont, Founder of Infacom, is a collaboration and communication specialist enabling teams to successfully adopt digital collaboration technology to achieve significantly greater productivity for a business. Mark is regarded as one of the most experienced and knowledgeable Nureva solutions consultants in the world, having co-written the British Standard for Audio Visual Installations (BS8590:2014). and has extensive experience in implementing Nureva systems worldwide

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