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The show must go on: How to prepare for business continuity in the face of a disaster

September 24, 2019
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Most leaders understand the importance of creating an emergency preparedness plan, which helps teams respond appropriately to a crisis. After all, from global pandemics to planned protests that prevent you from accessing your workplace, it's always better to be prepared.

But not everyone is prepared to manage the aftermath, which can persist for days — and sometimes weeks — depending on conditions. Perhaps nearby streets are impassable, making it challenging for your team to get to work, or your building is deemed unsafe following water or fire damage.

A business continuity plan enables you to tend to your daily duties while ensuring the safety of your team — after the threat has passed. Here are three best practices for creating and implementing a plan tailored to your workplace.

1. Create a communications protocol

Whether due to icy streets or civil strife, you may decide to close the office, or your employees may be hesitant to come to work following an emergency. Whatever the crisis, it's vital to communicate with your team immediately following the event. After all, you don't want them to waste their time or put themselves in danger.

Sending a companywide update is a good first step. However, it's important to have additional contact information, such as employees' personal phone numbers, at the ready in case your staff is unable to check email.

Make sure everyone understands that they need to reply as soon as possible, so you can account for your team. You'll also want to clearly outline alternate work plans.

Depending on your business type, touching base with clients will be the second prong of your communications plan. To ensure your clients feel adequately supported, let them know that you are still on the job, and provide them with a way to reach you.

2. Store key information off-site

If you suddenly become unable to access your workplace, storing customer files in the office can spell trouble. The same can be said about storing files on company computers, which can be damaged by floods.

Fortunately, backing up important company data is easier than ever, given the advent of the cloud — software that allows you to access documents from any device.

Because many of us do still keep documents on our hard drives or laptops, you'll want to enlist an automated backup service that makes a daily copy of all your files. Building in "redundancy" — that is, storing information in multiple places — allows you to keep working, even when the office is inaccessible.

While data storage is critical to business continuity, many companies need to maintain hard copies of files, too. If that's the case for you, find a reputable, climate-controlled, off-site storage facility where you can store duplicate copies of key files. Not only will that keep them safe if ever they're needed for a legal matter, it will also allow you to access them in the case of an emergency that prevents you from accessing your office.

3. Arm workers with the tools to work off-site

Remember when you were a kid, and you eagerly awaited the news of a snow day? Children may find joy in taking a day off from school, but snow days can be stressful for their parents, who have professional responsibilities.

In most cases, businesses can spare a day here and there to let their employees regroup when something is keeping them from the office. But work can't be paused indefinitely, so it's important to take precautions and get workers up to speed on how to perform their jobs remotely.

The opportunity to work remotely is a positive byproduct of emergency preparedness, since it aligns with the future of work and its emphasis on flexibility. Many workers are already used to working virtually, which means they can be productive immediately — putting you a step ahead in a crisis that precludes the team from coming to work.

Even if your team is unfamiliar with working remotely, you can still move forward. You can hold meetings via videoconferencing software, for example, and offer staff access to company files via the cloud. Just make sure employees are clear on security policies.

If you have ample warning, prepare for off-site work by asking employees to download the software they'll need and make copies of any relevant documents. That way, your staff will be ready to work even if they lack access to the office or the internet.

Finally, if it becomes clear that access might be hampered for the long term, you might want to look into a temporary co-working space or other location to keep your business moving forward.

Preparation leads to success

An oft-quoted adage is "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." By developing a business continuity plan, you can prepare for continued success, no matter which unforeseen circumstances affect you.

Want to know more about disaster emergency preparedness? Our free resources can help safeguard your business and its employees.

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