Flex and Mobile Work Should be Part of Business Continuity

For those working in the northern states, you’ve said it or heard it before, “It’s going to snow tomorrow… I’ll plan on working from home.”  It’s a mini business continuity plan going into action. Many companies with formal remote work programs ask technology enabled employees to work from home or bring their equipment/work home in case a snow storm comes – as predicted.  They may do a robocall in the morning of the storm with further instructions for employees. Thanks to advanced weather forecasting – usually a day or more – companies can prepare for an impending storm but, with other unexpected events, they may need more advanced planning.

The forecast predicted a warm and beautiful Friday after a tragic week in the city of Boston.  The date was Friday, April 19, 2013. That Monday, Patriot’s Day, two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. Although it was school vacation week and some took the week off to be with their children, many also planned on coming into work that day.  However, as a manhunt ensued early Friday morning, Boston and surrounding towns went into lockdown and public transportation was closed in fear of the suspected bombers escaping to NY via bus or train. For one employer with corporate headquarters in Boston and satellite campuses close by in the suburbs, many employees (including call center employees) had not expected this shut down. Those planning on coming into the office had not brought their laptop home and found themselves at home, unable to work.  A company that prided itself on staying open when buildings needed to close – with advanced warning – found themselves unable to take customer calls on what was a somewhat normal Friday everywhere else except the city of Boston and the surrounding towns.

Business continuity planning is typically for crisis management or for unplanned disruptions when networks go down or when buildings experience emergencies such as flooding or fires.  Some companies may lease recovery workspace for long term outages, yet one day events are usually not included.  Business continuity is often the responsibility of a Risk Management Office or Real Estate department. These plans are put in place to safeguard systems and mission-critical infrastructure in the event of a disruption.

Now that technology enables employees to work whenever and wherever they want – with or without approval – wouldn’t it make sense to formalize and incorporate flex and mobile work options into business continuity plans?  Flex and mobile work programs are typically managed out of HR.  We’ve always said that it is important to include CRE, Risk, IT, Finance and the business when establishing a formal flex and remote work program. This ensures proper use of space, safety and security are all included in the program to ultimately meet the needs of the business. Why not include having appropriate equipment and access to systems remotely in the event the building cannot open on any given day in corporate policies and procedures?

March 1, 2017 was going to be a clear and cool day in Boston. At 6:00 AM, just nineteen minutes before sunrise, a horrible accident occurred on the Southeast Expressway heading north into the city. Two of the three lanes were closed for one and a half hours. It was taking commuters 3 hours to go the last 10 miles on their trek into the city. I wondered how many people were late for work, students who missed their first and possibly second class and patients late for appointments, tests and maybe even surgeries. I then wondered what could have happened if companies had a plan in place and auto-called their non-customer facing employees coming up from the south to tell them to work from home that morning or maybe even for the entire day to enable business as usual. I couldn’t help think about how many cars that might have taken off the road and would have eased the commute (even if just a bit) for those who had to travel into the city that day.

I posted these thoughts on LinkedIn and the idea resonated with people.  39,000 views from all over the world later (with a little help from LinkedIn trending it) people started talking about using the tools they currently have in new ways to enable “business as usual” during unusual events. With a surge of large companies moving into the city of Boston including Reebok, Converse, New Balance and GE, the commute isn’t going to get any easier in metropolitan Boston – even on a clear and accident free day. TomTom ranked US cities with the worst commutes in the US. This 2017 report shows us that it is not just Boston with traffic issues.

Strategic companies are using formalized flex and mobile work options to enhance their business continuity programs to maintain business operations when the unexpected occurs whether it’s a natural or a manmade disaster or just a tough commute. Having the right tools and technology and a proactive plan in place enables a swift response to these situations and keeps business uninterrupted.

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