The recent floods and cyclones in Queensland are a timely reminder for businesses to be prepared for the worst. If you employees are all contained within the one location, including all the equipment, data and tools required, then there is a high probability that a natural disaster will wipe out your business operations in one swoop.
Telework, telecommuting or working from home is essential to business preparedness for natural disasters and other incidents. For example, if the public transport network is stalled due to power failures or union strike activity then the productivity of your workers will be severely affected. However, if those same workers were able to anticipate those issues, then they could choose to work from home or some other location if all of the tools were available in advance.
The US Government has enacted the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 to encourage greater use of telework in society and to assist its agencies to be prepared for natural disasters and other man-made events. The key aims were to:
- Improve business continuity of operations
- Improve management effectiveness due to reduced turnover and absenteeism for employees
- Reduce environmental costs, especially with the use of government buildings
- To allow employees to better manage work-life balance and their personal obligations such as family
Telework provides natural decentralization of employees. A shutdown of the main business premises does not mean that the whole business grinds to a halt, which might have occurred for a whole variety of reasons, including fire, power failures, evacuations, and natural disasters. Many employees can continue to work from another location as long as they are not directly effected from the event.
The US government has given each agency the opportunity to utilize telework the best way possible for each individual organization and different types of employees and job roles. There have been significant savings in terms of travel and real estate costs over time. Telework has also increased in parts of Japan in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear emergency, where many companies had to conserve considerable amounts of energy. By having workers stay at home, the need to turn on whole floors of lights in the office building was minimized.
To be best prepared for a natural disaster, the business must be organized enough to have relevant documents stored in several places. This is a precaution in the event that the entire IT environment is shutdown. To prevent such as shutdown, the IT servers and other resources should be housed at multiple sites (hot sites), or alternatively, ‘cold’ or ‘warm’ sites should be on standby so that alternative IT systems can be started up with minimal notice and effort. With the increasing use of cloud computing, it is now possible for many systems to continue to be available irrespective of the primary business office. However, due diligence must be done to ensure that the cloud computing provider is also adequately prepared for many outages or incidents.
Telework relies heavily on remote access systems. As long as the data centre is still available, employees will be able to access their business documents and information systems normally without disruption. This also means that employees can be moved to other locations if necessary. For example, in the Brisbane CBD flood in January 2011, a whole team of Macquarie call centre employees (that were not directly affected by the floods themselves) were relocated to an office in Sydney for several days so that the specific call centre service could continue uninterrupted.
To implement teleworking requires considerable leadership, self-reliance and self-motivation on the part of all employees, including:
- Critical thinking and problem solving – how do you overcome any issues that arise and take the appropriate action
- Effective communication – be able to express ideas and messages in both verbal and written form
- Collaboration and team building – be able to work effectively with others both in the physical office and virtual office
- Creativity and innovation – to be able to innovate and come up with creative solutions to fill gaps and overcome issues
Today’s telework links:
- Government Security News: Disaster response and telework
- Telework Exchange: Telework Week is 5-9 March 2012 – 2 telework days for all full time employees would save US$215 billion in commuting costs over one year
- VSee: Stanford study – telework is more productive, including graph of treatment and control groups. Employees were less likely to quit, had a more positive work attitude, and those who were older, married or had long commutes were more likely to telework. In China, commuting can be up to 10% of the employee’s salary.
- Spin Sucks: 5 tips for working at home – (1) phone and Skype, (2) good habits, (3) overcommunicate at first, (4) treat yourself through set breaks and time off, (5) ‘turn off’ at the end of the day
- SPK and associates: tips for getting setup at home
- Mirror (UK): more parents turning to freelance and working from home – discusses People Per Hour website and flexible working. 83% of workers want the option. UK employees have the right to ask for flexible work if you care for someone under 17 or you are a carer for a close relative.
- SME Web: telework during the London 2012 Olympics may make companies vulnerable – security and data portability critical; you could overload the IT systems if you don’t give proper consideration to scalability. Options include Terminal Server and Virtual Desktops