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Special Feature: Coronavirus and Continuity...

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  1. Coronavirus and Business Continuity
    by Capt. Tom Serio

    Many of you know me as a freelance photographer and writer in the industry, but I also have a 25-year tenure in the disaster recovery/response business. From from my early days developing disaster recovery plans while in IT, I created business continuity plans that detailed how to continue the business of business in the midst of a disruption. I basically was in the planning, response and recovery aspects for major companies. Having gone through 9/11 in New York while with Cablevision, to the multitude of hurricanes and tropical storms in Florida and across the Gulf and Eastern US while heading the disaster program for Office Depot, to ensuring communications and disaster services across the country with Verizon, I am a bit seasoned when it comes to things that disrupt our lives.

    This current disaster du jour is the coronavirus, or COVID-19, a pandemic that is likely to be around a long time. You have heard the rules of social distancing, proper hygiene and quarantining. But the impacts of COVID-19 are far reaching, impacting how, where and when we can conduct business, including shutting it down for a length of time.

    As I was part of a team that drafted pandemic plans for the H5N1 bird flu a number of years ago, we took it with great seriousness early on as it was hard to pass between person but had the capabilities to do so if not checked. The COVID-19 virus easily transmits from person to person and therein lies one of the issues. The other is that the scientists don’t fully understand the signature of this virus, as in a firm incubation period, community spread, mortality rates and others.

    From the business aspect, there are a number of things you can do if not done already, and maybe some points you need to consider as we move into the “new norm” of doing our best to continue business in an un-business like environment.

    WORKING AT THE OFFICE

    · The open work environment does not bode well in a pandemic world. Open work areas as in multi-user kiosks, squatting work areas (where you may work at an open desk today but someone else works in that space tomorrow) or small low-walled cubes do not help. Open work and social areas should be off limits. Cubicles with low or no walls should be separated by removing the person in every other seat. Remember we are trying to keep distance between people.

    · Create staggered work hours. Instead of everyone working 9-5, create staggered shifts where a group comes in from 6AM to noon, another group from 11AM to 5 PM and another shift from 4PM to 10PM. This offers limited overlap time, reduces transmission possibilities and continues a level of business. Work areas should be wiped down at the end of each shift.

    WORKING REMOTELY FROM HOME

    There is a real need as we shift into a quarantine world that workers will have to telecommute to continue business functions. Theoretically that is a great idea, but in practicality it may not be so easy.

    · Connectivity – It’s easy to tell the staff to go home and work from there starting next week. Can or does your employee know how to connect from home? Do they have wifi? Do they need to tether off their cell phone? Who pays for the connection?

    · Accessibility – Can your telecom feeds in your data center support the influx of connections each day. Do you have sufficient network capacity back into your firewalls and systems?

    · Security – On any given day, a company may only project that 20% of their staff will be working remotely, so they purchase VPN (Virtual Private Network) licenses to cover them and a few extras. A VPN connection makes the connection more secure over the open internet, so it looks like a private connection directly to a website you are accessing and keeps your activity private. Any organization that needs secured access is likely to be using VPN or other secure connections. Trouble is, at the time when you send everyone home, a company may not have enough VPN licenses to allow everyone to connect simultaneously. You then need to stagger network connectivity times.

    · Home vs work computers – Are you issuing company imaged laptops for system access with the appropriate security software installed or trusting your employee has Norton or other virus protection on their laptop? This may not be a big issue if using web-based apps or SaaS (“Software as a Service” that resides on the main systems) but if connecting directly into the mainframes or servers, then this needs to be considered.

    · Keep in touch – establish a meeting schedule or open bridge for groups utilizing services such as WebEx, GoToMeeting or other software driven conference call tools.

    STAYING CONNECTED

    The advent of working from home may be good for mom and dad, but now we have the kids home too, who want to play games and stream all day, which can lead to bandwidth struggles. Granted 4G is a more robust network that most folks are on now than 3G was years ago, but there can still be contention. Some pointers:

    · You don’t always need to be connected – Unless you’re running an on-line app, many apps like your office email can be used while off-line. Get on the network at the beginning of your shift, sync up your email which will download new emails, then get off. There are settings in Outlook and other systems that allow you to use them while offline. After a few hours reconnect to the network and your emails will sync up and be sent as well as receiving new emails.

    · Download movies and music during non-peak hours, which now would be between 10PM and 8AM.

    · Take a breather from the online world. Even if quarantined, you can still go outside for a walk or spend time in the yard. Remember you need to practice social distancing as well as washing your hands as soon as you go home. But do take the break and spend some time with each other to relieve the monotony.

    CREATE YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT

    Working from home is like working from the office as you should have set times, responsibilities, calls, meetings, etc. To support this and keep you in a “business frame of mind”, incorporate some of the following:

    · Get dressed each day like you’re going to work. Don’t sit there in your underwear and be aware that people may be looking at you during video conferences, so comb the hair at least.

    · If on video conferences, check the wall behind you. Nothing worse than seeing people or disparaging posters on the wall behind you during a meeting. Put a nice picture, world map or something else that will perceive that you are in a work environment.

    · Keep the dog and kids out of your workspace during calls. They are cute but can be very disruptive to the others on the line.

    · Minimize background noise like a house phone, outside noises (close the window).

    · Do not have a cocktail next to you while on the call. If you are not allowed to drink at work, you are not supposed to be drinking from home while working.

    STAY ON TOP OF THE SITUATION

    · Create a “crisis team”, people to track information and the progress of the pandemic as well as your business. Assign a key person in your organization (not the top guy/gal) that can become the face of the company for internal and external audiences.

    · Maintain a cash flow in case supplies or services are needed and credit may not be available.

    · Understand your supply-chain exposure. In these days of JIT (Just In Time) deliveries, a prolonged outage in the supply chain can prevent you from getting or shipping goods, potentially impacting your revenue stream.

    · Keep key customers in the loop. Maintain communications with them so they understand your situation. Make this a positive engagement to offer support and that you are doing everything possible to quickly support them when this event is over.

    · Become part of the solution, not the problem. Offer community support, donate services, offer antidotal releases from the stresses of living through a pandemic, like fun on-line videos, books or other non-business related links.

    · Help to reduce the anxiety and stress of your employees and their families. Continue to monitor their situations. Remind them of services that may be offered through your health insurance or community services. Even though we likely can’t go anywhere, there are many resources on line, even religious programs.

    A FEW EXTRAS

    · If your business is heavily reliant on telecom connectivity, engage your carrier and understand how they are protecting the networks during this pandemic. Their staff may be impacted like yourself, so see how they are addressing work from home for their techs.

    · You may want to do the same for your electric carriers and water companies. If any of these services goes down during the quarantine period, you may get called to the carpet. Have emergency phone numbers, official statements on how they are beefing up or protecting their infrastructure or other information that could be useful during an outage.

    That’s it for now. We will get through this. If you really need to perform some social distancing, file a flight plan!

    ***
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