It doesn’t take much to shut down a business. It can be a natural disaster, or one that’s manmade. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of both. Either way, work stops, productivity drops, customers’ needs aren’t met, the company loses business, and ultimately may be forced to close. This February, unusual back-to-back snowstorms closed the Federal government. The Office of Personnel Management says it cost an estimated $100 million per day in lost productivity.
One thing you can count on is that emergencies will happen, and the probability is great that they will happen to your organization. Consider these facts:
- In 2008, there were 75 major declared disasters, according to FEMA[i] and many smaller incidents that caused a halt to business operations.
- 1 in 5 US businesses suffered a disaster that caused operations to cease for a time.[ii]
- Businesses average 9 such incidents each year with an annual cost of $3 million. [iii]
- 43% of companies that go through a severe crisis never open their doors again and another 29% fail within 2 years.[iv]
- The companies that survive still suffer reduced productivity and earnings and damaged customer relationships.[v]
Don’t let this be your company’s story. Be prepared.
Of course, there are many ways to prepare for a disaster, but one that’s becoming more and more common is the creation of a flexible work environment that requires changing how, when and where work is done. Historically, this kind of flexibility was considered an approach that primarily helped employees manage their work and life needs. However, today, we know flexibility (especially telework or telecommuting -- the ability to work from home or another location some or all of the time) benefits employers as much as employees. This is in part due to the role flexibility plays in planning for and responding to emergencies.
If the workforce is already equipped, trained and proficient at working from home or an alternate workplace, it can literally save the business. 71% percent of companies with a telework program say their employees can continue to work if the office is closed due to a storm or disaster vs. 17% of companies without telework.[vi] And, firms with stable and trained teleworkers are poised for a speedier rebound afterwards.[vii]
So, it’s not surprising that organizational disaster planners have begun to require that teams (individuals, managers and executives) are prepared to work flexibly, and in fact practice working flexibly on a regular basis. Otherwise, people will not remember all the things critical to functioning smoothly in an emergency. And, if being prepared was not incentive enough, disaster preparedness costs are lower for companies with experienced, trained and well-equipped teleworkers and remote workers.
- JPMorgan Chase estimates annual savings in the millions from using telework as a proactive business continuity strategy; 40% of its investment banking staff telework.[viii]
But, it’s not enough to offer telework as part of a business continuity plan. Everyone has to actually practice working flexibly in order to be prepared. That means that employees, managers and HR stakeholders must be trained, have the right flex information and tools, and have experience working and managing remotely BEFORE the crisis happens. What’s required is a new focus that ‘connects the dots’ between what has typically been seen as a HR initiative – implementing flexible work practices – and the work of those responsible for planning for disasters. While these two functions may ‘live’ in different parts of the organization – and as a result may never ‘naturally’ interact – to effectively plan for emergencies, they must become partners for flexibility.
When work teams are experienced and equipped at working virtually and managers can manage from a distance, business operations can often continue with little interruption even when the unexpected happens. Creating a partnership between internal business continuity stakeholders and others who work to implement flexible work practices is mission critical. When the disaster planning team says, ‘you will do this,’ it may resonate differently than when the message is only conveyed by HR – it becomes a business imperative. Becoming a more flexible work environment is a win/win/win for organizations. In addition to many other proven business benefits, we can now add the important goal of business continuity.
For more information, see www.flexemployer.com
Did Health Care Reform get snowed in? Read how concerns over state funding to children's hospitals needed rose above the piles of snow.
[i] FEMA, retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/news/disaster_totals_annual.fema, 2009.
[ii] AT&T and Partnership for Public Warning, 2004, cited in Exploring Telework as a Business Continuity Strategy, ITAC, p. 3.
[iii] Contingency Planning Research study of Fortune 1000 companies, 2003. cited in Exploring Telework as a Business Continuity Strategy, ITAC, 2004, p. 16.
[iv] Cerullo and Cerullo, 2004 cited in Exploring Telework as a Business Continuity Strategy, ITAC, p. 3.
[v] Veritas, 2004 cited in Exploring Telework as a Business Continuity Strategy, ITAC, 2004, p. 4.
[vi] CDW-G, Telework Report, 2008.
[vii] Exploring Telework as a Business Continuity Strategy, ITAC, 2004, p. 7.
[viii] Exploring Telework as a Business Continuity Strategy, ITAC, p. 9.