Covid-19 is a wake-up call for business continuity

WE are, without any doubt, in exceptional times and the pressure on government, businesses, organisations and individuals keen to avoid a “worst case” scenario is now truly immense.

It's a deadly serious matter and in a new media age, powered by 24-hour rolling news updates and social media, businesses and their employees are anxious and worried.

Plans to address this crisis are moving and changing quickly, with mitigating measures and processes for containment now significant, far-reaching and painful. Most businesses are now battling for survival.

As schools close, conferences are cancelled and flights are pulled, there is a major onus on our business community to play its part in ensuring that this virus is at best kept at bay – and ensure that livelihoods are fully protected. Given the nature of the crisis, this requires great creativity, resolve and focus.

Now part of strict government guidelines, ‘working from home' is now an imperative, though not everyone is finding it so easy.

The global tech giants led the way on this weeks ago. Google, Microsoft and Facebook were quick to axe major conference gatherings, opting instead to host the events online as part of a remote, interactive experience if they can – in the hope that these physical gatherings can be rescheduled again soon. Local businesses are following suit.

This global pandemic is now a serious wake-up call for companies to carefully and urgently review the strategies, policies, and procedures they have in place to protect employees and clients and ensure that ‘business as usual' can be preserved as long as possible. And time for this is fast running out.

Many companies in Northern Ireland will be worried about what to do next and most they will already be urgently asking themselves if their business can survive by ‘working from home'.

While many jobs – particularly healthcare, manufacturing and retail – generally demand an on-site presence, there are thousands of organisations which could, or should, be able to comply. Fortunately, the technology is already widely available to make it happen.

The time to act is now. While employers are advised to have strategies in place, here's what you can do now:

:: Get mobile - Most employees are already very mobile and do most of their work on laptops and mobile devices but if this isn't in your business culture, it's time to look at the options.

:: Get more from the cloud - Work like you're in the office by accessing all the shared files you need through securely using cloud technology. It builds capacity and it's one modest investment you will never regret. By adding Microsoft Office 365, which links all devices and is backed up regularly, if there's no important meetings to attend, there's no reason to head in to work.

:: Check in online - New VoIP-based telephone lines means you can keep travel at a minimum by dialling in and enjoying conference and video facilities with your team for little cost. You can also create emergency communications messaging groups such as WhatsApp for updates and Microsoft Teams for internal and client communications.

:: Support your staff - If your staff don't already have laptops, you might want to consider the investment and that you have an up to date work-from-home policy that protects them and you.

Time magazine recently described coronavirus the “world's largest work-from-home experiment” and that is what this is shaping up to be.

It's not yet a government requirement that employers need to fully close their workplace. But they should still plan in case they need to close temporarily.

Given the greater focus in this area and rising demand for this specific range of business support, you should also make enquiries quickly.

For many companies, working from home is no longer a privilege. It's a necessity.

:: Eric Carson is co-founder, owner and chair of Rainbow, Northern Ireland's largest independent supplier of telecommunications services

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