In Puerto Rico, where my company is based, we are no strangers to tropical storms. Just last month, Hurricane Erika made landfall here, bringing 50 mph wind gusts and torrential downpour that forced us to evacuate and temporarily close our offices.
Thanks in part to climate change, we're seeing more intense storms than ever, and not just in areas that are typically known as hurricane hotbeds. This means that while businesses based in areas that are accustomed to battling the environmental elements may have sophisticated business continuity practices in place, others may be less prepared.
So whether you're bracing yourself for another hurricane season or already preparing for what's predicted to be a brutal winter, how can you make sure that Mother Nature doesn't slow down your business?
- Get comfortable with a remote workforce. The reality is that even if employees aren't able to physically get into the office, business may need to continue as usual -- particularly when you serve customers globally. This means that you'll need to have both the organizational framework in place to support this, as well as the technology required to keep things moving smoothly. Depending on the size of your company and the type of work you do, this can entail everything from having backup servers in place to making sure that your enterprise software has the bandwidth to support multiple employees working from different locations.
- Maintain continuity. You need to have both strategy and processes in place to keep your business functioning, even if day-to-day operations are interrupted. One strategy is to appoint a chief information security officer whose job is to ensure that sensitive data is protected and backed up in the event that systems go down in a storm. This person works on cross-functional teams to design and implement the procedures that keep the company afloat.
- Be transparent with customers and partners. In the event of an office closure, be sure that your customers and partners are the first to know, not the last. In some cases they may be experiencing similar issues, but if you have a global or even national customer base, they might be completely unaware of what is happening in your area. Social media, your website, and networks like LinkedIn can be great communications channels for providing updates, disseminating information, and providing reassurance. Sometimes, it's just a matter of explaining the situation, educating audiences that you have a plan in place, and providing a mechanism for contacting key team members, especially if you're working on time-sensitive projects.
- Start before disaster hits. Remember that old cliché, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? That applies in disaster management situations for businesses. Having procedures and protocols in place -- and training your staff about those processes -- is vital for smooth management of challenging circumstances.
While it can be a nuisance, and in some cases dangerous, extreme weather doesn't have to be responsible for slowing down your business. It's less about stashing stores of bottled water and more about communications and safety. You probably already have what you need to weather storms; now is the time to dust off your plans and put them to use.
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