Analysis

Business continuity planning for a modern workforce

  • Americas
  • Creating a Resilient Organisation
  • Resolving Critical Issues and Crises
Business continuity planning for a modern workforce


To ensure the wellbeing of staff and avoid operational disruptions, business continuity planners must account for the full range of goods and services their personnel could lose access to in the event of a natural disaster.

Between fierce competition for top talent and the lengthening of the average workday in the United States, companies are being prompted to greatly expand the workplace benefits they offer their employees. Whereas a good coffee machine and a personal computer may have once sufficed as office perks, many of today’s professionals expect benefits like free or heavily subsidized on-site meals, childcare, laundry services and transportation.

Meanwhile, “extreme weather disruption” was named one of the top five risks to global business in 2019, and the number of weather-related insurance claims continues to grow. Recent natural disasters – ranging from wildfires and earthquakes to winter storms and flash floods – have caused mass business disruptions, highlighting the necessity of corporate resiliency planners ensuring that their recovery strategies incorporate the needs of their workforce well beyond the basic considerations of laptops and network infrastructure.

The primary resilience strategy for most organizations is to enable employees, particularly those in the technical and professional services sector, to work from home. The widespread use of cloud computing and laptops has driven a 140% expansion in regular work from home since 2005, with an estimated 20-25% of the US workforce teleworking with some frequency. Thus, business continuity planners typically collect information on physical and electronic work requirements, and if necessary, make a case to invest in additional laptops, equipment and hotspots.

However, because of the increasingly digital nature of professional life, resiliency planners often substantially underestimate the degree to which employees rely on the basic services provided on the corporate campus, such as food, water, laundry and childcare.

Business impact analyses typically do not consider whether personnel keep adequate supplies of food and water in their homes, if they are able to easily launder their clothes or get to a supermarket, or if they own a generator or alternative power source. Those developing a business continuity plan (BCP) rarely ask employees about their childcare arrangements because employers assume those needs will be taken care of elsewhere, but this is increasingly not the case. When a natural disaster strikes, the lost productivity from employees scrambling to meet basic needs is a recipe for BCP failure.

Natural disasters are often a catalyst for organizations to ensure that adequate business continuity strategies are in place, testing existing plans and providing evidence of gaps to be filled. While many resiliency planners focus on “worst case” disasters such as a catastrophic earthquake in California or a Category 5 hurricane in Florida, their employees’ increasing reliance upon on-site services creates operational vulnerabilities even from much smaller, less life-threatening scenarios.

In aiding our clients through the management of real and simulated natural disaster scenarios, Control Risks has identified several best practices for companies to fully account for the needs of the modern, professional workforce:

  • Review the full range of employee benefits during business impact analyses and conduct surveys to determine an expected level of self-reliance among critical employee groups.
  • Define limits and a strategy for providing critical services to employees in the event company facilities are inaccessible.
  • Establish relationships with the communities in which your employees live and explore ways to enhance community resilience in the event of a natural disaster, such as by providing supplies to emergency shelters or equipping first responders.
  • Ensure your BCP embraces a true life-cycle approach, including regular risk, impact and dependency assessments.
  • Conduct realistic exercises with your personnel to determine whether critical staff have the resources to work effectively from alternate locations, including their homes.
  • Designate business-critical personnel and spend additional time and resources to provide contingency planning for key business stakeholders.
  • Create an adequate succession plan for business continuity and crisis managers.
  • Run exercises that help solidify the interaction between teams.

 

Many natural disasters do not result in mass casualties but still render travel infrastructure inoperable, create power and communications blackout zones and cause considerable damage to private homes and office buildings. By incorporating the full range of employee needs into resiliency planning, companies can more effectively mitigate the impact of natural disasters while building a reputation for employee care that will help attract and retain top talent.

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