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Volume 31, Issue 4

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The alarms are sounding in your office building and employees are exiting the building due to warnings of a potential danger (bomb scare, fire, heating or a/c issue, anthrax scare, workforce strike, etc.). As employees are gathered safely outside the building, you receive the news that the building is rendered inaccessible for at least 48 hours, possibly more. What would the financial and customer impact be to your business if your employees were not prepared to accomplish work when the workplace is not available?

Most organizations are exposed to large risk when the workplace is not available. Recognizing this risk is the first step in developing a comprehensive “plan B” work plan that leaves every employee prepared to accomplish work if the workplace is not available.

According to Time magazine, the reality of the anthrax scare has stirred the government and business community to consider scenarios of “terrorism” we once thought not possible. We are now faced with planning for workforce and workplace disruption we never considered before.

Is there a plan? If so, how will work be accomplished when the workplace is not available?

Many organizations are confronting the “New Paradigm of Preparedness” for employees and organizations in the wake the Sept. 11 disaster. Historically, companies have spent time, money, and resources preparing to get employees out of a building that may be in potential danger. This is absolutely the first critical step in business continuity planning. There is now a critical second step that is becoming apparent: how to resume a level of productivity to meet customer needs when the workplace is not available.

Almost all disaster backup and recovery plans focus on assuring worker safety: Where are the stairs? Who is the fire drill coordinator? However, most plans do not go beyond that. In challenging business circumstances, employees need to be prepared to get the work done even when the work, workers and the workplace are dramatically changing.

When terror struck New York City on Sept. 11, many companies had disaster recovery plans in place for saving data and moving it to backup locations. But few companies were prepared to resume a level of productivity to meet customer needs, and precious days or weeks were lost before employees could get back to work. In fact, most businesses are vulnerable to almost any workforce disruption, even a job action, power outage or snowstorm.

Usually, the extent of a “plan” is to send workers home. As a result, deadlines slip, deliveries aren’t made, and customer service is suspended.

Organizations and individuals are lacking the tools and processes necessary for employees and teams to create a “plan B” work plan. Such a plan prepares individuals and teams to be productive despite challenging business circumstances.

There are three levels of preparedness in creating a “plan B” work plan for your organization:

Level 1 Recognize risk and develop an “organization plan B”
Level 2 Provide employee-training sessions to develop an “employee plan B”
Level 3 Communicate ongoing operational updates to ensure effective “plan B” implementation

Level 1 – Organization Plan B Action Items

• Meet with IT (technology) and facility resources to understand current business continuity plan.
• Gather cross functional team to explore financial and customer impact if the workplace is not available for varying lengths of time.
• Consider business wide 1-800 “organization plan B” dial-in bulletin board for all employee access.
• Integrate “plan B” technology solutions with current IT infrastructure capacity.

Level 2 – Employee Plan B Action Items

• Communicate need for new level of business continuity preparedness to employees.
• Hold three-hour training sessions for all employees to develop an “employee plan B” work plan. There are four quadrants of the plan: people/resources, outcomes/results, technology and physical assets.
• Break employee paradigm that work can only be done when the workplace is available.
• Provide employees with “questions to ask” and “actions to take” as guides to use after the training to operationalize “employee plan B” work plan.

Level 3 – Plan B Work Plan Communication Action items

• Meet with company communication resource to understand existing communication protocol.
• Brainstorm most effective communication vehicle to incorporate ongoing “organization plan B” updates.
• Pulse employees to gather results from “questions to ask” and “actions to take” and communicate success in “employee plan B” preparedness.

To create a “plan B” work plan employees need to imagine the realities if workers, work, or the workplace are not available for a period of time. Some employees resist truly preparing for major scenarios. The resistance leaves organizations exposed to tremendous risk in the marketplace. According to Smart Business magazine, two out of every five companies hit by a large disaster go out of business within five years. This is a statistic that can be managed if employees and teams are poised and prepared with a “plan B” work plan to resume a level of productivity.

We are facing times we never imagined. We must prepare for circumstances beyond what we thought was possible. Providing employees and teams with “plan B” training opens a new door in business continuity planning with a new level of thinking and preparedness. The new level of preparedness will change the scene.

Sandra Sullivan is founder of Sullivan and Associates, a nine-year consulting practice specializing in “How To Do Work Differently.” She is a contributing editor for Telecommuting Advisory Council World Wide Web Page “Frequently Asked Questions About Telecommuting.”