“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” – Dave Hollis
At the time of this writing, it’s difficult to find a headline missing the word ‘pandemic’ in it. But we are hopeful that this season will pass, and the pandemic headlines with them. When they do pass, they are sure to be replaced by any number of other words, such as ‘flooding’, ‘wildfires’, ‘elections’, just to name a few. The fact is that the current situation will not be the last to disrupt normal life. Whether upending just one person’s life or the entire globe, fires, power outages, floods, illnesses, civil unrest and other such unwelcome guests are sure to show up at some point to someone, somewhere. While the chances of all of these events happening to one individual are very low, the chances of at least one of them happening at least once in that individual’s lifetime is virtually guaranteed. So when thinking about preparing for disruption, it’s really about preparing for when, not if, a disruptive event will come along.
So let’s think along these lines; we are preparing for a guaranteed but unknown event X in the future that will disrupt our ability to operate normally. But what is normal? And why is that normal the norm? For most people, normal is getting to the office at 8am or 9am, and leaving any time between 4pm and 7pm, depending on your flexi-time (remember fancy term? 🙂 Why do we consider this normal? Why on earth do you ever report to the office? Your answer might comprise any combination of the following broad reasons;
- You use a desktop computer and have to come to the office, because the computer is too lazy to reciprocate by coming to work from your home.
- You need to access information, which is in a file at the office, with a colleague, or is in a software system that can only be accessed while you are at the office
- You or your boss need to sign off on things for other things to happen, otherwise everything will grind to a halt
- Clients need to meet you, and the office is the most proper and convenient place to do so.
- You’re bored and need to hang out with your friends at the office
Keeping in mind that we are preparing for an unknown event X in the future; it means that whatever our preparations, when they are called upon, must address the above-listed concerns to almost the same levels as when things are ‘normal’, if not better.
Let’s start from the first issue; If at the office your assigned computer is a desktop, anything that keeps you away from the office limits your ability to work. To remedy this, you need to be able to turn almost any computing device (including the average smartphone) into your workstation. For this to happen, the core software applications you use need to be running on a remote platform of some sort. It should allow users with the right permissions to access it from any secure computer with an internet connection. Such platforms could include all-out cloud solutions like those provided by Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure.
Another option is a virtual private server (slightly fancy term #3), hosted remotely by a third party service provider. Providers of such services are many, but the important thing is to ensure that whatever provider you choose is well-reputed and has redundancy (another slightly fancy term; this one simply means that the remote host should be fully backed up by one or more centers holding copies of its data and setup). Another critical consideration is information security, but more on that some other time.
Core systems that must be hosted remotely for your staff to effectively work away from the office include your organization’s line-of-business software. If you’re in insurance, these would include your policy and/or claims management software. If you’re in manufacturing, these would include your supply chain/ inventory management, dispatch and invoicing/ billing software.
To address the second reason you go to the office, you need another type of system to be hosted on a remote platform with redundancy; you need a robust Electronic Document Management System (EDMS). A high quality EDMS, when well set up, should take care of your hardcopies to ensure they are accessible from home or anywhere else outside the office. Hardcopies usually present the biggest headache, but also contributing are documents in purely electronic formats like Word documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, emails and ArchiCAD drawings to name a few, if their filing and naming convention is chaotic (think of your network folders at work). A good EDMS should be able to relate digitized images of hardcopies to their softcopy relatives such that they are easy to find as a group.
Let’s take the example of Hope, an insurance brokerage underwriter. Her work starts by receiving an email request from a potential client to find a good cover for his vehicle from a reputable insurer. After some back and forth on email to discuss the client’s budget and preferred benefits, Hope sends out RFQs to a number of insurers on email, in addition to doing her own calculations on an Excel sheet. When she settles on a preferred insurer, she prepares a formal letter of instructions in Word, which she then converts to PDF before sending it out. The insurer reverts with a confirmation letter along with the policy document, both in hardcopy. Hope needs to keep a copy for her records before forwarding the policy document to the client.
If Hope is using a quality, well set-up EDMS, it should effortlessly bring all these documents, regardless of their format, together in a virtual file. That way all the documents, individually or collectively, can be found within seconds, whether she does a search for that particular file, the client associated with it, the asset related to the transaction, or whatever other criterion she uses to trace necessary information.
Indeed, a great EDMS is so central to managing disruption, that it can similarly address the third issue on our list, that of business process management, especially reviews and approvals. Let’s go back to our example of Hope; in addition to the steps between herself, the client and the insurer, Hope needs to get some approvals from her superiors for the quotes she sends to the client. If this process was manual, everything would be printed out and there would be a file going desk-to-desk till the process is complete, with Hope’s superiors manually placing their signatures on documents as necessary. This is an example of a workflow, albeit manual. But remember, the firm is going through a major disruption, so everyone is discouraged from, or unable to access the office. For this reason, this manual workflow effectively grinds to a halt. A well set-up EDMS should be able to sort out this challenge by managing this workflow end-to-end electronically, and allowing whoever needs to sign documents to do it digitally, all from wherever they may be around the world, ensuring business continuity without skipping a beat.
With all your processes running virtually as normal, you are confident enough to meet up your clients via Zoom, Google Meet, or whichever other video conferencing tool is readily available to both of you. You can share with them whatever information they need, because all of it is accessible within seconds, just a few clicks away. Finally, if catching up with colleagues is the main reason you go to the office, then maybe the bunch of you just need a WhatsApp group and good internet connectivity 😉
Being able to work remotely is not just for pandemic seasons; it’s for whatever the next disruption will be. Does your organization have the right setup to weather any storm? When the dust settles on the current disruption, a robust business continuity model should be a core part of the new normal your organization should go back to.
As they say, the time to set up a fire department is not when the fire starts; it’s two years before that.
Feel free to share your thoughts and questions on the comments or through our contact details here.