November 6, 2014
Flu season and winter storms are here, which means a slowdown in productivity if your small business doesn't have a contingency plan in place. While everyone thinks about creating a remote worker environment after a major disaster, it's something that should be on the books and tested all the time.
"Unplanned events are just a part of life, but they pose a big challenge to the small business owner," says small business advocate and Small Business Engagement Officer at QuickBooks Leslie Barber. "Bad weather, travel delays, sick time, ailing parents and child-care needs are just some of the emergencies that could really bring a small business to its knees."
Cloud-based computing and telephone services makes it pretty easy for any small business to get up and running quickly these days. "Most companies small and mid-sized see a significant cost advantage in not investing in a lot of real estate," says Chuck Fried, president and chief executive of TxMQ, an IT services company. "Most of your people don't report to the office. They work remotely."
The first thing you want to do when creating a remote work environment is to move your computer systems out of your office and put it into the Cloud. Tom Snyder, chief financial officer and chief operating officer at Xantrion Inc., the IT services company, says it's not enough to just move it to the cloud but you should choose a cloud provider that isn't in the same geography as your office. That will give you a level of protection if there is a natural disaster in your region but not in the area which your data is being housed. For instance, Xantrion Inc. is based in San Francisco, but the data is in Denver, Colorado.
In addition to having your data housed off-site via the cloud, Fried says you want to make sure the apps you use to run your business are also accessible remotely. For instance TxMQ's customer relationship management systems and tracking systems are available online, which means employees can access it wherever they are.
If you have a phone system in your office it may also be time to look at moving that to the cloud as well. There are tons of telephone cloud providers that will answer your calls if you can't, forward them to your cell phone or take messages for you. That will ensure if your phone lines are down business can continue to run smoothly.
While technology is a big part of your contingency planning, you also have to consider your suppliers and vendors. After all, you don't want to have a completely functioning remote office, but not have any suppliers to get the goods you need.
"It's really important to think beyond just your employees and think about the different partners you work with in your business," says Hunter. Let's say your main vendor is in Asia. What is your backup plan if something happens in that region and transportation is disrupted for some time? Hoffman says you have to stay on top of events in the regions your suppliers are located in and have vendors lined up in case something goes wrong.
A contingency plan will win you the battle, but to win the war you need to make sure your remote environment works, and not just one a year. According to Snyder, far too often small business owners will set up a contingency plan but only test it annually. When a disaster happens, they are then struggling to get things up and running. To avoid that happening to your business, Snyder says on a daily basis you should be practicing your remote access when you are in the office.
What's more, employees should be doing the same thing when they work from home. That way everyone will know what to do instead of blowing up the IT help line after the fact. "It's immediately after a disaster that access to communication systems including email and phones is vitally important." says Snyder. "For this reason disaster avoidance is a much better strategy than disaster recovery for small businesses."