Business continuity home-working techniques developed originally for use in disaster recovery have rapidly become a mainstream business model in a global crisis.
This is the first blog (of a 3-part series) that I have produced since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. The reason for this was not personal; fortunately no one in my family contracted the disease and I have continued to work from home as usual. No – the reason was simply that I felt I had no major original insights to contribute to the debate at that stage. I am not a virologist, entomologist or a member of the medical profession. Normally I help organizations prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters of various types. However, I believed my responsible position in the initial stages of the pandemic was simply to support the experts trying to keep us safe. Of course, many enterprise resilience, business continuity (BC) and IT DR practitioners were very active implementing “work from home” strategies for their companies. It has been fascinating to see how the BC home-working techniques developed originally for use in disaster recovery rapidly became a mainstream business model in a global crisis.
I have to admit that I have been somewhat dubious in the past about home-working on a large-scale. It was always fine for a day or so, catching up on administration and paperwork, sending emails and doing some research on the internet. It was fine, of course, for many of us who regularly work from home like writers, software developers, designers, accountants, market researchers and other similar professions. However, could it really replace the vital, countless personal interactions that take place every day in business life for those who are office based. I worried about the ability of IT departments to step-up connectivity on their network to handle a large upsurge in external usage. I had doubts about telecom bandwidth capabilities, about the resilience of web-sites to deal with vast numbers of new customers switching to their on-line services, about the capability of the “baby boomers” to adapt to new technology. I wondered if video conferencing could really be a serious alternative to business travel and face to face meetings. I admit I was too pessimistic, my IT colleagues have done a superb job across the world in moving vast numbers of people from office working to home working. It has been a little “clunky” at times, frustrating to some and seen as a temporary necessary evil to others. Many, however, have enjoyed the experience of being at home and it is difficult to see everyone returning to full-time office work in the near future.
Switching from office work to home working is, however, far from a panacea. In most advanced economies around 50% of jobs cannot be done from home. Construction, manufacturing, shop work, travel, leisure and entertainment, tradesmen like electricians, plumbers, heating engineers, decorators, and gardeners simply cannot work from home. Such sectors require a physical presence; technology can help make work more effective but unless robots take over operational functions completely, full home-working is a none-starter.
Even for those knowledge workers who can work from home if the technology allows it, there are challenges. Put more directly, not everyone has the living accommodation or life-style that can support home-working. Not everyone’s family life is conducive to staying at home all the time. In the UK divorce applications have doubled since lockdown began. Young, single people at the start of their careers often see their working location as where they meet new people, make new friends and often even find a long-term partner. However slick technology becomes, it does not replace the office rumour mill, the off the cuff comment at the coffee machine, the shared indignation at the unfairness of your boss or the camaraderie that a successful project or brilliant sales campaign brings. Frankly most people are social animals who do not want to be permanently in one place, and this is the main reason why business travel will soon grow again. My late father-in-law had a large house and in his later years worked entirely from home. However his “home” for work purposes was a wooden office built in his garden. He had breakfast with his wife in the morning, took his lunch with him and then walked a mere 50 yards to his office, returning each evening. I always thought this quaint but am beginning to appreciate his motivation. Most of us went from full-time education to full-time careers based at a working location. The separation of home and workplace is as crucial psychologically for many adults as school attendance is for children. As well as divorce, cases of mental illness and domestic abuse have risen significantly during lockdown.
So one day soon, offices will re-open. Many people will return and business life will resume; others might take the opportunity to continue at home if their companies allow them. Business travel will resume, although initially less extensively than before. Sadly, many people will not return to their pre-Covid19 jobs as economic recovery will take several years and high unemployment numbers will be with us for the immediate future. Companies have used the lockdown period to reassess their business model and the inevitable restructuring will come at the price of employment. However, this is a pivotal moment for the entire concept of resilience management. It is the next few months that will decide if the wide-scale business consensus sees us a positive force for recovery or as a regulatory irrelevance.
In a future blog I will explore the opportunities open to resilience management and how they can uniquely aid their organizations at this critical time.Recommended1 recommendationPublished in