With natural and man-made disasters continuing to expand, preparing for the worse is often left undone by small businesses.
Adam Simpson, CEO of Easy Office Phone offers these tips small businesses should take for minimizing communications downtime during natural disasters:
- Set a protocol: Well before the next disaster arrives, your employees should know exactly what you expect them to do if an event occurs. Develop a simple checklist for employees to follow and ensure every staff member has a copy. Do not allow for any confusion or uncertainty in the event of a disaster – you cannot afford it.
- Assess your current business continuity plan: Determine which regular activities are mission-critical, and then apply worst-case infrastructure scenarios to see whether your plan holds up. For example, if your entire office building loses power, how can your staff continue fielding customer support inquiries?
- Ensure your office phone service is virtualized: For most businesses, phone continuity is mission-critical. Cloud-based phone service greatly increases the odds that your main phone number will remain reachable and your clients will know you’re in business – even if a disaster takes your office entirely off the grid.
- Obtain backup numbers from all staff: Because you can never be too prepared, be sure to develop a comprehensive staff contact list, including cell phone numbers, home numbers and personal email addresses. Some staff may not wish to receive cell phone calls outside of office hours, so your list should clearly note which numbers are to be called in emergencies only. It may also be helpful to implement a contact tree so all employees know who to expect an emergency call from, and if they in turn need to call someone else on the list.
- Ensure key documents are virtualized: Ask your staff to develop a list of documents and files they regularly use and need access to. Implement a practice of backing up these key files to cloud-based storage on a regular basis. Remember, you may have only limited advance warning of an impending disaster – preparing now saves your staff from having to scramble at the last moment to decide which files are most critical, or worse, losing documents they may have saved locally if the power or servers unexpectedly shut down.
- Tell your staff they can work remotely: Believe it or not, many employees will attempt to commute to the office even in extreme weather – unless you’ve told them otherwise. If your employees cannot safely travel to the office or office infrastructure is compromised, you need an alternative. Implementing a virtual private network (VPN) and cloud-based phone and email services will remove a great deal of pressure by enabling staff to access office files and emails from home, and make and receive calls from anywhere.
- Set a point person: Although the above tips are crucial, implementing them does involve some work. As with most aspects of business, a clear leader is important. Designate a single trusted staff member to work through the steps – and do it now, so you have a chance to review and test your system well before you truly need it.
As Simpson points out new research reveals that a worrying majority of businesses remain unprepared for IT disasters, disrupted communications and data loss, despite several extreme and widely damaging weather events in recent years. Almost three quarters of businesses are at risk, according to the Disaster Recovery Preparedness (DRP) Council, a group consisting of IT business, government and academic leaders.
In July 2013, the Council launched its Disaster Recovery Preparedness survey of companies worldwide, and the results to date demonstrate the “dismal state” of business readiness for data emergencies. The vast majority of participants – 72% – received a “failing grade” of D or F, indicating a high risk of critical data loss. The number of companies receiving a grade of A was less than one percent.
These results are concerning because, in the event of a natural disaster, business owners have even more to worry about than most people – they have to take care of themselves and their families like everyone else, but they’re also responsible for ensuring their staff will be safe and their businesses will stay as close to 100% operational as possible. That means taking precautions to safeguard communications systems now, not just scrambling to recover once the damage is already done.
Adam Simpson is the CEO and co-founder of Easy Office Phone.