Anything is possible during a storm and any length of time away from the office can have major consequences. Anyone with a comprehensive Business Continuity Plan after the last hurricane season is already a step ahead in the wake of an unlikely enemy, a global pandemic.
When hurricane season approaches each year, the people of the Caribbean region begin to feel a heightened sense of concern and anxiety. It starts as an underlying hum, and as the tropics heat up, it slowly grows to an undeniable drum beat that cannot be ignored.
With COVID-19, the world is now dealing with its own kind of global hurricane that threatens to raze the economies of nations of all sizes, moving across the globe, potentially devastating our known way of life and demanding that we rethink our approach to communications, data security and business operations.
In the Caribbean, we can leverage our experience with hurricanes against this new kind of storm, and steel ourselves to withstand the short and long-term effects we may face.
Our ability to prepare varies depending on how recently your country was hit by a major storm, how disruptive it was to your way of life, and how much it impacted your business and ultimately, your income.
If you’ve been spared a direct hurricane hit in recent years and don’t feel prepared or concerned, talk to anyone in The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos and Barbuda. Getting pounded by a Category 5 hurricane — or a slow-moving Category-anything storm — will leave psychological, emotional and financial scars that can take decades to heal. They can also inform your ability to respond in reasonable, sensible and effect ways.
Hurricane Dorian is the most recent example of a major storm that utterly ravaged the Northern Bahamas. Many were faced with the overwhelming task of starting over, figuring out how to reinvent their way of life and finding hope in the rubble and those hardest hit in the commercial sector finding innovative ways to keep businesses operational.
While it is perfectly normal — perhaps even necessary — to grieve and be overcome with concern, these experiences are effective teachers that provide invaluable lessons you can turn into advantages for your business. Wise business leaders will find ways to turn these challenges into improved ways of doing business – ready to respond to disasters in the future.
As business owners face impending storms, we have learned to prepare comprehensive Business Continuity Plans, even preparing communication with our staff and our clients about what they can expect. As COVID-19 spreads and grows around the world, we can choose to panic, or we can take the instructions the hurricanes in our past have provided and become more resilient and effective service providers – and we may not have a choice.
Our global counterparts are facing the things we have all faced in the hurricane zones: supply chain interruptions, business closures, loss of revenue, employee strife, and loss of essential services.
This is the time for our sense of readiness to switch on; this is our defense mechanism that can protect us from unnecessary loss and harm.
How can we turn our hurricane experiences into advantages needed to protect our businesses from the threats COVID-19 poses?
- Plan ahead: You have the ability to better project what happens next. You already know how these major disruptions impact your operating hours, your power needs, data security, and communicating with your staff and customers.
You know how to prepare — not just react — and you can use that to maintain calm for yourself and those around you. You survived before, and you can survive again. Imagine the worst that can happen and do the work now to be ready to face it.
- Have a back-up plan for your back-up plan. Think ahead so you know what to do when things get worse than you expected.
In The Bahamas, no one expected Hurricane Dorian to be as bad as it was. Even though the country had many less intense storms in the past and close calls by major storms, the community, businesses, government and first responders were not fully prepared to manage the widespread damage, loss of life and interruption of daily norms. Businesses that simply put their computers on top of a desk to avoid an ocean surge didn’t think 23 feet of water would flow through their offices, destroying their records and their IT assets. So, think the worst – and then prepare for it.
While hindsight is 20/20, it is having the wisdom to use your foresight — based on your experience and all available projection data — that could truly save your future. Use these kinds of extreme examples to help you be ready for what COVID-19 brings.
- Remote work is critical: Business continuity is the key to sustaining income for your business. Enabling your staff to work from home provides them with income security and shows your clients that you are able to continue to serve them. This stability is essential for your IT personnel, management, shareholders and customers.
Once consistent and reliable data communication can be maintained, security is of immediate concern when your staff are working remotely. Establishing proper user IDs and passwords, utilising a VPN, and ensuring that your staff are using computers that are physically secure in their home should be clearly communicated and facilitated with regular reminders of these foundational steps.
Video conferencing, private and group messaging platforms, and secure email are fundamental to continuing communication between management, staff and your customers. Be sure to clearly advise which platforms are approved for use internally and externally; this will help establish standards that will protect against abuse, misuse and consistency that should give all involved a sense of familiarity and comfort.
- Set daily schedules for departmental meetings: This can help staff develop discipline in their new work-at-home paradigm, and help avoid the otherwise inevitable feelings of disconnectedness.
Next, ensure that you have put in place the proper procedures and services to secure your stored data that your now-remote workers are generating.
Data security then extends to off-site backups. Cloud Carib provides geographically diverse top-tier data centres around The Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. These data centres enable us to provide our clients with redundant data backups in secure environments that have essential and premium services, including multiple power sources, non-destructive fire suppression, redundant local, national and international data paths, and the staff and expertise to ensure that they keep working.
Secure data centres also provide the platforms for vital software and services with trusted partners, giving you access to remote virtual servers that function just as if they are local, but with all the benefits of being within a data centre.
- Communicate: Keeping in touch, especially over the long term, will take serious intentional effort from departmental heads, your IT staff, and your customer relationship personnel. It is easy to be distracted and allow this to slip if you allow yourself to react to every blip that comes along. Establish a format and schedule for these things and stick to it.
- Update your website: If your customers, or potential customers, visit your website and see business-as-usual content, they will lose confidence in your awareness and preparedness in the current crisis. Use your website to demonstrate how you are responding to COVID-19, and that you are being proactive and available to meet their needs.When you do these things, be aware of and sensitive to changing and difficult personal situations. People may be facing sudden illness, family strife, financial difficulties, and inconsistent access to food.If you are doing well, don’t presume everyone else is. If you can help people in need, offer to do so. If you are in a position to provide financial support to worthy causes, do that and share this with your staff and your customers.
- Adapt: Just like you may have done when facing a natural disaster, you may need to rethink your sales and revenue channels. Perhaps your normal business model no longer applies at this time, but you can find new ways to adapt your business model and use your current assets to serve your current customers and still attract new ones.
There may be new business opportunities in government, regulatory, internal revenue medical and science fields. New funding is available in these areas, and if you can adapt to their specific needs, you may find ways to meet them.
Do all you can to maintain your relationships and demonstrate your value to your current clients. Avoid hard selling but find ways to solve new problems. In these difficult times, especially when things are shutting down or falling apart, be available in ways that will delight and surprise your customers and your employees.
Other things you can do to sustain your business when facing this new natural disaster is seek out government assistance, where available.
In all of these things, it is of utmost importance that you keep calm, but that you do not “carry on” with business as usual. These are strange times, and there is no “new normal” yet. Whatever we think is normal changes day-to-day, just as it does as we prepare for and respond to a hurricane that threatens our shores.