Make Telework Part Of Your BCP
Written by Ted Brown   





Telework should already be a key part of any business continuity strategy. But with most of the world in a “down economy” and H1N1 being declared a pandemic, teleworking is an even more critical strategy.

What is telework? I, like you, have called it telecommuting for a long time. But a few years ago, ITAC (the International Teleworking Advisory Council) educated me. Teleworking is working from anywhere but a traditional office and could include home, the library, a coffee shop, a client’s location, or a telework center. And so there are two views of telework: production teleworkers and telework as a BCP solution.

Production Teleworkers

These are the people who telework frequently, even daily. They can be people who never go to a traditional office. They might go to a telework center, or like most of us, take work home or on vacation and thus work from an alternate location.

A telework center is designed for random people in a larger organization to use instead of commuting to their traditional downtown office. The US federal government has several of these centers near Washington, DC. This allows federal workers from multiple agencies to reduce their commute, travel time, costs, and pollution, instead of going to their specific office in a building downtown. Large companies like IBM also have telework centers (although they don’t call them that) for their field people, such as sales.

These centers save a tremendous amount on real estate costs as the company no longer needs to provide a desk and phone for each field employee. When employees need the capabilities found in a traditional office, such as printing a large volume of proposals, they can go to one of these centers. This is a very important concept, particularly in a down economy.

Telework as a BCP Solution

From a BCP perspective, converting traditional production office workers to even occasional teleworkers can be great for our business continuity plan because they have a proven ability to work from a place other than their office, should the office suffer a disaster. And of course, every time they work from somewhere other than their office, they are testing the BCP. The telework center can even function as the recovery center in the event that the primary work location suffers a disaster.

One note of caution: Many telework centers have no BCP. This is easy to resolve if the organization has multiple telework centers within the same geographic region. If not, traditional brick and mortar or mobile recovery centers can be the solution. In any case a PLAN is required!

Technology advances have created the opportunity to use teleworking BCP solutions in ways that would not have been possible even recently. The best example of this is a call center recovery. Traditional thinking is that a call center must be recovered in an alternate call center. Through the use of an alternate switch, Voice-over IP, and a “soft phone”, call center personnel can now execute their jobs from any other location, including their home, if properly equipped with technology. This is especially relevant when planning for recovery from a pandemic, where putting or keeping large groups together is unacceptable. If we can recover a call center function using telework, can we not use it as a viable solution for most critical functions? The answer is yes, but not all. For example, how do nurses do their jobs using telework? They probably can’t. By the way, one of the other great advantages of telework as a BCP strategy is testing. Imagine the reaction of employees when asked to work from home today, so that we can test our BCP. Positive!

Potential Obstacles

There are many issues that prevent organizations from adopting telework, even as an occasional measure. Some might hesitate to adopt production telework for two kinds of reasons: technology and security issues and HR issues.

The HR issues are almost always THE reason not to adopt telework. It’s imperative that BCP professionals understand these issues in order to address them and gain support from HR for our telework BCP strategy. The first HR concern is: “If we let people work from home, how do we know if they are actually working?” This may be a show stopper for production telework, but for BCP telework, we can implement a variety of measurements (don’t we already measure people today?) like number of calls taken. More importantly, what’s our alternative to getting any work done if the schools are closed due to a pandemic and no single parents are coming to work? Also, if companies let employees work from home in an emergency, they might get more work from them because of the flexibility to work odd hours.

Another HR issue is overtime. If these are non-exempt employees, are they eligible for overtime if working more than 40 hours from home? The answer is yes. In the case of business continuity, isn’t survival of the organization and accomplishment of mission more important than worrying about overpayment of overtime?

The amount of this financial risk should be quantified in the BIA. What about worker’s comp? If employees are injured while working at home, are they eligible for worker’s comp? Probably. In summary, a lot of these issues may be valid reasons not to adopt telework as a production strategy, but HR can help address them in advance for a BCP telework strategy.

Technology and security issues present another potential barrier to telework. Will the employer provide PCs for people at alternate work locations? It isn’t necessary to invest in technology for every critical employee that normally doesn’t work from home. The company can store a few machines with its backup media and supply the remainder of employees at time of disaster by using a “quick-ship” vendor.

What about bandwidth? Is there sufficient bandwidth to handle every employee? Probably not. But BIAs frequently show that only 20-25% of employees are critical in the organization’s “survival” mode for the first week or two. Also, with employees working from home, one can anticipate that work may be done “off-shift.” What about security? This is the toughest problem to solve. Is there concern about customer or HIPAA data being put at risk? If so, that’s a reason to develop and test a telework plan that has proper controls in place.

Telework should be a component of every BCP, especially for pandemic planning. Companies must address the telework HR, IT and security issues in the planning process. The teleworking environment must be safe, secure and resilient, with a strategy and plan tested with each critical person. Adopting the aforementioned will yield a better and more resilient BCP than one without telework.

About the Author
Edward (Ted) B. Brown III, CBCP, CBCV is President & CEO of KETCHConsulting and a member of the BCP Hall of Fame. You can reach him at KETCHConsulting, PO BO X 641, Waverly, PA 18471, (570) 563-0868; or