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A strategy for business continuity – Virtual Workspace Station

Sunil Paul, Co-founder of Finesse, the global provider of digital transformation solutions,  outlines a ‘Strategy for Business Continuity’ during pandemics & unprecedented threats

On 12 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially confirmed the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak as a pandemic. The WHO defines an epidemic as ‘the worldwide spread of a new disease’ for which “most people do not have immunity.” 
 

From its epicentre in Wuhan, China in December last year, Covid-19 has spread to 191 countries as of 23 March, infecting 332,966 people and killing 14,511, according to data reported to WHO. As its director-general had noted, “Every day, Covid-19 seems to reach a new and tragic milestone.”
J P Morgan Global Economics Research said that “it expects the global economy to experience an unprecedented contraction during the first half of the year as containment measures are driving deep collapses in monthly economic activity.”

 

There is no doubt that global businesses are getting hit on all fronts as countries shut down, supply chains splinter, travel restrictions and quarantines hit people and cargo movements, and employees are exposed to the risk of infections. More than half of companies (51%) around the world have no business continuity plan or protocols in place to combat the coronavirus outbreak, according to a recent study by global consultancy firm Mercer.
 

With a higher-than-average number of illness and deaths in age groups different than what is seen in typical flu outbreaks, with no vaccine or proven antiviral medication, and a possibility of multiple outbreaks, Covid-19 could be the feared ‘single biggest threat’ to business continuity. 
 

Traditionally, business continuity plans have focused on threats like natural disasters, technical disasters and malicious acts that affect a specific geographic area, facility, or system. They also assume that once the event has occurred, it is over and, while the effects may linger, recovery can begin. However, a pandemic is fundamentally different from traditional business continuity threats in that it is worldwide in scope, of indefinite duration and can be a moving target in that companies may need to adjust as things change; and most importantly, it is not infrastructure but mainly people that will become unavailable due to absenteeism. 
 

In the case of Covid-19, as the virus spreads rapidly across countries and continents in a matter of weeks, people are finding they are unable to report to work due to government-mandated public health measures, city lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing and quarantine norms if they aren’t infected.
 

While actual estimates vary, the cycle from disruption to recovery from a pandemic is expected to last anywhere between six months at the minimum to 12 or even up to 18 months it strikes in waves. Gartner analysis has noted that companies should factor staff absenteeism exceeding 40 percent for extended and sequential periods.
 

The focus of BCP, therefore, should be to ensure that companies can maintain core business activities for several weeks or months with limited staff. 
Covid-19 pandemic has expanded the boundaries of how far organisations thought flexible workplace policies could stretch. Multi-location enterprises would inevitably be more affected than those with a single location. BCP strategies should focus less on infrastructure protection and more on the protection of employees and their ability to conduct business, which includes moving to virtual workspaces and practices.

 

The Covid-19 outbreak has seen many companies shut down their principal and satellite offices, asking their employees to start working from home for the foreseeable future. A virtual workspace concept can make the transition to work-from-home a smooth and hassle-free affair.
 

At its core, a virtual workspace includes many of the same elements as a physical one: places to collaborate, share ideas and get work done. For example, they would need to provide secure remote access to the company’s internal network/intranet; ensure stable and reliable internet access and VPN; access to corporate emails and sharing larger files. In other words, organisations need to ensure that employees have basic technology as well as access to the right collaboration and communication tools to be effective in a virtual environment.  
 

A virtual space workstation can replicate the physical office environment through the integration of various software and systems would enable the organisation to conduct their daily work activities like chats, project management, web and video conferencing, collaboration and prototyping, scheduling and workflow automation in a hassle-free environment.