How to Continue Collaboration When a Disaster Occurs

We will inevitably face an abundance of different crises in our lifetimes, but it's crucial your business maintain efficient operations.

This article was originally posted on Entrepreneur.com

Unfortunately, disaster recovery (DR) plans don't get a lot of love before the disaster hits. Enterprises of all sizes pay DR plans a lot of lip service, but when there is a legitimate crisis, it's often apparent that the lip service was just that. Whether it's a cyberattack, a natural disaster or a global pandemic, one thing a company doesn't want to have to try and figure out during the crisis is how to collaborate with its employees. At that point, it's already too late.

The plan is the major component

Without a plan, collaboration after a disaster becomes significantly more difficult, if not impossible. This complexity is exacerbated when a company has a global reach and employees spread across the planet. With workers out in the wild, losing one form of communication could mean hours or even days of no contact.

There's one common denominator to help fight this loss of contact in the modern age: the cell phone. Privacy issues aside, having some sort of internal company app or system that pings employee devices and tracks "check-ins" could be an excellent way to at least know the general vicinity of an employee after a disaster and reach out accordingly. This could be separated by department or team so managers and executives would know where their people were in a significant outage event.

Making sure people know of this plan or knowing where they can find it is just as critical as having it developed. There are quite a few ways to solve this issue, but one way is to regularly do table-top rehearsals of disaster response. Large or complex organizations might find it useful to do such a review quarterly, but smaller companies may only need to do it semi-annually or annually. No matter the frequency, a well-rehearsed and understood plan is infinitely better than a plan that's been put on paper and promptly tucked away in a binder somewhere.

Related: Why You Need a Disaster Plan

The error of, 'It won't happen here'

Even though it was mentioned above, it's worth repeating because it's such a common error among executives. Frank Wood, the Deputy Chief Security Officer at GE Power, says, "In terms of likelihood, it is comforting to think disasters will not happen to us, our workplace or communities. That comfort will evaporate when a disaster strikes — and it will, so you should be prepared."

Taking the time to develop a good plan will take the guesswork out of the response, which is good, because most people don't think clearly during a crisis.

Determining required systems

If this is a problem, a solution that tackles different teams may be necessary. It's absolutely crucial to determine the lowest acceptable amount of collaboration required to respond to the emergency. For instance, one team may only need chat functions to respond adequately until more robust systems are restored. For another group, they may require access to critical files that could be inaccessible at the time, so the DR plan needs to address this issue. What's the least amount of functionality a DR solution needs to deliver to be viable in an actual disaster?

It may also be beneficial to consider distributed services obtained from a variety of vendors. Many companies find great success and redundancy in leveraging services like Amazon Web Services. With services from so many sources, the odds of all of them going offline simultaneously is small. Redundancy can be a lifesaver in authentic disaster scenarios.  

Common DR plan failures

The number of companies with a deliberate and rehearsed DR plan is few and far between. If the C-suite isn't actively trying to avoid confronting the issue by hoping it'll never happen to them, they're doing one of the three following things:

  • They're not investing enough in DR. No one invests enough in DR because it's expensive in time and money.
  • If they do invest, they don't take the time to test their systems.
  • If they do test, they don't capture all of the critical components needed for the systems to function.

The larger the enterprise, the more of a problem this task becomes. On the one hand, a detailed plan is critical because of all the moving pieces in these companies. Still, on the other hand, the exact procedure is hard to enumerate because of all the interconnecting systems involved.

Related: Don't Let Disaster Devastate You. Take These 3 Steps Now

A Few More Thoughts

There are so many things that go into keeping employees collaborating during a disaster. Here are just a few of the considerations the C-suite should make while spearheading the creation of a DR plan:

  • How to communicate when employees are knocked offline.
  • DR plans need to be tested at the tactical level to ensure systems work together well.
  • It's hard to value the ROI on a DR plan until it's used. That goes hand-in-hand with any decisions to insure parts of a company against disaster.
  • Make the C-suite work through a disaster recovery plan while being offline to make sure it functions.
  • Consider what is inside the sphere of control and what's outside. Focus on the things that can be controlled.
  • Assume IT systems will fail and work through failures on multiple systems to develop a robust plan for backup communication.
  • Tie a potential DR plan closely with a business risk analysis to keep mitigation costs commensurate with vulnerability risks.

In a disaster, large organizations could be losing millions of dollars an hour due to employees not having a way to communicate and respond. Having a well-thought-out plan in place that's been rehearsed is a surefire way to keep the team collaborating even while the world around them is in chaos, and that can make all the difference.

April 18, 2021
Team Glacier