Virtual Employment – Part 2

In the first installment of the Virtual Edge I opened the discussion of reviewing sick time/absenteeism as a first option to having employees work remotely or from home.

In this installment we are going to review the reasons why you should have a virtual or remote operational plan as part of a business continuity and recovery plan.  Not only are these extremely important for the long-term welfare of an organization but another way to test the traditional thought, and policies, of where work is performed.

Ask yourself:

  • What if your organization was in New Orleans when Katrina hit or located in the twin towers hit during 9/11 or in Haiti during the earthquake?  What if you had employees there?
  • What if one/all of your facilities were damaged by fire or some other catastrophic event?
  • What if you were unable to access your facilities for a short or long-term period for any reason?
  • Can you afford to close your doors or idle your workforce?

Business continuity and recovery plans are a key component to any organization, of any size, to execute tasks and keep essential operations running. They are ideal to insure the safety of your workforce, your data and your revenue. They do notneed to be extensive efforts but must be exhaustive in planning and practice.


Why a BCRP?

  • It highlights vulnerabilities for the operations safety and that of your workforce
  • It delineates essential staff for continued operational effectiveness and success
  • It requires you to set up temporary or off-site operations as a contingency plan – if only for your data, as well as a plan to instruct employees where, if at all, to report with other pertinent information

During the first few days of recovery after Hurricane Katrina, in the midst of the mayhem, there were shining examples of effort by individuals, organizations and companies that demonstrated resilience and creativity.  Even companies with a BCRP found that it was never meant to cover such a catastrophe or was never practiced to insure its implementation would be effective.  A key message that came from Frank Glaviano, VP for Shell (one of New Orleans largest employers) stated that in its commitment to remain in New Orleans and regain operations – “You can’t fix the business until you fix the people”.

A BCRP is more than rally points for evacuation of the premises, or where to call when weather (flooding etc) or damage (fire etc) happens – it is a blueprint to insure the health and welfare of your workforce and your organization.

During our year-long study of post-Katrina New Orleans, in conjunction with the Human Resource Management Association (local SHRM chapter) and dozens of individual businesses large and small, we found many ideas and lessons learned.

Key Takeaways of Sumner Grace Study:

  • Vary your communication channels and provide redundancy
    • You have to have more than a call-in line or website update; mass outages with power and over utilized phone systems you need to add items:
    • Text Messaging – Cell, Pin/SMS; this technology needs only micro-seconds to send and are effective with cell towers are overloaded
    • Do you have this information to contact your workforce?
    • Call Trees – have key personnel responsible for a portion of your workforce to consolidate lines of communication and coordinate “who has seen who and where” as part of the process
    • An additional emergency contact OUTSIDE the metro/local geography of the facility.  Update this additional contact at annual review! When an event is so widespread even local emergency contacts are affected.
  • Have staff or vendors for immediate response as part of your plan
    • Insure that you understand essential personnel for your plan’s execution and follow-up
    • Create contingencies for minimal equipment, space and vital services that you will need and have your vendors integrated into that plan
  • Update the plan regularly and store in multiple locations as well as off-site
  • It is highly ineffective to complete your plan and place it on a shelf; worse would be to have it in electronic format  stored on the computer system within your facility only – as we have learned from these events you will not be able to access those systems
    • Have off-site storage or system backups that are accessible to a number of essential personnel
    • Have multiple hard-copies available to key leads within the plan as well as at other facilities if you have them
  • Practice the plan – this is the most important task after developing the plan.  Practice allows you to:
    • Insure that current and new employees assimilate to the plan
    • Stress tests the plan to find gaps and take corrective measures
    • Creates a higher level of acceptance
    • Increases the level of execution and potential for success

Now that you have created and practiced your plan it is important to extend the thought of essential personnel and extent to pilot/short-term operations to keep customers happy and revenue coming in.  Therefore, where and how do your employees work?  This will create categories of those requiring direct contact with customers (hence some type of interim facility) versus those that can operate remotely.  You will find, when forced, that many of the typical obstacles of allowing virtual or remote employment become less of a factual issue and more of an excuse.

In our study, post-Katrina companies were effective in retaining most of their workforce and resuming operations through these methods:

  • 78% of organizations had to offer flex schedules
  • 14% added commuter reimbursement accounts
  • 14% opened a branch or satellite office
  • 8% offered company transportation
  • 8% began virtual options
  • 6% sponsored an employee ride share program

In addition to adoption of the above options companies had to understand how to retain and regain its workforce once facilities or virtual operations were available.  We found that:


  • 94% of firms kept payroll and benefits in force for an average of 8 weeks
  • Only 65% of firms had this as a standard policy (Katrina rewrote or wrote a new one with an additional 33%)
  • As a result:
    • Recall rate: 80% of firms had 60+% return
    • Retention rate: 70% of firms had retained 60%+ of pre-Katrina staff

Now – how does this gain a virtual edge?

Truly assess what roles are required to be within the four walls of your company (or company’s multiple facilities). It will allow you to:

  • Create a decision matrix that aligns talent acquisition and retention with the costs and risks of virtual/remote engagements
  • Go beyond planning purposes
  • For options of extending your geographic engagement of talent (even your customers)
  • Retain talent – that may be moving as a result of the event or as a normal course of potential turn-over
  • To create a competitive advantage

We all know that core talent (7 – 15 years experience) is the new sandwich generation.  With homes, kids in school, boards and local activities/interest and planning for their aging parents, there is a lot of valuable talent that will not or cannot relocate.  Add to that current economic issues of upside-down mortgages and you may not get to offer-acceptance unless you can allow for remote or virtual employment.

Put yourself to the test.  While you have to screen for people that can operate in such an environment (some people do not work well without the interaction of peers and customers directly) you may be able to leverage, in good times and bad, the acquisition and retention of truly great talent.

In our next two installments we will further these ideas to show how virtual and remote engagements lower costs, increase employee satisfaction, create a truly green initiative and expand your reach.  This will culminate into our debate over hurdles to adopt and implement such policies and practices.

Remember, we’d love to hear from you! Debate with us, tell us an interesting story or lesson learned.

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