The earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand on the 22 February 2011 resulted in the loss of 185 lives, the displacement of workforces, widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure and sustained disruptions to critical services. The February 2011 earthquake alone resulted in disruption to over 6,000 businesses and 52,000 employees for sustained periods of time.
One of those organisations affected, the Inland Revenue Service of NZ, saw its main office in the Christchurch central business district, workplace for over 800 employees, put completely out of action in 22 seconds flat. More was to follow though, and on 13 June 2011 a series of substantial aftershocks occurred, resulting in the displacement of over 450 contact centre and collections staff from the temporary accommodation that they had been reallocated to. All in, it took a full ten months for the organisation to get back to full operational capacity, with the entire workforce still working from temporary office accommodation.
In the interim, a significant part of the business continuity response to this catastrophic event was to create a formal working from home policy for affected employees. In the first study of its kind, the experiences of those employees of flexible work arrangements in a post-disaster environment has been examined by researchers from the Centre for Labour, Employment and Work at Victoria University, and their report has just been published.
The researchers reported a number of organisational learnings from their study:
- While BCP processes frequently focus on physical and technical infrastructure risk, less attention is paid to maintaining employee engagement and productivity levels.
- Flexible working arrangements can assist continuity of operations and organisational agility in post-disaster environments.
- The complex process of re-allocating resources and work tasks in a post-disaster environment can be enabled through the use of WFH arrangements.
- It is vital to have information technology resources and support services in place, including web-based communication channels to ensure engagement across a dispersed workforce.
It is this last lesson that stands out for me. WFH arrangements can contribute significantly towards business continuity when your office accommodation is lost for an extended period of time, but only if the correct IT support is there for your employees. You need to consider the mass communications tools they will need, to communicate with customers, but also with each other. Isolation can be a big issue in these circumstances. You also need to consider how to replicate the help desk support that they need to resolve the technical issues that will arise. That is where the Crises Control app can help to fill the gap, providing a flexible, cloud based, communications system that will be up and running before, during and after the incident has taken place.