Business Continuity and Telecommuting in the time of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
There’s so much going on all over the world at the moment, as we see a continuous rise in cases of COVID-19. It’s causing a lot of anxiety both as individuals and business leaders, as this pandemic poses not just a threat to health, but also on commerce. This article points out how COVID-19 is wreaking havoc to the global economy, and there’s no telling when it will stop.
Amidst all the craziness around us, in addition to staying calm and staying protected, we need to address one major item – keeping your business afloat. The nature of your business dictates what exact steps to take, but we’d like to share some basic, first steps to take to ensure business continuity in the near- and mid-term. We’re drawing from our own experiences in QuickReach/BlastAsia as a tech company and from what we have learned from our peers. In this article, we will focus on the very recent initiatives we took, around the time WHO announced that COVID-19 is already a pandemic.
Some of the things we did pre-pandemic included information campaigns and a policy surrounding taking a 14-day self-quarantine should an employee travel (domestically or internationally) or be in close physical contact with someone who has traveled. We’re quite sure most companies have already done this bit, so it won’t be the focus of this article.
The Road to full Telecommuting using Business Process Automation
The key objective we set out earlier this week was this: to become 100% telecommuting- ready. For most employees, working from home isn’t a new thing. We’ve been allowing employees to work from home occasionally, and around 5% of our workforce is working from home any given day. This time is different, because we’re preparing for the event that none of us can go to the office – whether it’s on advice by health authorities, or there is a building- or city-wide lockdown.
1. Take stock of your employees. Needless to say, human capital is the single most important input to production in professional services companies. We looked at all employees, identified who’s taking public transportation to the office, who has an internet connection at home. This way, we are fully aware of any possible impediments/risks/considerations when going full telecommuting.
2. Establish a chat line with teams. We created different chat/video conference groups to have constant coordination among top management, among individual teams, among work that involves different teams. The first one is particularly important in doing #3.
3. Establish a chain of communication with everyone. On top of the distribution email for everyone in the company, we are using an SMS blast service to send out short, urgent announcements that complement each email we send out. This way, we can reach everyone even if they don’t have internet access at any given point.
4. Establish production-side management processes. As mentioned, our software engineers, testers, and marketing & sales have all requested for telecommuting at some point. So we have been practicing daily standup meetings (we’re an agile company after all) and end-of-day (EOD) reports and all we did was shift these meetings entirely online. It’s only been barely a week since we started doing this, so we’ll probably have a follow-up post to see if it’s really as simple as a lift-and-shift kind of activity or there are nuances that need to be addressed.
5. Establish new ways of providing support services through business process automation. Support (HR, finance, office admin) processes have almost always been offline/in-person, so moving support processes is not as simple as moving meetings online. Say, for example, check-signing which involves a piece of paper that needs to be signed. The first order of business was to make sure everyone had a bank account where we can move money (like for salary, reimbursement, etc) online. Next, we identified support staff that can perform unavoidable messenger tasks (as mentioned, signing checks) because they have their own motorbikes.
Then we identified key HR, finance, and office admin activities that need to continue even if literally nobody is in the office. We prioritized critical processes like payroll processing, expense approval, employee requests (such as for certificate of employment), and a bunch of IT checklists.
We then proceeded to map out each process, identifying stakeholders, the steps or tasks and the order at which they appear on the process, the associated files needed, etc. Whether you have a background on business process modeling or not, this can be a straightforward activity as long as process owners are collaborating on it.
Next, we used Steer to create the digital workflow and set out various business logic/rules to automate it. This step lasted a little over a day, considering the number of workflows we created on Steer.
We’re actually not yet done with the whole activity of automating all of our support business processes, but it’s a start. For now, we can file a lot of different requests on our mobile phones and have the ease of mind that they will be approved even if we’re all working from home. For the critical business processes, we can operate like we are physically at the office.
The next natural step would be working on integrations with other systems we use. This may take a bit longer, but as an interim, first-week of COVID-19 pandemic, solution we are more or less set.
We don’t know how long the whole COVID-19 issue will last, but one thing is for sure: business process automation is the new normal for us, even after everything settles down and we’re all back in the office. Although there are many benefits of business process automation in a time of crisis, we really believe that BPA is something that will help companies address their biggest operational challenges – with or without a pandemic.
But for now, we hope companies like ours have already taken the first steps towards automating their business processes to enable 100% telecommuting and ensure everyone’s well-being.