London could potentially come to a standstill as workers on the London Underground go on strike later today. Commuters are being warned that there could be no services at all during the walkout, something that will not only be immensely disruptive to businesses, but also incredibly expensive. Lost productivity and lost revenue as workers are unable to travel has meant that previous tube strikes have cost businesses anywhere from tens of millions, to hundreds of millions of pounds.
Can anything be done about this? Tube strikes or any other form of transport network disruption are hardly unheard of events, so organizations should have business continuity plans in place that deal with the consequences, plans that deal with any disruption that inhibits the ability of staff to access their place of work. These plans don't even need to be that complicated.
For those people who are office based, do you really need to be there? For many people work is an activity, not a location. With the right equipment, those activities should be able to be carried out anywhere without the need to be in a specific location. Yes, it's always nice to have face to face conversations with colleagues, but I'm sure you can survive without them for a short period of time. Can your staff work from home, or perhaps another office location? From my own experience, if I am unable to access my office then I can switch on my laptop anywhere and access my files and all the applications that I need, and I can get my phone diverted to my laptop or my mobile phone. The technology that exists nowadays makes mobile working far easier that it would have been ten years ago.
Many of us spend large chunks of our time in meetings and need to travel to get there, so it is important to consider whether you actually need to attend that meeting in person - could it be done by video-conferencing, or just over the telephone. You never know, you might even discover that a face to face meeting was completely unnecessary in the first place and so save yourself time and money in the future by carrying them out over the phone.
Of course there are scenarios in which work is a physical location, for example if you work in a shop it would be slightly problematic to work from home, so managers need to consider what their options are. Can work patterns be arranged so that staff who live closer to work come in rather than those further afield and then even it up once the disruption is over - it is important that all staff are treated fairly and none are given extra workloads just because they live closer. Can other methods of transport be arranged to help staff get to work? If staff must attend their place of work then perhaps their hours could be made more flexible so that they are not travelling during rush hour.
As with any situation in which staff numbers may be limited, prioritise the activities that are required to be carried out, and then prioritise the staff that are required to complete these activities.
Communications throughout is vital. This includes internal communication with staff to let them know any arrangements that have been put in place which may affect them. It also includes communications with your customers to let them know what is going on - will you still be open, will you have a reduced service? Customers are always far more understanding about a disruption if they are kept informed. If they turn up at your shop and you apologise for making them wait as you have reduced staff, then in all likelihood they won't mind. If they turn up and you're closed with no warning or explanation then they'll shop elsewhere and won't come back.
Business continuity in its simplest form is not a complicated process. It just involves thinking about what could disrupt your organization, and then putting plans in place to work round those disruptions should they occur. For more information on business continuity, visit the website of the Business Continuity Institute.
Andrew Scott is the Senior Communications Manager at the Business Continuity Institute who joined after a brief stint working as the Press Officer for a national health charity. Prior to that he had over ten years at the Ministry of Defence working in a number of roles including communications and business continuity. During this time he also completed a Masters in Public Relations at the University of Stirling. Andrew took his CBCI exam in November 2014 and passed with merit.