Written by Cally Chan, General Manager of Microsoft Hong Kong and Macau
The biggest lesson COVID-19 has taught us is to always be prepared. It has put the spotlight on remote working, but best-in-class business continuity is more than that alone. The virus outbreak has tested business continuity plans in every industry in every country and highlighted what it really takes to be prepared and resilient.
Business continuity plans are essential for companies to be resilient in today’s world of heightened risk. A thorough business continuity plan gives you a fighting chance of keeping the business running during difficult times, while protecting your brand’s reputation, your customers and employees.
What effective business continuity looks like?
Traditional disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plans are carefully crafted and tested but in many cases left to gather dust until a crisis occurs. Businesses must review, test, and update them regularly. In fact, just 12% of organizations were highly prepared for the impact of COVID-19, according to Gartner’s recent Business Continuity Survey.
At Microsoft, we have been focusing our efforts in empowering our customers through this challenging time. Our employees have always operated in a flexible working mode, and we’re glad that our experience in business continuity tools and preparedness is able help companies like ChinaChem to cope with rapidly changing conditions by being more agile and flexible.
People always come first
The first thing business leaders need to do is to focus on protecting people, both physically and virtually.
During COVID-19, a lot of businesses in Hong Kong including the government implemented a remote working policy, enabling thousands of employees to work outside the office and most importantly, from safe and secure locations. Also, large and non-essential face to face meetings were stopped or reduced, all non-essential business travel and client visits were also limited, aligning with local health and safety guidelines.
Shifting to remote working also means more security threats. With more employees using a wider range of devices to access data and applications via the cloud or from locations with varied levels of security, the risks for attack have grown dramatically. Hackers did not hold back as we saw an immediate surge in COVID-19-themed phishing, ransomware and scams. A recent industry study showed a 677% increase in COVID-19 related spear phishing attacks between January and March. When stepping up vigilance against rising cybersecurity threats, organizations can leverage cloud-based identity and access management (IAM) and customer identity and access management (CIAM) to safeguard communications and information sharing processes.
The next thing we did is to give people the tools, the know-how and mindset to be resilient, flexible, and productive. One major challenge when implementing remote working is to ensure effective and seamless collaboration even the team is working from different locations. This can be achieved with the help of remote working tools that also help boost productivity, such as Microsoft 365 and Teams. Around the world we saw an unprecedented spike in Teams usage, and now have more than 44 million daily users. It is encouraging to see that Microsoft is able to help during these difficult times.
Focus on resilient process by digitalizing the operation
Another key factor in building resilience for better business continuity is digitalizing the organization and all processes.
Organizations need to support and enable critical processes to operate virtually, including functions such as customer service, product, supply chain, finance, payments, HR, health, benefits and also highly important processes and other services such as payments, and necessary services to support key operations. All these can be achieved by becoming cloud-centric, which does not sound as complicated as you might think.
The biggest lesson this year is how business continuity also requires a focus on wellbeing. Technology can definitely help in this regard. Organizations should provide HR teams with suitable tools to access self-service reports and enable views across their talent pool, and allow them to predict employee churn and identify employees likely to be impacted by illness due to their health history, so that additional support that could help prevent them from falling ill can be provided.
Empathy is key in the new realities of long-term remote working
Today, everyone is focused on getting life and business back to normal, but recent events remind us that business continuity must be planned for times that are not normal. One huge learning is the impact of extended remote working for organizations and the importance of planning for long-term periods of disruption.
To be resilient in the long term requires giving your people additional support but also empathy.
In these uncertain and highly stressful times, business leaders and managers need to lead with empathy to maintain the well-being, health and safety of the team. What also comes with remote working is home-schooling of children and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental, as well as our physical health.
Things will never be the same from here on. As companies restart operations with remote working becoming the new norm, business leaders should also provide broader support to their employees as we transition to this new phase of business operations.