Businesses that lack pandemic plans are putting more than themselves at risk

Paul Vallée

When pondering the business implications of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 – and, really, any potential pandemic – it’s useful to consider the news surrounding Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (known as NTT).

A Japanese firm with subsidiaries like NTT Docomo and NTT Data, NTT made headlines this week after asking 200,000 of its nearly 300,000-strong workforce to start either working from home or using staggered hours, to help prevent infections. 

NTT did the right thing. Minimizing risk to both employees and the general public is paramount, and companies need to be flexible and quick to react in such a situation. In some cases, they may not have a choice – we’re already seeing governments around the world either contemplate or, as in China, implement mass work-from-home measures. 

Can businesses afford to send everyone home?

But it’s probably fair to say most organizations in North America aren’t prepared to continue operating while sending everyone home, indefinitely, at a moment’s notice. 

Because it doesn’t matter if it’s now, next year, or in a few years. Experts agree it’s only a matter of time before businesses in North America – even those with little or no international presence – will have to deal with a pandemic. In the case of COVID-19, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield says it’s likely here to stay and “will become a community virus” that will crop up regularly.

That’s why every organization needs to be prepared. Not doing so courts potential financial, reputational and operational damage – not to mention putting  employees and the wider public at risk.

Business best practices for getting – and staying – pandemic-ready

The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report provided a bleak assessment of most countries’ pandemic readiness level, noting that most health systems would be caught flat-footed in an emergency (this is particularly relevant to Ontario, which has recently seen mounting health-care cuts). Elements of globalization like international travel and multi-country supply chains mean that, as a society, we’re more vulnerable than ever.

Business readiness contributes directly to  pandemic readiness, simply because of the huge role businesses play in people’s day-to-day lives. To that end, public health agencies say it’s vital for businesses to establish and clearly communicate official sick leave policies, including when employees shouldn’t come in to work (and when a doctor’s note is required, a usually needless demand that can further spread illness and stress the health system). 

The CDC takes things one step further, offering a preparedness checklist for businesses with overseas operations (Health Canada offers pandemic planning resources, as well, but nothing quite as specific to businesses). CDC’s best practices for business pandemic planning include:

  • Establishing and clearly communicating organizational policies around sick leave and when to stay home
  • Developing guidelines and best practices for conducting business online or remotely
  • Establishing pandemic coordinators and response teams at facilities, with an eye to supervising planning and implementation with a clear chain of command 

For some workers it’s probably not realistic to work from home – health care and manufacturing employees come to mind – it’s nevertheless important to remember that under regulations like Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employees can legally refuse to show up if they feel working conditions are unsafe.

Defending corporate networks as workers go remote

Thankfully, working from home has become much more realistic for most thanks to a new-age gold rush of digital tools. Collaboration and video conferencing platforms like Slack, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams, for example, facilitate online collaboration in ways that weren’t possible (or, at least, inexpensively available) just a decade ago.

It’s clear that the impact of COVID-19 will push more organizations to organize and invest in work-from home technologies. Alongside the urgent health impact, this trend can also have profound side benefits, such as saving on long-term office infrastructure and commercial space costs. But it can also come at a price: Employees logging in to corporate networks containing sensitive IP, using residential WiFi, often on personal devices, is the stuff of nightmares for IT security.

The good news is that the technology ecosystem is responding with a crop of new tools to instantaneously permit secure, compliant work-from-home deployments, including always-ready, secure work environments in the cloud. According to Gartner, these environments can “minimize the impact of business disruption or disaster by delivering services in a flexible manner, independent of physical workspace.” They come hard-wired with advanced security, auditing and compliance features like automated encryption, multi-factor authentication, endpoint isolation, perfectly witnessed records and built-in compliance controls, all easily configured for privileged system and data access. IT teams can then spin up secure virtual offices for remote workers in a matter of minutes, instead of weeks or even months, getting end users back to work quickly even when organizations are at their most vulnerable.

These are just a few possible tools for businesses to consider when building a robust pandemic plan. 

Because, as all employees should demand readiness from their employers. And employers  owe it to their teams, their customers, and to their shareholders to rise to the challenge and be ready.

Only Tehama can instantly enable enterprise workforces to work from home securely. Contact us to learn about our free 45-day trial. 

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