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This week I share some information about staffing during an incident and some of the things that should be planned for prior to incidents taking place.

Last week I delivered a series of exercises for a Bank in Portugal. One of the exercises was looking at how their IT development staff would manage an incident if they were to be displaced by more time critical staff from another office. The scenario was that they normally occupy four floors of a building but if one of the other buildings suffered a business continuity incident, many of them would be displaced. Staff would be sent home and they would be able to keep one floor for their most time critical activities.

When developing BC I have tended to concentrate on the most time critical staff and have given very little thought to those that would be sent home and so I found the points raised from this exercise very informative and wanted to share them with you this week. 

  • If you are sending non-critical / time critical staff home this event should be planned for.  There should be a written plan containing the details of how this would take place. Many people only write plans for critical activities and I think it is worth writing a plan for the non-critical activities.
  • Even if a department is deemed non-critical they may still need to have some staff working and retain some of their existing office space. Which departments or teams get these spaces, how many spaces are required and what skill sets are needed? This should be pre-planned and regularly updated.
  • The displaced staff should be aware of who can actually make the decision to displace them, so the decision making process should be clear to them.
  • If staff are incoming to the location, those being displaced should be first put on standby and then a formal decision made. This gives them time to prepare.
  • Should staff clear everything off their desks including personal possessions such as plants and pictures? Should they clear their desk drawers? Will the incoming people want cupboard space and storage? All these things should be decided in advance.
  • Is all the IT equipment suitable for the incoming staff and if not perhaps these spaces can be kept by those being displaced?
  • It should be understood as part of displacement plan whether staff can work from home or not, do they have the appropriate equipment including both IT equipment, VPN access and use of telephones?
  • When staff are sent home, they should be given a formal briefing before they leave. Some of the items you may want to cover are:
    1. Are they expected to work from home or not?
    2. If they are not working are there things that they should or shouldn’t do e.g go on holiday, leave the area, find a part time job?
    3. Will they rotate with staff who are working? Will they be expected to work shifts to make best use of recovery equipment and desk spaces?
    4. Will they be paid during the period or have to take holiday?
    5. When can they expect to be up and working?
    6. How and when should they expect to be contacted by the company and regularly updated?
    7. Will staff get together at a third-party location to discuss ongoing work?
    8. Is there a HR helpdesk they can speak to if there are any issues they don’t want to discuss with their manager?
    9. If they will receive IT equipment to allow them to work, how and when will this take place?
    10. Do they have any urgent work they need to highlight to their manager before they go home?
    11. Should they take any company equipment or documents home?
  • Some of these details could be worked out in advance and put together as a script and then the detail filled in on the day of the incident.
  • I personally think that each member of staff going home should be given a written script and have to sign that they have understand the contents. A displacement could be quite traumatic for some people and they may not be listening to any instructions.
  • I think also before people go home they should fill out a form giving their address, and contact details so that if their existing details on file are out of date they can be contacted.

I think too often in BC invocations, people are treated like commodities and their personal feelings are not thought about during incident response. We go into command and control mode and order people about and we send people home without really thinking about the effect on them personally. Being sent home can have a large impact on people as they can be dislocated from the workplace, their colleagues and are not used to doing nothing. They may also worry about whether they will have a job to go back to. 

The initial response to the incident will also set the tone for the rest of the incident. If at the beginning we can have a well ordered and sensitive response, staff will have the confidence that they will be considered and looked after for the rest of the incident. I’m sorry but this is yet another job for us business continuity people to do!!

The Following is a comment on the article by Nick Simms

Dear Charlie, I continue to be impressed at your ability to find something interesting to say in your newsletter every week. Your piece last week on sending staff home after an incident led me to think about some of the additional lessons I have learned from the two primary occasions where I have been responsible for implementing a displacement strategy. On one of the occasions, I was asked to deliver and test a displacement strategy between two offices about 1500 metres apart involving around 350 staff, 250 from one office and 100 in the other.  I was given one week from start to finish.  On the other occasion, I inherited a plan to move up to 500 people from one side of a city to another. So what did I learn?

  1. Conduct an analysis of how long each individual could give up their desk before critical activities become disrupted.  Think of it almost as a personal BIA.  At some point, staff being displaced do become critical, otherwise, why are they employed?
  2. Ideally have a standard PC build.  If that is not possible, have a second build already installed on the PC for use in an incident.  Don’t rely on being able to reconfigure PCs at time of incident as the IT support staff will already be stretched dealing with other queries.
  3. Do not rely on laptops for the incomers as these can be difficult to source at the time of incident.
  4. Equally, make very sure incomers do not cannibalise the PCs they inherit by moving connecting cables, changing ports/cards, etc as that makes it difficult for the original owners to get up and running again when they get their desks back.
  5. Check incoming staff can actually use the PCs they inherit.  For example, do the PCs have the capability to run the spreadsheets of the incomers?  We had a situation where the incomers couldn’t read the spreadsheets because of the reduced screen resolution, something we hadn’t considered in advance.   
  6. Institute a signed “contract” for the managers of receiving desks.  This should specify how much notice displaced staff will be given to vacate their desks in the event of a test or an incident.  It should also specify any clear desk/clear locker policies.  Adopting this approach and reminding managers of the contract at regular intervals reduces the potential for arguments.
  7. In the event of an incident, ensure that there is a weekly get together for all staff, especially including those who have been displaced, so that no one feels they have been forgotten.
  8. Can we institute a shift system of working?
  9. Prioritise who amongst the displaced gets access to remote capacity and when.  Most organisations do not have enough remote ports or bandwidth to cope with abnormally high levels of working from home.

I hope that adds some value. Best wishes Nick 

And this comment from Robert Blew

Read with interest your “Sending staff home after an incident” in Continuity Management. Very comprehensive checklist of consideration. However from my own work in the field have a couple of suggested additions.

1) Not everyone needs to be sent home but can be sent to work another job for a different organization. This can be volunteer work for disaster and humanitarian aid. They may have a skill set that is needed by someone else, even by a competitor, and paid by that other organization. They may have a skill set not used by the company, but can be used by someone else – language capability, past skills in a completely different occupational skill. There may be a new job created such as remaining in contact with employees not working to see to their continued safety.

2) A sensitive issue is that some people will believe they are critical to a company, when in fact they are a hindrance. They may be critical during normal operations, but for reconstruction of an office or functions one does not want the boss, but the administrative assistance, clerical staff, maintenance workers, labor, with their own direct leaders, not the “suits”. For those who do not have the skill sets necessary, but their sense of importance does not allow them to get out of the way, they can be diverted to strategic positions such as liaison and coordination with other organizations for collaborative actions, planning for when the organization is functioning again, a think tank of the whole business sector to take advantage of the situation to make improvements in systems that could not be changed due to the costs of changing. An advantage to destruction is one does not have to rebuild the old, but something that is more state of the art.

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