Must it take frequent viral epidemics to spur businesses large and small to establish remote-working practices and business continuity plans?

The novel coronavirus outbreak has clearly caught authorities, healthcare providers, businesses, as well as the general public on the back foot. However, countries around Asia, with millions of workers commuting to their workplaces daily, are stepping up efforts to curb the spread and transmission of the virus.

For instance, companies in China—ground zero for the epidemic—have halted operations completely during this period, while other companies like Cathay Pacific have encouraged employees to take unpaid leave. Some businesses have taken on a ‘business-as-usual approach’ with precautions in place, such as in Japan where companies are embarking on nationwide teleworking till the end of February, with some encouraging workers to travel to the office during off-peak hours instead.

What can employers do to ensure that businesses remain running, while mitigating the impact of the virus outbreak on their bottom line? It goes without saying that employers should encourage employees to take better care of themselves in terms of practicing better self-hygiene, healthy lifestyles and most importantly, strict self discipline in staying home when unwell in order to avoid passing illness on to others.

Workplace culture is an important factor. Employees should feel comfortable asking a colleague who is clearly unwell to go home and rest. Employees who are unwell should feel supported by their healthy colleagues, instead of reporting to work just “to be seen”.

Inroads in remote working

Remote work was initially envisioned as a way for companies and businesses to help reduce traffic congestion, or to encourage employees to maintain productivity while also having better work-life balance. In times of crisis, however, remote work arrangements may be what keeps national economies afloat.

Certainly, thanks to advances in communications and collaborations technology over the years, we have reached a point where remote working can be virtually as impactful; as being there in person.

For remote work to happen productively, employers need to ensure that the technologies deployed by your company for employee use—such as laptops, private corporate networks, or even employee communications and collaboration tools—are up to par to support your workforce working remotely for extended periods. For employees who need to meet frequently with vendors, partners or customers, have you equipped them with teleconferencing capabilities, whether in or out of the office, for example?

Employers should also think about their business processes to ensure business continuity. For example, are employee roles and responsibilities made clear if teams must be split into smaller groups, with some working from the office, and others working from home. It also bears considering that not everyone works well from home.

Other questions that need to be answered include how business functions like HR, finance, and supply chain logistics function during this period, and how these short-to-medium term adaptations impact customers, suppliers and services. If you do not have business continuity plans in place, there is no better time than now to get going.

Over the last few decades, the unified collaboration industry has made great strides in advancing the technology to the cloud, making it affordable, scalable, and available to all. Therefore, it fully makes sense to tap on all of these to enable business continuity. Ultimately, for businesses to be able to tide over this difficult period, it all boils down to the employees, and how they can be enabled to work in the best place possible given their responsibilities, workload, and yes, how well they are feeling.