The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a thorough reevaluation of business continuity strategy among companies that depend on offshore service centers in places like India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Many large enterprise crisis plans are built on geographic redundancy that depends on offices in several offshore cities, but this strategy offers little help today as the pandemic crosses geographic boundaries. Faced with the protracted lockdown of a massive number of offshore employees, enterprises have resolved to let a critical mass of quarantined employees work from home. But this strategy poses new challenges.
Enterprises must immediately create a scalable work-from-home (WFH) model that includes the following factors:
At-home internet bandwidth and reliability – Before the current WFH requirements, offshore employees selected home internet solutions based on their personal preferences and their ability to pay. They were not thinking about work requirements. Internet service at corporate data centers and office complexes in developing countries are world class, but home internet is often slow and unreliable. Businesses need to develop corporate policies to enforce minimum service requirements and reasonable compensation for at-home service. These may include power backup and redundant internet provision for the critical mass of WFH employees who need basic service levels in the case of service outages.
Geographic diversity of employees – Power outages plague neighborhoods in developing countries and, when they occur, tend to be prolonged by poor infrastructure and transportation challenges experienced by repair crews. WFH business continuity strategies must consider geographic diversity of staff, even within the same city, to prevent total outage of business service support.
Equipment allocation for adequate performance – Software developers can increase their performance by having a second monitor at their workstations. Call center staff benefit from noise-cancelling headphones. There are many examples of helpful technology that is available in the office but not at home. Business continuity policies must make these technologies available – or account for lost productivity if they are not.
Work rules enforcement – Enterprises must provide reasonable monitoring of basic work rules like hours on the clock, absences and paid time off. Faced with extended in-house quarantine in small city apartments, many employees in developing countries are opting to return to remote home villages where only patchy mobile internet service is available. This presents a new dynamic that enterprises must be prepared to manage.
Automation backup for offshore employees – Bots haven’t replaced many offshore workers, but in an enterprise striving for business continuity, automation can be deployed as a backup for many human functions that might otherwise fail. Leadership should identify repetitive tasks that are candidates for automation so they can be prepared to automate in times like these and weather future crises with minimal disruption on the business.
Information security in the remote environment – At times when WFH employees are accessing data from less-secure home networks, companies must address existing information security procedures and redouble their efforts to account for proper encryption, end-point security, VPN usage and similar data protection standards.
Team productivity metrics – Enterprises can build a team dashboard to capture employee-level metrics such as time logged into the VPN, work units (however measured) completed, internet performance, geographic location during work hours and corporate equipment allocated. This is a management tool, but it can also be used for team building if employees are offered rewards for special efforts and achievements while working from home.
We are already seeing the fruits of careful enterprise WFH efforts, at least from the perspective of continuity of services. Providers and enterprise captives alike are doing everything they can to support their remote workforce, from providing hot spots and laptops, to redeploying laptops and setting up for remote access, to leasing employees’ own personal laptops and reconfiguring them to meet corporate security standards. This has been a massive overnight change for most enterprises, and we will almost surely see continued effort as we move forward.
ISG helps enterprises design effective and scalable WFH models and deploy appropriate technology to maintain business continuity now and into the future. Contact us to find out how we can help your organization.