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Bridging Gaps in Emergency Planning: Hybrid and Remote Workers

At FTI, our office, field and manufacturing team members all work together to support each other. It takes a wide range of experience and personal backgrounds to fulfill our ever-expanding needs as a growth-oriented company. Over the past few years, many office team members have been presented with the opportunity to work in hybrid or remote positions. These team members support our field and manufacturing team members by providing resource management, communication and project coordination, vendor and supply chain management, technology and systems support, education and training opportunities, talent and marketing management, payroll and financial support, risk and problem-solving, documentation and record-keeping—just to name a few areas.

Because we see our team members as the most valuable asset at FTI, it is important to think about their unique needs and incorporate these into our emergency planning. Traditional emergency planning in our industries has focused heavily on the needs of in-person team members, leaving hybrid and remote team members to essentially fend for themselves. For example, while many workplaces have emergency preparedness plans in place for natural disasters such as tornados and fires, what are their plans for remote team members? Are these employees expected to take all responsibility and ensure their own return to work without support or resources from their teams? We have the opportunity to shift this mindset and build a more resilient workforce in the process—something that benefits office, field and manufacturing team members alike.

To start, let’s take a quick look at what we know about the benefits and challenges of hybrid and remote work options. It’s estimated that 32.6 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, according to Forbes. Hybrid work can provide many benefits to team members including flexibility and stability in work-life balance, cost-savings, and better mental health and well-being. From the employer’s viewpoint, hybrid flexibility increases the ability to continue operations during emergencies, can reduce downtime and the cost of disruptions, and increases overall adaptability and resilience in the case of emergencies. However, hybrid work does not come without its own set of challenges and considerations. Concerns include:

  • Data security.
  • Communication barriers.
  • Inconsistent internet access.
  • Lack of physical coordination and collaboration.
  • Cybersecurity concerns.
  • General dependency on digital infrastructure.

Rather than waiting for something to happen and responding reactively in the moment, organizations can choose to proactively address these challenges now as we plan and prepare for future potential disruptions to our daily business. There are several practical considerations for including remote and hybrid workers in emergency planning and business continuity efforts.

Identification and Prioritization of Risks

Focusing efforts and resources on specific risks is an impactful way to approach emergency planning. At FTI, we are conducting an in-depth process of identifying and analyzing the risks that could impact our organization. Part of this process is understanding how all team members across FTI would be impacted (in-person, remote and hybrid), so that we can best plan our mitigation and response efforts. There are several ways to approach risk assessments, but the most important factors to consider are the likelihood/probability and impact/severity of each disruption. For organizations with mixed workforces, these factors may vary depending on whether team members are physically onsite or working remotely. For example, the impact of a severe thunderstorm to team members working in a manufacturing facility with backup generators might be minimal. However, that same storm could cause a temporary power outage for team members working from home—a much more severe impact to their continuity of operations. Of course, the flip side is also true in that some threats and hazards are more probable and severe for in-person team members. Whenever possible, it is helpful to consider and plan for both situations and outcomes. In addition, consider planning for the worst-case scenario with an understanding that flexibility will be necessary and team members may need differing levels of support throughout the event.

Inclusive Representation in Planning and Decision-Making

Ensuring that the right people are at the table throughout every phase of emergency planning is essential for inclusivity. Key individuals involved in planning and decision-making should represent both in-person and hybrid team members. By bringing together cross-departmental representatives and key leaders who know their teams’ needs, we can ensure that all team members are valued. These representatives and leaders should be equipped with an understanding of daily operations, critical business function, and dependencies internally across the organization as well as with external partnerships.

Solution-Oriented Planning

One of the biggest challenges in emergency planning is being able to think outside the box. When thinking about how to ensure that critical functions continue during a disruption to normal services, it can be difficult to mentally “step outside” of daily processes and come up with alternative approaches. In many cases, daily operations have been chosen because they are the most efficient. We rely heavily on technology access because it makes work easier, so naturally it’s difficult to think about solutions that are not as efficient. It’s also easy to depend on others for solutions, hoping that other departments, leaders or external vendors will have solutions accessible and ready to go. This is a pitfall of placing all responsibility for preparedness on hybrid and remote team members; emergency planning requires accountability and ownership from everyone.

At FTI, we pride ourselves in being solution-oriented and redefining what is possible. When thinking about how to address issues that notably impact hybrid and remote team members—i.e. data security and cyber concerns, communication barriers, inconsistent internet access, a lack of physical coordination and collaboration, etc.—think about what can be done, rather than what cannot be done. Be open to solutions and ideas presented by other team members, even if it’s not something you would think to do on a daily basis. It’s also important to remember that plan B may be the first thing to go out the window in case of an emergency—if that happens, do you have a plan C? The exercise of thinking through multiple response options and communicating with team members during the planning phase will save time, financial resources and other important assets later.

Continual Improvements and Open Communication

Progress often starts with little steps, but consistency and dedication will reap major benefits over time. Emergency planning is a cyclical process, not a one-and-done, meaning that continual improvements should happen over time. Even within the same organization, some teams or departments may have already put more thought than others into how to include remote and hybrid team members into their emergency planning. If you are starting from scratch, start by asking for and taking into consideration the feedback of your team members. What do they see as potential issues that could affect their work? What solutions can they think of both for short term and long term? Next, make a list of what improvements you can start with now, and a second list of what needs to be done in the future. For example, if you do not already have a backup communication plan in place for technological failures, work with your team to create a simple call-down list that is accessible offline. Once this has been created, it is important to test the process and identify any areas for improvement. Throughout this process you might realize that additional redundancies in communication systems will be worth budgeting for in the future, but rest assured that having one plan in place now is better than none. As changes and improvements are made over time, remember to maintain open communication, and ask for feedback from other team members. This will help ensure that emergency plans are up-to-date and useful—not just a dusty binder on a back shelf.

For more information on emergency planning or business continuity processes or to share ideas, please contact us today.