Telework is getting more popular every year — based on current trends, with no growth acceleration, regular telecommuters will total 4.9 million by 2016, a 69 percent increase from the current level but well below other forecasts. In fact, the US government’s Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 mandates that every department head identifies who is eligible, partially for emergency readiness, but also to reduce energy use and increase employee retention.
Teleworking has a few basic requirements:
- A secure place to work
- A secure computing platform
- Sufficient and secure data bandwidth
- Access to appropriate voice services
- No regulatory requirements for employee monitoring
Stockbrokers generally cannot telework due to monitoring regulations. Similarly, call center employees may need special voice equipment, although Voice over IP (VoIP) soft phones should work with many call center applications.
As more and more companies implement telework as a workplace recovery strategy, it’s worth considering if the planners truly thought through all the implications of their decision. When an incident occurs, it is imperative that critical employees get back to work no matter why they cannot be in the office. And in most cases, telework will not meet this key objective.
As every business continuity practitioner knows, disasters come in three major sizes; single site, localized, and regional. Single site disasters affect one company or one building, localized disasters may affect one or a handful of city blocks, and regional disasters impact a much larger area. Examples can range from something as minor as a fire in a worksite’s computer room to catastrophic events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina or a worldwide pandemic.
In the case of a single site-disaster -- as long as the computing infrastructure is running in the data center or a hot site -- telework might be a reasonable option. Of course, the remote access infrastructure needs to be up as well, along with Internet access through the contracted network provider.
In the case of a localized or regional disaster, telework could be problematic for several reasons. Unlike a traditional hard-wired phone line, there are no government uptime regulations around Internet service providers or local cable and DSL providers. When the power goes out, the landline is required to work for a minimum of 48 hours, but the same isn’t true for cellular, VoIP and data connections -- assuming that power is on in order to charge a cellular device or keep a router powered up.
In a single-site disaster or a pandemic, voice and data connections most likely will be up and employees’ homes or local coffee shops will have power. But with most of the city also stuck at home, bandwidth could be constrained by large numbers of other people also teleworking or something as innocuous as playing games on their home computers.
Telework might be acceptable for lower priority job functions that can be jettisoned when a larger incident occurs, but for employees that support mission critical and revenue-producing business processes, more reliable options are needed.
Commercial workplace recovery solutions may seem more expensive than outfitting employees to work from home, but unless an organization has done a business impact analysis, it cannot be certain that the cost isn’t more than offset by the potential losses if business operations come to a halt.