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A remote working strategy needs a business continuity plan

The Pacific Gas and Electric outages in California highlight the need for organizations to include business continuity plans in their remote working strategy.

When Pacific Gas and Electric Company cut power to thousands of customers in northern California in October to prevent its electrical equipment from sparking wildfires, businesses such as hotels, restaurants and grocery stores were affected. Also affected by the outages? Remote and home workers.

For remote workers, a power outage at home means heading to the closest coffee shop with Wi-Fi. But what does a remote worker do when even the coffee shop has no power?

"One of the big benefits of IP-based communication is you're not as tied to the office as you once were," Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said. With IP-based services, like unified communications as a service (UCaaS), users are working on mobile devices, soft clients or web-based clients.

Nearly 33% of companies are increasing their home worker populations, he said. Traffic and real estate costs are major drivers for companies to develop remote working strategies. Half of organizations increasing home workers are more successful with their collaboration strategies compared to organizations that are not adding home-based workers, Lazar said.

Business continuity in a remote working strategy

To support a remote working strategy, organizations need the right communications technology to meet home worker needs, especially during an outage. The disaster recovery (DR) capabilities of the cloud are one of the benefits UCaaS has over on-premises UC.

Despite the business continuity (BC) provided by the cloud, most companies don't have mandates for remote workers to have a backup plan in case of an outage. Some companies will put together best practices for home workers, such as having a backup battery with six hours of power, Lazar said.

"I don't think companies are paying a lot of attention to disaster recovery for home workers," he said.

Organizations may provide failover locations to critical employees. For example, a company with employees in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., may set up a temporary work center if employees are evacuated for a hurricane.

Organizations that have a remote working strategy typically provide a stipend to employees for home internet or mobile devices rather than provide employees with devices, Lazar said.

"A big challenge in coming up with any strategy to provision out devices is the experience in different locations in terms of what services are available," he said.

A company may provide employees with an AT&T device, but some employees may live in regions where AT&T service may not be the strongest. Organizations need a strategy that provides flexibility to employees to buy the services that work best for their location, he said.

Cloud UC endures natural disasters

Eric Hanson, vice president of market intelligence at UCaaS provider Fuze, lives in an area affected by the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) outages. He used Fuze's platform on a mobile device and called into meetings using a public switched telephone network circuit to participate in mission-critical meetings during the outage.

In times of trouble, the cloud's DR capabilities come in handy. A cloud-based communications platform, for instance, enables employees to use a mix of mobile and personal devices.

"It doesn't matter where you are if there's a natural disaster," Hanson said. "Being able to have that redundancy to have your work number or queues follow you on your personal device no matter where you are, as long as you have some kind of data connection, that becomes really important."

The PG&E outages could reflect a larger trend of climate-related power outages becoming a regular occurrence, Lazar said. In July, for example, thousands of New York City residents experienced outages as a heat wave overstrained Con Edison power grids. Remote employees may have second thoughts about where they live and look to move to areas with more reliable power.

"That would become more of a due diligence issue over the next couple years as the planet gets warmer," he said.

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