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Sending staff home after an incident: a checklist for business continuity planners

Many organizations may need to send staff home following an incident, but the process needs to be well managed and prepared for. In this article Charlie Maclean-Bristol, FBCI, provides a checklist of items that should be considered.

Recently, I delivered a series of exercises for a Bank in Portugal. One of the exercises was looking at how their IT development staff would manage an incident if they were to be displaced by more time critical staff from another office. The scenario was that they normally occupy four floors of a building but if one of the other buildings suffered a business continuity incident, many of them would be displaced. Staff would be sent home and they would be able to keep one floor for their most time critical activities.

When developing business continuity plans and strategies I have tended to concentrate on the most time critical staff and have given very little thought to those that would be sent home and so I found the points raised from this exercise very informative and wanted to share them with the wider profession:

  • If you are sending non-critical / time critical staff home this event should be planned for. There should be a written plan containing the details of how this would take place. Many people only write plans for critical activities and I think it is worth writing a plan for the non-critical activities as well.
  • Even if a department is deemed non-critical they may still need to have some staff working and retain some of their existing office space. Which departments or teams get these spaces, how many spaces are required and what skill sets are needed? This should be pre-planned and regularly updated.
  • The displaced staff should be aware of who can actually make the decision to displace them, so the decision-making process should be clear to them.
  • If staff are incoming to the location, those being displaced should be first put on standby and then a formal decision made. This gives them time to prepare.
  • Should staff clear everything off their desks including personal possessions such as plants and pictures? Should they clear their desk drawers? Will the incoming people want cupboard space and storage? All these things should be decided in advance.
  • Is all the IT equipment suitable for the incoming staff and if not perhaps these spaces can be kept by those being displaced?
  • It should be understood as part of the displacement plan whether staff can work from home or not: do they have the appropriate equipment including both IT equipment, VPN access and use of telephones?
  • When staff are sent home, they should be given a formal briefing before they leave. Some of the items you may want to cover are:
    • Are they expected to work from home or not?
    • If they are not working are there things that they should or shouldn't do e.g. go on holiday, leave the area, find a part time job?
    • Will they rotate with staff who are working? Will they be expected to work shifts to make best use of recovery equipment and desk spaces?
    • Will they be paid during the period or have to take holiday?
    • When can they expect to be back working?
    • How and when should they expect to be contacted by the company and regularly updated?
    • Will staff get together at a third-party location to discuss ongoing work?
    • Is there a HR helpdesk they can speak to if there are any issues they don’t want to discuss with their manager?
    • If they will receive IT equipment to allow them to work, how and when will this take place?
    • Do they have any urgent work they need to highlight to their manager before they go home?
    • Should they take any company equipment or documents home?
  • Some of these details could be worked out in advance and put together as a script and then the detail filled in on the day of the incident.
  • I personally think that each member of staff going home should be given a written script and have to sign that they have understand the contents. A displacement could be quite traumatic for some people and they may not be listening to any instructions.
  • I think also that before people go home they should fill out a form giving their address, and contact details so that if their existing details on file are out of date they can be contacted.

I think that too often in business continuity invocations people are treated like commodities and their personal feelings are not thought about during incident response. We go into command and control mode and order people about and we send people home without really thinking about the effect on them personally. Being sent home can have a large impact on people as they can be dislocated from the workplace, their colleagues; and they are not used to doing nothing. They may also worry about whether they will have a job to go back to.

The initial response to the incident will also set the tone for the rest of the incident. If, at the beginning, we can have a well ordered and sensitive response, staff will have the confidence that they will be considered and looked after for the rest of the incident. I'm sorry but this is yet another job for us business continuity people to do!!

The author

Charlie Maclean-Bristol, FEPS, FBCI, is Director of Training at PlanB Consulting.


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