When you live and run a business in a coastal state, hurricane season is no joke. Flash flooding, strong winds and potential evacuations make business operations a logistical nightmare for our associates - not to mention the impact it has on the customer experience.
But it doesn't take a full-fledged hurricane like Hurricane Harvey, which recently pounded our city of Houston, to derail your daily operations. After all, an extended power outage or office construction project alone could severely impact your business without the necessary preparations.
These are the 5 must-dos for your business and associates BEFORE disaster strikes:
1. Create a team to be leaders in times of crisis - Our emergency planning went from 0 - 100 when we created a team who was entrusted with our business continuity goals and a budget to make it happen. This group is a mix of appointed 'Safety Captains' from every tier of the organization including security, building operations and senior leaders. With this approach, no single department "owns" emergency planning. Instead, these empowered associates strategize and execute our emergency business plan. From technology selection to training and real-time crisis management, this group of associates is able to look out for its teammates.
2. Empower your associates to make the right decisions - You should allow your associates to make their own decisions on whether or not they are able to drive into work, work remotely or if they need to spend time taking care of their family or protecting their property. Our Houston-based office means our associates are spread out in communities in a 50-mile radius with their own varying degrees of traffic, flooding potential and power grid responsiveness. We expect each associate to take ownership of their own safety and to lead by example.
3. Plan your communication strategy in advance - Expecting associates to check their work email or asking your leadership team to send and keep track of individual text messages in times of crisis is not sustainable. The easier you make the experience, the more likely your emergency communication will be done consistently and in a way that benefits your team. Don't forget that collecting information in a crisis is just as important as communicating office closures. Find and test a tool that allows for mass communication and feedback.
4. Make remote working a simple reality - Make sure each associate is equipped properly and empowered to work from home in advance. We regularly test this as part of our new hire training and with monthly checks to ensure that each associate can work remotely if needed. Everyone gets laptops (and laptop bags), wireless headsets and chargers for their machines at home to make it easy to get to work. The day before a hurricane hits is NOT the day to start hoping that everyone has Internet access at home knows how to login to your systems remotely, and has a working laptop.
5. Practice makes perfect - So how do you practice for a disaster? We sporadically use our emergency communication tool to send out early morning notices to select associates informing them to work from home - and then follow up throughout the day to ensure that they are able to work productively and efficiently. Our company policy is for each associate to bring home their laptop and charger every night. There is no better way to enforce these policies than through random days of practice. Forgot how to login to the VPN? Didn't bring home your charger? It's better to work through issues in small groups on an average day than try to power through hundreds of associates' issues in a hurricane. Practice, practice, practice!
Thankfully, all of our associates were safe from harm after the storm passed. Hurricane Harvey still provided us many lessons for the next event, which we hope never happens. The hurricane's impact on our associates was no less than devastating for a significant number of them, not to mention our communities, and recovery will take years. But, just in case, we will be ready (and I hope you are too!)