Crisis takes on many forms. We’re in the midst of a global health crisis, but natural disasters, national security issues, and other major events can just as unexpectedly disrupt normal life and government operations. Communities will most likely face waves of COVID-19 infections throughout the rest of this year and beyond. Government agencies need to be prepared to continue to support their communities throughout this and any other crisis.
IT planning can help agencies prepare for disruptions, enabling them to create a more resilient operational environment that provides employees with access to information and services, whether they are in the office or working from home.
Let’s look at how a people-first mindset in IT planning can support agency resilience during a crisis.
Encourage safe workplaces, wherever employees are
During any disruption, it may not be possible for employees to return to the office for weeks or months. In these pandemic times, certain offices could have to wait to safely open until later this year or into 2021. For some government employees, remote working might become permanent.
Putting people first in IT planning means providing employees with a safe cyber and physical workplace, even when that workplace is remote. Hunching over a laptop while sprawled on a sofa is a recipe for ergonomic injuries, which can lead to decreased productivity. To prevent this problem, help employees set up home offices and workstations that meet ergonomic standards. While there are no OSHA regulations about home offices, work-related injuries can still happen when an employee is working at home. It’s up to your agency to put policies into place. If your agency is not able to supply employees with home office equipment and furnishings, then at least give online trainings on telework safety and ergonomics. Consider providing employees with apps that provide remote ergonomic assessments, stretching exercises, and reminders to take breaks.
Make contingency plans
If someone on the IT team suddenly can’t work or can’t go to the office because of a crisis-at-large, your agency must be able to continue its mission. During the pandemic, you need to be prepared in case someone gets sick, or has to take care of someone who is sick. Beyond the pandemic, the disruption could be due to any other event that derails everyday life. Though it’s an unpleasant thought, there could be unavoidable layoffs and furloughs.
Identify the mission-critical duties that have to continue no matter the circumstances. Document the relevant standard operating procedures, and then train other people how to perform these key responsibilities. Whenever possible, have a backup for your backup, that is at least three people who know how to do each essential task. If you’re an IT department of one, start advocating up the chain of command to have people in other departments join an IT contingency team. For parts of the job that can be moved into the cloud or automated, use the current crisis as motivation to launch those new systems.
Support flexibility and boundaries
Maintaining a regular work schedule during a disruption can be a challenge. Being a caregiver for anyone, young or old, makes it even more difficult. Anyone who has seen the viral video of kids interrupting a BBC News interview knows children need care and demand attention all day long. During a crisis like the pandemic, services such as caregiving, daycare, schools and babysitting may be unavailable, compounding the issue. It won’t help if you add to this stress or sit idly by as employees burn themselves out.
Resilient IT planning that puts people first should allow for flexibility for employees dealing with childcare, elder care, or other special circumstances. Create policies that let people have flexibility in their schedules whenever possible, and don’t penalize people for taking the time they need. Encourage employees to set boundaries about their work-life balance. Adopt systems that facilitate asynchronous remote collaboration, such as an online chatting platform, collaborative document writing and editing in the cloud, and project management software.
Expand remote work
During the pandemic or any similarly serious disruption, whoever can work remotely should be allowed to. If it’s within your sphere of influence, update policies to expand who is eligible to telework and under what circumstances. Create incentives to maximize the number of people who can work from home, and remove as many disincentives as you can.
Invest in software, systems, and other telework tools that make it possible for IT and other staff to do most or all of their work from home. These tools can include secure video communications, screen sharing, virtual whiteboards, cloud file storage and remote desktop software.
What’s happening at your agency?
We want to hear from you! Let us know in the comments how you’re using IT planning to support agency resilience.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, storyteller, and freelance writer based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.