Is your business prepared for a pandemic? Find out how to keep your business productive and your team connected.
We’ve been impressed by how organizations in San Diego are taking quick action to protect their fellow citizens from the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Many have also distributed contingency plans in case group meetings need to be modified to keep attendees safe. Here is how a few San Diego organizations are using IT to prepare for the coronavirus.
UCSD announced Monday night that starting in Spring Quarter; they will be shifting all classes to an online platform and restricting public access to their campus. Their online news page informs that using tools like Zoom can be used to deliver real-time online lectures, as well as accommodate students who want to meet with TAs or professors who want to record short lectures. SDSU’s health services page contains information about how they are shifting to online offerings in order to follow the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for public gathering safety during a pandemic. USD is asking students and teachers to be prepared to implement campus-wide remote teaching for all courses by March 23rd using platform tools like Blackboard or ZoomPro. Online class options will allow students to continue uninterrupted with their educational tracks while minimizing contact with groups or crowds.
Online Medical Care Support
On March 10th, the CEO of San Diego Alzheimer’s Society announced the cancelation of all classes and group programs. They are continuing to support their community needs by utilizing an online live chat program on their website and can also field questions via phone and email.
Supporting Work from Home (WFH)
Many businesses are supporting WFH options to protect their employees from possible contamination or to isolate employees who have recently traveled out of the country. We spoke with one local tech company that is mandating a 14-day WFH period for recent international travelers and has since banned both domestic and international business trips. The legal department of the Port of San Diego is doing a pilot test on Friday of their remote work setup to ensure viability in the case extended isolation becomes necessary. Their shipyard activity has been unaffected, though hotel revenue is affected by event cancelations).
Working on the Cure
Perhaps most exciting, because San Diego has such a thriving life science community, many local businesses are actively working on solutions to cure the disease. On January 23rd, Inovio Pharmaceuticals was selected by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a coronavirus vaccine, while in March Arcturus Therapeutics was awarded $10M for Potential Coronavirus Vaccine development and has already developed a vaccine.
What Else Can San Diego Businesses do to Protect Against Coronavirus?
Most of the event cancellations and service modifications we’ve seen are actions rooted in the contingency plan of the organization, or following guidance from the California Department of Public Health on how to handle public events. But large gatherings aside, what are the day-to-day aspects of doing business that San Diego businesses can prepare for? And how can they help employees who might have already been infected by the virus?
(Properly) Set Up Work From Home (WFH) Options
At this stage in the coronavirus pandemic, the best solution is to avoid contracting the disease in the first place by practicing social distancing. This has caused businesses to encourage employees to work from home and has predictably resulted in some pretty on-point questions about how to effectively implement remote setups, especially if remote work was not a widespread practice in the business before. For instance: “We now have an entire office working remotely. Now they all have different IPs, and I don’t know how to keep track of them.” To get a feel for both the technical challenges and people challenges of remote working, we’ve put together our Top IT Tips for Working from Home (WFH).
Set Up Video Conferencing
Video conferencing is one of the most powerful technology tools used to keep people connected during the coronavirus pandemic. There are three areas where video tools create the most value: connecting remote workers, connecting with non-employees, and as an alternative solution for regular in-person meetings.
Video for Remote Workers
For employees who are working remotely, live video chats enable dispersed groups to collaborate almost as if they were in the same room together. Facetime enabled by video also helps prevent feelings of isolation among employees who have self-quarantined or asked by their employers to work from home. Some due to possible exposure with coronavirus during travel outside of the city.
Video for External Business Meetings
Your business might already be using video conferencing to connect with clients, suppliers, consultants, and other non-employees who cannot visit your office in person. During the current coronavirus pandemic, consider substituting all remaining in-person meetings with video conferencing format instead. Keep in mind that for your video conferences to be an adequate substitute for an in-person meeting, you need to set up the room correctly for your presenters to be seen and heard. Your meeting room needs to be well-lit with the camera correctly positioned on the faces of your attendees, and audio devices need to be sufficient for the size of the room and distributed evenly among participants.
Video for Regular Department Meetings
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) recommends keeping a distance of 6 feet from others to prevent infection from coronavirus — something that’s nearly impossible to do in a crowded conference room. San Diego businesses that have taken the initiative to cancel all in-person meetings are simply asking employees to call-in from their desks instead. Meetings are still held in the office, but without the risky proximity of several other people stuffed in a room together.
What tools should you be reviewing? Zoom has a robust plan selection with options accommodating everything from free personal meeting spaces to enterprise-level meeting options. Cisco Webex and Webex Teams make it easy to use both video and chat to keep employees connected, with easy to use plug-and-play equipment options to get your conference room set up. For instance, Cisco offers the all-in-one Cisco Webex Room Kit Plus with an integrated dynamic 4K camera and audio system. If you are already using Microsoft O365, Microsoft Teams is included with the premium business plans and offers chat, video conferencing, and other collaboration tools in both desktop versions and as an app on your portable devices. Other companies are also offering great short-term solutions to provide affected populations with immediate access to these helpful tools.
Review your Business Continuity Plan
If your business continuity plan (BCP) does not yet contain a pandemic response plan, now is the perfect time to add it. To get started, download our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Business Continuity Checklist.
Remote work options, such as the ones outlined in a corporate continuity policy, are also beneficial if a natural disaster restricts employee access to the building.
While you’re reviewing your BCP, also take into consideration that decisions like migrating from on-site servers to cloud servers allow geographical distribution of your data, which can be beneficial in the case that your primary facility is inaccessible.
Review Current Tech Options with your MSP
Having an experienced set of resources available through an MSP can help your organization respond quickly and implement new technology for your team. Why? Even if you have had no previous business need for a particular set of IT services, your MSP has the knowledge you need. They can set up your meetings remotely, build a secure VPN for your users, and get your organization up and running to provide remote working options to employees.
More importantly, managed IT service providers can include pandemic or natural disaster planning in the business continuity plans as part of the long-term strategic planning and roadmapping for each business. As well as guidance for unusual events or incidents, such as pandemics or security breaches, these plans also include instructions regular data backups, disaster recovery, cloud services, email archiving, SaaS applications, remote connectivity, and improved collaboration tools for users.
Finally, the most effective means to ensure your business is disaster-ready is to test your disaster recovery plan, document results, and remediate any gaps to best prepare for a real disaster situation.
San Diego County’s main website has a listing of resources on how to prepare for a pandemic that advises about what to do in your household, school, or business to protect yourself and others from coronavirus.
Just like having regular fire drills at a physical building can protect occupants in case of a real fire, practicing and validating the contingency plans for pandemics like the coronavirus can protect employees from risks associated with exposure. Review your business continuity plan regularly and update it with any new developments that San Diego County has identified as a risk for its citizens.