Business Continuity for the Board

 

If you’re like me, your email inbox has been filling up with information from various businesses about how they are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19. And if you sit on a board of directors, you have likely been hearing from your management team as they implement their business continuity plan (assuming they have one!) in the face of this health crisis.

The business risk resulting from a pandemic was incorporated into some plans as a response to the outbreaks of SARS and H1N1. Fortunately, much has evolved on the technology front since then to help mitigate the risk to business continuity. Not only are employees able to remotely login to company servers and intranets, software is available to facilitate online collaboration, use stable video conferencing, enable chat, collaborate on shared files and communicate with colleagues across all devices.

These arrangements help support the “social distancing” recommended by public health experts by enabling employees to work from home. Of course, they can’t really help a business that operates a grocery store, fitness facility, performing arts facility or pro sports team!

All of this makes sense for employees. What does it mean for the board?

Teleconferencing remains the most common way for boards to meet remotely. The board package is distributed via a portal or by email attachment and board members participate by phone. It’s helpful to have an established protocol for managing a meeting like this in the absence of visual signals. Chairing, voting, and making yourself heard can all be challenging. I know that I, for one, have been forgotten during the discussion. For these reasons and others, teleconferencing is not an engaging way to run a board meeting.

What if there is a better way that is digital and free?

For example, if your organization uses Microsoft Office 365 (for PC or Mac), then you already have access to the MS Teams app. (If not, licensing is available free for the next six months or get the always free version.)

MS Teams can work with all operating systems and platforms including mobile platforms (iOS, iPadOS, and Android.) Today’s boards can collaborate from anywhere, at any time, on any device with an internet connection. Video conference, digital audio, document sharing, document control, high level security … all included with your Microsoft Office 365 license. Only basic training is required to use Teams. If you can send a calendar invite in MS Outlook, then you can use Teams. (Look for the icon on your desktop.)

I consider this to be a big step up from the teleconference method for remote board work.

Full disclosure – DirectorPrep uses MS Teams.

What would the savvy director do?

The savvy director – who is always curious – would want to learn more about the latest opportunities to enhance the organization’s business continuity plan. Working from home has never been easier, more functional or as affordable as it is today.

With us today is Dave Jaworski, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft Teams Strategic Customer Engineering and author of “Microsoft Secrets: An Insider’s View of the Rocket Ride from Worst to First and Lessons Learned on the Journey.” Dave supports many of Microsoft’s largest accounts, as well as being a valued board director on private company and nonprofit boards. Dave has been my friend and colleague for many years and helped us launch DirectorPrep.

In his strategic customer engineering role at Microsoft, Dave is right in the middle of the business continuity issues surrounding COVID-19 globally. For us and for the readers of The Savvy Director™ blog, he is a tremendous resource to tap into.

I spoke with Dave about business continuity and Work from Home (WFH) programs. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

Q. What are you seeing in the evolution of business continuity planning for organizations, large or small?

A. There’s a mix of plans. Some are very detailed and include pandemics. Others do not have a plan and realize they need one, or their current plan is insufficient or not up-to-date. Few have thought through the idea of everyone working remotely. Now it’s suddenly urgent.

Q. If a company or not-for-profit is considering a WFH program, what are the key decisions that need to be made up front?

A. First, do they have the right tools for people to do their work remotely? It’s not just about replacing meetings, it’s about people collaborating in their work environment. An integrated system for all of the collaboration tools is very helpful.

Is there a planning tool alongside the work that needs to be done?

Is there a communication plan to inform people what is available to them? If not, a plan has to be put together quickly, then communicated.

Is there appropriate security on documents for employees working outside the company’s firewall? How will documents be controlled once the files exit the building? Do employees have the appropriate devices at home?

There are many considerations with respect to the infrastructure, the network. Can employees access the corporate network properly to get beyond the firewall? Does the network have the capacity to deal with the new volume of external users?

There can be issues with the bandwidth available at employees’ homes. There are a lot of people working from home now including many with children. Keep in mind that, for many, the local internet connection is like a party line. The neighborhood ISP may not have the bandwidth to be as effective as needed. Employees working from home may need to turn off video and stick with audio to conserve bandwidth.

Then there are considerations about working with external parties such as other companies, partners, vendors, suppliers, etc. How will working from home impact that dynamic?

The company should establish some simple meeting etiquette such as everyone muting except for the person presenting. We also recommend using a headset or ear buds if possible to help everyone hear each other well and avoid audio feedback.

If everyone is using the same tools, it will be a better experience for all. Get your tech team to help you.

And it’s really important to do a test run before the board call. Each person could do a quick test call. It’s definitely worth taking the time.

Q. Can board members take advantage of WFH programs?

A. Absolutely, board members can take advantage of it. It’s really open to anyone. We have schools doing this with their teachers and students. You can be anywhere, on any device.

Q. Can you illustrate a start-up scenario for basic video conferencing for boards?

A. The easiest board meeting scenario would be for the corporate secretary or executive assistant to send every board member a link that directors simply need to click to join the meeting using the software of choice. Sending a Teams calendar invite to everyone will automatically include this link. 

Document control would typically reside with the person running the technical aspect of the meeting. Screen share can be used to help people stay focused on the items being discussed. As people get more experienced with WFH meetings, document collaboration (sharing, editing, multiple presenters, etc.) will become comfortable. At first you are probably best to have your tech team help facilitate a smooth board meeting.

Q. What are the key issues to be addressed when putting a WFH program together? Are there new IT security concerns?

A. One key issue is communication - having a feedback loop. FAQs have to be available quickly. For example, with the current public health situation, you should have an established channel for COVID-19 information and direct your people to ignore all else. 

Your people need to be aware that sophisticated phishing exploits are underway right now to take advantage of people’s need for COVID-19 information. Phishing can drop dangerous software on your computer. People need basic training for coping with this very real cybersecurity threat.

By the way, I should note that business continuity plans are not just about COVID-19. Where I live in Nashville, a violent tornado just ripped through town, affecting many businesses, homes and schools.

Q. What kind of WFH questions could a savvy director ask at a board meeting?

A. Here's a few suggested questions.

  • Does the company have a business continuity program that addresses the work from home scenario?
  • Is there a plan for access to key systems and services?
  • Will your network be able to handle a significant change in traffic if employees work from home?
  • Does WFH introduce security risks to the business? If so, what is the plan to address them?
  • Is there a plan to ensure people go to legitimate sites and to educate employees about the increased risk of social engineering such as phishing?
  • Does the company have on-demand training available for employees and board members for the tools needed for WFH?
  • Does the company have an emergency communication plan that includes FAQs, key contacts, and communications for employees, board members, partners, and customers?
  • What moves can be made to benefit the business in this time of uncertainty? What are possible financial outcomes from the emerging scenarios? What steps can be taken to mitigate the impact?
  • What are the plans to address employees concerns for their livelihood? What about their sick leave and health benefits? What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • How will WFH affect service to customers?

Dave, thank you for this valuable input.

While risk oversight is the board’s job, the day-to-day identification and mitigation of risk resides with management. That said, the urgency of COVID-19 means that this is a matter for the board as a whole and the board must lean in. The board is ultimately accountable for the organization’s responses, even though management may be confronting these risks daily.

Your takeaways and information links:

  • If your board does not currently provide oversight of a business continuity plan, it’s time to formalize your efforts once the urgency of COVID-19 stabilizes.
  • It’s important to conduct an annual review of the business continuity plan to ensure viability and relevance.
  • Today’s technology platforms provide cost effective ways to facilitate WFH programs. Ask questions to consider whether it’s viable for your organization to allocate budget and training to enable WFH options.
  • Boards can take advantage of the new tech platforms for their own meetings.

Over the past week, DirectorPrep has identified the following useful links with excellent questions on COVID-19:

One last thing ─ should you meet up with someone working in the health care system, be sure to thank them for their tireless efforts during the COVID-19 crisis!

Thank you.

Scott

Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.

Share Your Insight: What questions have we left unanswered regarding business continuity and WFH programs?

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