I first heard from one of our vendors in early January 2020 about a “possible outbreak of a highly contagious disease” long before the coronavirus pandemic became a constant headline on every media outlet. This vendor is located very close to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is believed to have begun, and has over 100 software developers in the area.
I couldn’t help but think of the developers and their families. What if some of these developers got infected during their commute or while at work, and then inadvertently carried the virus home to their children and families? There was also some self-interest at play here. You see, as a digital product management consultant to tech startups and established brands, business continuity is often front and center on my mind.
We needed to do something, and fast, to keep those 100 developers in Wuhan safe. After a quick brainstorming session with the team, I instructed the vendor to immediately enforce a work-from-home policy until further notice.
This emergency is putting a spotlight on the need for tech startups to have a resilience plan in place, whether it is for this pandemic, regular yearly flu/cold outbreaks, weather disasters or the latest ransomware and cyberattack. The problem is, most small businesses don’t usually have the mature business continuity plans of a larger company.
Here are five areas for small tech startups to better prepare themselves for disruptions.
Many public and private organizations have compiled detailed guidelines for emergency preparedness and planning.
FEMA’s Emergency Preparedness Resources for Business provides tools to create a plan that addresses the impact of many hazards. The CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 page covers a wide range of topics essential to emergency preparedness in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The CDC’’s website has a tremendous amount of information to protect citizens from various health threats.
Data is the lifeblood for most tech startups, so it is essential to build a data backup process to keep data available at alternate business locations if the main office is ever closed. Implement high-availability, cloud-based data replication and migration safeguards that will ensure data remains available during an emergency situation. This is imperative for any long-term quarantine or shut-down scenarios.
Companies of all sizes should establish a business continuity plan to ensure that employees can be productive during uncertain or high-risk situations, including a pandemic, a natural disaster or any other major disruption that prevents workers from safely making it to the office. This includes the ability to work remotely and to adopt tools that allow for better remote collaboration and information sharing.
We periodically test the remote connectivity for our staff to ensure secure access. We also maintain a list of people who have the ability and the necessary permissions to work remotely should the office need to be closed for several weeks. Our company directory includes cell phone numbers and alternate phone numbers in case we are unable to reach people via email and need to urgently communicate.
Cash Flow Management
Many tech startups rely on outside investments. There are a few inexorable truths to investing, and one of them is that people prioritize their health over money only when they start to lose their health. If the investing community starts to worry more about their health than their returns, then investments will dry up overnight. Tech startups need to lock in any additional funds they can, as fast as they can, and then get lean and mean.
Many companies that may have previously thought a tech-focused approach to business to be impersonal will now recognize that telecommunications (such as Skype, Zoom, webinars, etc.) are very convenient, cost-effective and efficient. Make sure that any web conferencing tools you use have a subscription large enough to handle your whole team.
Remember those 100 developers I mentioned at the beginning of the story? What I didn’t mention is that it’s been three months since we instituted the work-from-home policy, and we have seen productivity go up, absenteeism go down, and overall healthy morale given the difficult circumstances. After all, as entrepreneurs, it’s our job to plan ahead and prepare our businesses to respond to disruptions, as unexpected as they might be.