The recent polar vortex covering USA and Canada would have been very challenging for business continuity! How can call centers manage business continuity in an era of unpredictable and severe climate change?
Severe weather impacts transport
In the Winter of 2017/18, Ireland was hit by the less severe but still dangerous Storms’ Ophelia and Emma, with ‘travel advisories’ issued by Ireland’s National Emergency Coordination Group recommending people stay in doors for their safety. For a day or two, this led to the shutting down of Ireland’s public transport services, and for call centers with staff relying on public transport, this created serious issues. Many Irish call centers serve customers across Europe and across the World, so a shutdown in Ireland can impact the service they provide to their clients’ customers!
Given current climate change conditions the likelihood is safety warnings advising people to stay indoors will occur periodically not only in Ireland (usually a benign climate) but also it seems anywhere in the World.
Business Continuity planning for Call Centers
Call center companies are having to rethink their Business Continuity strategy which typically involves having a back-up failover site located elsewhere in the city. To be manned in the event that the primary site becomes unusable, for example, because of fire etc.
If people are advised to stay indoors (or are not able to travel), this business continuity strategy is useless.
One option for call centers to continue functioning and providing a service to their clients’ customers, is to have staff work from home during adverse weather conditions.
This requires planning ahead of time but if done correctly it can provide much more resilient business continuity as compared to the back-up site, and can be utilised at other times of the year (even when there are no weather problems!).
How to implement Working From Home (WFH) effectively for Call Centers?
Flexibility must be the cornerstone of any Working From Home contingency plan, and suitable call agents must be identified and issued with the relevant hardware to allow them to perform their tasks.
The company will also need to install dynamic telephony and secure systems that allows remote location of staff. To make sure it works, call agents’ feedback on the technical solutions employed is of critical importance, and any issues identified must be addressed.
Apart from allowing the call center to continue providing services to clients’ customers, another of the key benefits of a Working From Home option is the development of relationships between different business elements and IT functions during the course of the planning and implementation of such a plan.
Testing WFH Business Continuity
Testing should be conducted at different times throughout the year, by deploying different groups of call center agents each time. Over time, this should ensure that a large group of users are properly trained and equipped for this WFH Business Continuity process and that it is practised regularly.
This is an advantage over traditional Business Continuity testing, which are annual events which rarely involve the majority of call agents.
When will WFH Business Continuity not work?
WFH cannot work when the call center home city's utility infrastructure were to fail, e.g. electricity and/or telecoms out of action. This is a rare event for whole cities in the developed world.
• Traditional Business Continuity plans for call centers involving a back-up site in the same city does not work when a ‘stay at home’ advice is issued due to adverse weather events
• Working For Home (WFH) Business Continuity can work during times of ‘stay at home’ advice
• Call Center management will need to implement technology and training to enable WFH Business Continuity effectively