My company, Come Recommended, is completely virtual. I have remote employees in three states, about half of whom live in Florida. Understandably, when I saw the increasing threat of Hurricane Irma last week, I was worried.
First and foremost, I was concerned for the safety of my team. But, also, since everyone works from home, an extended loss of power in even part of Florida could drastically affect my company’s day-to-day operations.
Luckily, the storm passed over my Florida-based team with minimal damage. However, the recent hurricanes should remind all of us that it’s important to be prepared ahead of time for any and all natural disasters so, when they hit, there’s no lapse in productivity.
Here are five tips to keep a company running when there’s an impending natural disaster:
1. Take care of the team.
Whenever there’s a storm, forest fire or other catastrophe that threatens people’s homes, people in the path are asked to remember one thing: homes can be rebuilt, material items can be replaced, but lives can not. The same is true of businesses. Even if an office is destroyed, it doesn’t matter as long as employees are safe.
This is why it’s important for companies to do whatever they can to help their team out of harm’s way. This can mean organizing places for people to stay, planning potlucks to get everyone food or giving employees time off to prepare. Whatever the company can spare to help people out will be appreciated.
For The Penny Hoarder, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., that meant using its American Express points to book hotels for employees who need to evacuate during Hurricane Irma.
“As someone who was considering getting the heck out of Florida, I felt a whole lot of gratitude for that,” Alexis Grant, The Penny Hoarder executive editor said in an email. “Finding a place to stay can be difficult and expensive during an evacuation because everyone is heading in the same direction.”
Taking the time to make sure everyone has a place to ride out the danger will give everyone a sense of comfort and safety.
2. Plan with employees.
In times of high stress, it’s important for team members to feel they have a support system. The best way to do that is to include everyone in the decision-making process when nature’s about to strike. This gives multiple minds the chance to voice their concerns and find solutions.
Buddy Brew Coffee, a chain of coffee shops in Tampa, Fla., decided the best way to do this was to create a “Storm Team” before Hurricane Irma hit.
“Based on this body of people, we made a plan to prepare our shops for the storm,” Dave Ward, the company’s CEO and founder, said via email. “We opened one of our facilities as a shelter for employees, their families and friends. We also established closing dates and times along with reopening dates and times.”
This gives everyone time to relax and think things through instead of reacting irrationally.
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3. Communicate with customers.
Once the team is safe, the next step is to inform customers of any upcoming changes. This is especially important if the business has clients and customers who are outside the area affected by the natural disaster. Since they aren’t in the heart of it, they might not understand all the challenges the company is facing.
“As a company that provides software-as-a-service to global customers who expect 24/7 service, regardless of the weather, we have a well-documented business continuity plan that protects our customers as well as our employees,” Tina Lux-Boim, president and CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Managed Maintenance, Inc., said via email.
Thanks to this robust plan, Managed Maintenance was able to minimize any loss of productivity and customer service.
4. Have a supportive culture.
Once a disaster is over — no matter what its impact — people need to return to a sense of normalcy. They want to get back to work and see that all the coworkers they care about are all right. This desire comes from having tight-knit and supportive culture like the one we enjoy at Come Recommended.
“After Hurricane Irma hit, it was important to me that I let everyone at Come Recommended know that I was all right,” said Jeff Previte, a senior content creator based in Palm Harbor, Fla. “As soon as I was able to, I checked-in with the rest of the team.”
Within two days after the storm, my Florida team was eager to get back to work. Once they knew it was safe to leave their homes, they went to relatives, coffee shops and even a Target to take advantage of available electricity and WiFi.
Being in communication with the entire team put everyone at ease and allowed employees to join together and return to normalcy.
5. Learn from mistakes.
In an emergency, it’s rare that a plan goes perfectly. But, that’s why it’s important to learn from any hiccups that might occur. This way, the next time there’s a natural disaster, the company will be better prepared.
“After Hurricane Harvey, it became apparent that we needed to create a more comprehensive and formalized disaster recovery plan suitable for a small business — not a typical cookie-cutter disaster plan,” Nick Bednorz, CEO of Comensure in Houston, said via email. “Moving forward, we will make more of a concerted effort to remind all employees on a routine basis to save their files to the cloud.”
These lessons can even lead to improvements in a company’s product. For instance, Ultimate Software in Weston, Fla., developed a new feature to keep their team safe.
“From a technology standpoint, we have added new company-wide messaging functionality to UltiPro, which will also be available to our customers later this year,” said Vivian Maza, the company’s chief people officer, in an email.
No matter what devastation occurs, something good can come out of the storm.