Liquid Web’s VP of Technology on prioritizing safety, maintaining effective communication, and providing excellent customer support during times of crisis.
In the wake of the pandemic we all know as Coronavirus (Covid19), organizations everywhere are navigating the challenges and issues the crisis has presented. Many companies quickly enacted their Business Continuity plan, but with such an extraordinary worldwide pandemic, is that enough?
The importance of maintaining, reviewing, and reinforcing a strong Business Continuity Plan has never been more evident. With ten data centers across the world and customer support centers in eight separate locations across five countries, preparing for the possibility of global disruption was critical for the Liquid Web Family of Brands even before the outbreak of coronavirus. Our Liquid Web Brands (Liquid Web, Nexcess, iThemes and InterWorx) serve many important businesses ranging from small to enterprise, and for many, being online is their livelihood.
Over the course of the last two months, we have been asked by our customers to share tips on how we’ve worked to manage through this crisis. Like all of you, we had to take our Business Continuity plans from PowerPoint to real life. And we wanted to share some of what we have learned and our documented best practices to help you gather ideas to ensure your business stays protected during any disaster or pandemic in the future. We hope these ideas will help you develop a centralized, coordinated effort to quickly make decisions and ensure that your workforce stays safe and businesses continue to operate.
One of the most important steps to take for the sake of business continuity is to set up a Virtual Command Center. The command center has several roles in a crisis. First is a place for quick tactical and logistical decisions and responses to the continually changing situation. The second and equally important role of the command center is to provide comfort and confidence to the employees and customers that the company is on top of the situation, treating the situation with importance, and protecting the business and safety of the employees.
A Virtual Command Center is composed of leaders from all departments and site locations that meet daily to assess the company’s response, address new government regulations, and to ensure that employees are informed and safe. To be effective, the command center must have the authority to make and implement policy and procedures as the crisis evolves. To be productive, the VCC should not be large, but should include leaders from each key department within the organization, and the checkpoint meetings should not last long. Anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes should suffice. The point is to have daily touch points with each team lead to keep a pulse on the ground. Visibility and frequent communications from the command center will continue to reinforce the message to the employees and customers that you are on top of the situation and looking out for the best interests of the employees, customers, and business.
As we are all experiencing Covid19, mandatory Work From Home (WFH) became a reality for all businesses. Ensuring your infrastructure and your team is prepared for a successful execution is critically important. A Business Continuity plan should include these critical areas below.
First and foremost, employees should feel safe, supported, and informed. As the current global situation has shown us, things can and do change rapidly. News, social media, and government agencies can sometimes provide conflicting messages. To keep employees aware of developments and recommendations, it can be helpful to create an internal resource center with links to the reputable sources of information. Liquid Web set up an internal site with links to information from the CDC and WHO, best practices to avoid spreading the virus, a copy of all customer and employee communications, as well as a list of the Virtual Command Center team and how to contact them. The goal is to provide a trusted location that employees can get accurate information without the hype.
Sending several employee communications via email with policies, practices, and guidelines is also useful. The goal should be to reiterate that the company leadership is involved, monitoring the situation, and has the best interest of employees in mind.
We also created a Slack channel to help employees have a central place to share any feedback, information, or questions they may have regarding Covid19. Slack is a good option for communication, as it is a great way to instantly community with all employees in chat-like form.
As we saw with Covid19, a shift in businesses moving to work from home has become increasingly important to help stop the spread of the virus. Liquid Web acted immediately by implementing a Mandatory Work From Home effective March 16th before it was a mandate in any state or local governments
To have all employees working from home is new territory for many companies, Liquid Web included. We determined whether or not there were any employees who lacked laptops or workstations at home. We were able to configure and issue devices to those in need. A strong Business Continuity Plan should have clear documentation on how to equip staff in a remote working situation and ensure that they can get online.
Our Network was also tested to ensure none of our employees had any issues logging onto our VPN. Although our VPN was sized appropriately for the traffic, we did upgrade some of our hardware to reduce risk of failure in what was now considered very critical infrastructure. This is also a good time to reinforce security awareness and online safety to your employees. During any kind of crisis, hackers and phishing scams tend to be on the rise, trying to take advantage of the turmoil.
Many of our customers are B2B organizations and have many clients they are responsible for serving. As a Hosting and Managed Applications company, helping keep our customers business online is mission-critical. Our business requires on-site personnel 24×7 at our data centers to repair and maintain hardware, perform installations and decommissions, and other services related to our customers’ technical infrastructure. By the time the mandated “Stay Home. Be Safe” laws were enacted by local governments, we had already prepared a list of critical data center employees that were allowed to work on site. We used Homeland Security guidelines to create a formal document demonstrating Liquid Web’s critical role in IT infrastructure and communications, and identified named employees who were required to travel to and from their work location to fulfill their role. Should your business require onsite employees, issue letters on company letterhead providing your authority for them to travel to and from work for critical roles. On-site staff should be limited to the minimum required during each shift and employees should be instructed to stay 6 feet apart, wash hands frequently, and use precautions. Non-critical projects requiring on-site personnel should be deferred.
Business Continuity Plans should also include documentation related to advanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures, as well as “First Infection” documentation, identifying procedures to follow upon the discovery of an on-site employee contracting the virus.
Our customers rely on our technology infrastructure, and even more so now as people around the world are moving their interactions online as they follow stay-at-home guidelines. It is important to quickly address any concerns customers may have with an email out to your customers. Liquid Web’s CEO sent an email to its customers, summarizing the company’s readiness, and letting them know that we are in this together. If there is anything your business can do for your customers, a nice gesture can go a long way. Many of our customers are SMBs and freelancers, and we knew they would be impacted by what has been happening. We offered to waive any bandwidth overage fees in a gesture of goodwill for our customers suddenly experiencing higher online volumes. It also makes sense to add a page on your website where customers can access the latest from your company on how you will serve them during this situation, how your products and services might help them as the business environment changes, as well as access to helpful information and resources. Consider referencing that link on your website homepage and on your invoices to remind your customers that they can get the information they need in a central location.
In planning for a crisis such as this, remember that your business partners and suppliers may also be facing similar challenges. You need to consider if your supply chain could be affected, and how to prepare for a potential disruption. Even with the best workforce planning, if your supply chain is broken, your business and customers will suffer.
As a growing hosting provider, Liquid Web is a capital-intensive company and requires significant hardware to meet the demand of our customers’ technology needs. With so many unknowns and the pandemic affecting a majority of the countries in the world, we quickly decided to increase our hardware inventory levels to protect against supply chain disruptions and address potential increased demand as more work is moved online.
As companies all over the world move forward navigating this pandemic, a Virtual Command Center is invaluable, allowing companies to continually monitor and adjust to the latest news as needed. We must all assess new events and information, new government mandates, and our internal operations processes to ensure continuity. While our documentation and business continuity preparation in advance certainly aided and facilitated our execution, I believe that our quick and decisive action was the most instrumental factor in ensuring that we could successfully rise to the challenges presented by this crisis, both for our employees and our customers. Leading our Virtual Command Center, I am reminded that a business is only as good as the expertise, diligence, and discipline of their employees. It has been rewarding to see the dedication, empathy, and care with which this team of leaders has displayed as we work through this remarkable situation.