By Dorinda So, Executive Director, pointA
The “Great Rogers Meltdown” of 2022 that began in the early morning of Friday, July 8, 2022 affected almost all aspects of society, from hospitals and 9-1-1 services to buying coffees and working. While this interruption in services could have happened to any provider and speaks to larger vulnerabilities and contingency plans that must be put into place across the entire telecommunications system, the Meltdown showed us the importance of having a plan for working from home. After all, if the Meltdown had occurred prior to the pandemic when most of us were working from the office, most of us would have just shifted gears and worked collaboratively with others in person but offline. However, with the high rate of employees working from home, the Meltdown resulted for many in a lost day of work, with no possible way of communicating with their manager or colleagues.
As an organization that works with workplaces on remote work, we believe that it’s important to have not just a corporate remote work strategy that takes into consideration emergency preparedness, but also a personal (employee) remote work preparedness plan for home office workplaces. While what happened on Friday, July 8 was a rare event, there may be other emergency events such as blackouts, storms or other weather events, with more frequency, that interrupt internet network services. These we should be prepared for.
Public Safety Canada (PSC) recommends that every family have an emergency kit for home and car, which includes an actual Emergency Plan. The Plan is often the missing piece when you purchase emergency kits online. We recommend adding to the PSC’s recommended Emergency Plan to include preparedness for work-related emergencies. Because most of the time, we only think about risks related to home office equipment, such as having ergonomic chairs and external monitors, but we neglect to think about other possible vulnerabilities within our home offices that may affect our ability to function or even communicate when the next emergency occurs.
Here’re some thoughts outlined below. Feel free to tailor them to your own personal office setup.
Start with a basic Communications Plan
A plan communicates what to do in an emergency. At minimum, there should be a clear plan for communication between every employee and their manager, recognizing that this might be different depending on the employee. For example, if an employee can’t get access to their work email to notify their manager and that’s the usual method of communication, then an employee should be able to contact their manager from their personal email or call or send a text. Making sure that these phone numbers and emails are accessible (e.g., kept on your personal phone or written down) is also very important.
For managers, if your staff is away for any reason and can’t access a device, you may want to on their behalf notify colleagues, partners or others to let them know that they won’t be able to attend meetings, etc..
Add work to your personal Emergency Plan
In addition to the above, the Great Rogers Meltdown showed us the importance of uncoupling internet and mobile services so that you’re not reliant on one provider. Often this isn’t possible and depends on service availability, but you may have more options when it comes to cellphones and home office phones. Some other options may include purchasing portable wi-fi or mobile hotspot devices as an emergency backup.
Some other important things to add to your Emergency Plan include:
- Write down your important passwords – If your passwords are only accessible if you have internet, then you may want to write down the important ones in a notebook or keep them offline (or memorize them!).
- Know where you can go for wi-fi – During the Great Rogers Meltdown, many people went to their local Starbucks, but there are many public wi-fi spots including public libraries, malls, TTC and GO Transit stations and retail locations. Create a list of places with public wi-fi access in your neighbourhood. pointA is a big believer in proximate commuting anyways so during non-emergency times is a great time to check out local spots with free wi-fi and to try working from a café, library, or satellite office.
- Have a friend or family member to visit – It’s always good to have at least one person who you can visit if you need to use wi-fi or power, and creating a Plan with them before the next emergency occurs gives you an exit strategy should you need to stay somewhere else for a time.
- Have cash on-hand and keep your Presto card loaded – The Great Rogers Meltdown affected Interac debit services and many banking machines. Having cash on hand and your Presto card autoloaded will assure you’ll be able to get around easily and purchase essential products.
- Update your Emergency Plan regularly and as things change.
Conduct an IT vulnerability check
If you don’t have access to IT services that could provide you with the services below. Here are some things to consider. We recognize that there are many kinds of emergencies, and it will depend on the region you’re in, but knowing what the most prevalent issues are is important. Public Safety Canada has a list.
In addition to your family’s Emergency Plan and kit, here are some things to think about:
- Battery power – In the event of an outage, you should have backup power at the ready. It can be as basic as knowing how long your laptop can operate without battery, to having battery packs for your phone and for other devices, including your modem/routers for internet. Make sure your backups are always fully charged and that you know how to use them. If your current work devices are already always running out of power, you may want to speak to your IT about replacing their batteries or the device altogether. Sometimes old adapter cables need to be replaced.
- Backup devices or having access to them – It’s important to have a policy that allows you to access a backup device or use your personal devices as backup. For security reasons, many organizations don’t allow the use of personal devices as a backup except to communicate with your manager perhaps. But having a clear policy on this is important so that staff know what to do.
- Prevent damage to your devices – Power surges or sudden electrical shocks can damage electronic devices. It’s important to ensure that you’re connected to a power bar that can alleviate the damage or if you live in a home with undergrounded electricity, having a backup battery for your devices including that all important modem/router is important.
- Keep devices free and clear of hazards – Often routers, modems, and even power bars are left on the ground. However, if they’re in an area such as a kitchen where spills can occur, it’s best to move them into other places or elevate them to places where they can be protected. It’s very important to ensure that devices are in well-ventilated spaces and not placed in a small drawer that can get overly warm.
Considerations for Employers
The Ontario Health and Safety Act (1990) outlines the employee’s responsibilities for maintaining a healthy and safe workplace, but legislation has not caught up fully with new work from home scenarios. And many cases, such as whether an employer provides equipment such as an office chair or not, may be subject to individual policies, rules and contracts. Employers should consult their legal counsel for advice. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has a great fact sheet on remote work.
When it comes to emergency preparedness, here are some things that pointA has put into place and is covered by the organization:
- Office equipment – We provide our full-time staff with equipment to work from home productively as long as it’s reasonable and necessary.
- First Aid kits and training – Everyone has a stocked First Aid kit and undergoes standard First Aid training, which includes emergency First Aid as part of their onboarding process. Previously, there was always someone First-Aid certified in the office but with work from home, the WSIB recommends that everyone receives First Aid training even if an employee isn’t working alone.
- Crisis Management Plan – We have a Corporate Plan that is in addition to our work from home policy that outlines what to do in a crisis.
- Unlimited data plans – Everyone has a pointA cellphone with unlimited data service that they can use to tether in the event of an outage.
- Cloud services – Everything is accessible from the cloud and is not saved to individual laptops so if staff need to switch computers for any reason, they can do so easily.
- Home office checklists – We ask all staff to complete an ergonomic home office checklist when they start so that we can address any gaps.
Perhaps the most important consideration is to ensure that there is a policy and culture of prioritizing health and safety, which means that in addition to proper training and equipment, that workers aren’t expected to work and be productive if there’s an emergency.
Emergencies happen and while we can’t always be fully prepared for every circumstance that may come our way, we can still develop a plan with some low- or even no-cost solutions that will help reduce the impact of emergencies, or at least give us some breathing room when we’re dealing with things as they happen.
If you’re looking for more support for your corporate remote work policy, please contact us to get started!