When disaster strikes your business

SCOTT GARDINER
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2013

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OPINION: Wellington businesses were faced with an informal CBD closure on the advice of the council and Civil Defence this week, after a significant earthquake.

Business owners can't predict when disaster might strike, but this week's events are a timely reminder that even minor emergencies can have a real impact.

It pays to consider how your business would cope with any kind of disruption that makes it necessary to work remotely.

Based on our experiences after the Christchurch earthquakes, here are a few points to consider:

Recovery plan

Every business, regardless of size, should have a plan of action in the event of disaster or disruption. This will make it easier to begin the recovery process.

Your plan should incorporate a range of practical things like offsite location options, responsibilities for contacting staff, customers and suppliers, as well as contingency plans for remote or disrupted operations. 

Physical assessment 

Take the time to regularly check the safety of your workplace and ask questions such as: are there heavy objects stored up high?; can you easily access all the exits?; have you thought about helping staff or customers with a disability?

It’s important to make sure all staff are aware of what they need to do in an emergency. Talk it through with them so they know what to do, even if they are on your premises on their own, as quite a few Wellington workers found themselves during the recent earthquakes.

Prepare to work remotely

Almost immediately after the council and Civil Defence in Wellington issued the ‘stay home’ advisory, confusion arose over whether staff should heed this advice and who would pay.

Having a clear, reasonable and legal policy on work disruptions that has been clearly conveyed to staff saves undue stress around any kind of disruptive event, whether it’s an earthquake or a snow day.

Take an audit of equipment to ensure your staff can work from home productively. Supply laptops, tablets and smartphones if required, and set up secure remote access to their work.

Make sure you can stay in touch 

Many businesses in Christchurch discovered after the February 22, 2010 earthquake that staff contact details aren’t always up to date, making checking on them very difficult.

Ensure staff provide you with their latest address and mobile number, and that they update you when they move or change details.

Also, consider a range of other methods of staying in touch – we used Facebook extensively, as well as our company website, and established a 'text tree' for so our team could SMS eachother.

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Back up

Keeping an up to date, offsite backup of essential documents and data is a fundamental rule of disaster preparedness.

If you can, use the cloud as an alternate backup as well – but remember if power is down, internet access could be out, so a desktop copy of the information you need will be vital.

Insurance

This has been one of the most challenging issues to emerge from the Christchurch experience.

Talk to your insurance advisor about your policy and understand exactly what you’re covered for in the event of a disruption.

Lease

When the Christchurch CBD was red-zoned, many businesses and landlords had to work hard to sort out termination rights for leases.

Check what your responsibilities are if a disaster prevents you from getting into your premises, especially if you have to take up an alternative lease.

Some Christchurch businesses are now negotiating specific termination clauses in their lease agreements, something worth considering if you are renegotiating.

People

This is your most important asset. How you respond in a disaster can make an incredible difference to the relationships you have with staff for years to come.

Significant events affect everyone differently, and sometimes it can be many months before all the stresses and strains emerge.

Be aware of how staff are coping and stay in touch as often as possible – especially if you are working remotely.

Make sure you are doing everything you can to provide a safe environment they feel comfortable working in.

Scott Gardiner is the New Zealand sales manager for MYOB's Business Division.

- Unlimited

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