hurricane recovery
Part 2

Hurricane Recovery: Phased Return to Work

In part 1 of this series, we covered activities associated with damage assessment and accounting for personnel. Two critical decisions based on these activities are, “How and where do we get back to business?” Based on the scenario outlined in the previous installment, the Incident Management Team (IMT) chose to remain in the existing building and execute a phased, or staggered, return to work plan.

The first decision to be made when executing a Phased Return to Work plan is to determine what can be recovered and what office space is available. For the company in this story, this was accomplished by contracting with vendors to provide expertise and manpower, as local personnel was impacted and working on their own personal recovery. The company’s Incident Management Team (IMT) was responsible for managing these vendors. When outsourcing, it’s best to have these vendors selected ahead of time and contact them before impact, if possible. Some vendors to consider:

  • Moving assistance: Personal effects and company assets must be removed from impacted offices, labeled, and placed in a storage area for later retrieval.
  • Document retrieval and recovery: Water-damaged vital documents and records must be collected for freeze-dried storage and later recovery.
  • Mitigation and reconstruction: Begin repairing and rebuilding the damaged offices
  • Catering: Ensure staff can safely stay onsite and not need to worry about venturing out for meals
building flooding

Sample incident management documents and floorplans for offices requiring work were taped to the wall so anyone on the IMT would be updated.

After all the vendors were in place, the IMT created a task force to coordinate the company’s key processes with business management and facilities. This started with looking into recent business impact analysis and department business continuity plans. The task force took into account the time of year, available space, and resources at hand to establish a return schedule. Two messages were created to communicate the schedule: one to the overall organization and one to those being asked to report to the office.

Example Message to the Entire Organization

Clean-up efforts continue at our downtown office and progress is being made. However, the building remains closed to normal business. Your IMT has identified alternate work locations within the building for up to 50 employees. The IMT will contact these employees with further instructions. If you are not contacted, then you are not to report to work.

If you were directly impacted by the hurricane and are in immediate need of assistance, please contact the IMT at 555-1212.

Example Message to Business-Critical Employees

This message is from your IMT. We are slowly resuming business at our downtown office and you’ve been identified by your department leadership as a business-critical employee. Is it possible for you to return to work in the downtown office tomorrow morning?

If so, please report to the check-in table in the lobby for more information.

Please contact the IMT at 555-1212 with any questions or if you are unable to return to work.

Welcome Business-Critical Employees Back Into the Workplace

In addition to establishing priorities, the task force coordinated volunteers, comprised of the company’s Floor Warden Team as well as representatives from HR, Security and Safety. These volunteers, known as the Welcome Team, were tasked with helping to ease the business-critical employees back into the workplace. With the likelihood that most or all employees have been impacted, it’s important to be aware that returning to an unfamiliar or damaged place can be traumatic. To recognize this, the Welcome Team set up a safe room for returning staff to use if they felt overwhelmed. In addition, a concierge was assigned to each working floor to serve as a point of contact for staff in a disrupted business environment. The concierge did things from making an IT request to returning personal effects from the above-mentioned storage.

Over the course of three days, additional business-critical employees were brought back to work with the full workforce in place by day four (albeit many in alternate work locations). Conference rooms were filled with cubicles and office occupancy doubled or tripled. Reconstruction of the damaged floors and offices continued for several weeks, after which, everyone was able to return to their original offices.

Tips for a Phased Return to Work

This is one phase of recovery that cannot be completely anticipated. Preparation must focus on a current Business Impact Analysis, as well as a trained and practiced Incident Management Team. In the case of a situation similar to the above scenario, here are some preparation tips to consider:

  • Create a schedule to revisit your business impact analysis, which accommodates significant changes to your business
  • Conduct department-level business continuity tabletop exercises annually
  • Host a business continuity awareness fair for all employees annually
  • Review and evaluate your critical vendors periodically and include them in your functional exercises
  • Perform functional exercises with your Incident Management Team frequently

Finally, you should consider if your employees can work from home until the office is back in order. Given the post-Covid work-from-home environment, you may not need a centralized place for all staff. If possible, focus on establishing an alternate location for critical IT staff to ensure that remote connectivity remains online and make sure you have plans in place to manage power outages that may impact your remote workers.

In our final article, we’ll take a look at what’s involved when a company must find a completely different work location due to the complete loss of their place of business.

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