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A lesson in lockdown management & business continuity

What do you do when the country shuts down? When you aren’t allowed to use public transport, can’t get into work, can’t meet with colleagues or clients?

And how do you get back to normal?

If you’re Jo Secker, Office & IT Manager for City of London law firm Druces LLP, you carry on doing your job — because this is exactly what you’ve planned for. Perhaps not planned specifically for Covid-19, of course, and perhaps not quite for the extent the remarkable three-month lockdown and furlough scheme would affect every person within the business, and every client (let alone the country), because no continuity plan can be quite that specific, and nor should it be.

When Jo first put together Druces’ continuity plan, she had in mind something more like a transport strike, severe weather, fire, or even a terrorist attack. An incident which either prevented travel to the office for a few days or, worst-case, damaged the building they work from beyond repair. But even then you might reasonably expect to rent another office in the short-term, come together as a team and work hard to recover.

All change

Plenty of people predicted some kind of pandemic might sweep the world at some point in our future, but few could honestly say they expected what happened in the UK in March 2020. But a good continuity plan doesn’t care about the event itself, only the consequences, and Jo had been working hard to have an effective system in place regardless of the circumstances.

“Our continuity plan was mainly built around how we would cope if we weren’t able to access the office. Our lawyers were already set-up to work from home, and some did so on occasion already. While everyone in the business is important, in the very short term we needed to make sure client services were delivered. Even before we first heard about Covid-19 I had been circulating our plan and was attending department meetings to make sure everyone knew what they had to do.”

And did they remember?

“Some forgot a few specifics, but I had already written lots of how to guides which people used to remind themselves. Most people were fine, although there was a bit of troubleshooting to do. One thing we had to work hard to manage was people who never normally work away from the office, like secretaries and other business services support staff, so we had to set them up with new equipment pretty quickly.

“There were some issues with home WiFi. Nothing major, just minor connectivity issues especially where whole families were suddenly working from home together, and the inevitable printer problems which EJC were able to help with. Nothing actually caused us any significant problems.”

Meeting, working, and staying safe and secure

Perhaps the software of lockdown is Zoom, and to a certain extent Microsoft Teams. Druces began to use both for meetings and found them very successful.

“We had to roll out Zoom and Teams remotely which was a huge learning curve for most, including myself as I had never really used either software before. Everyone got the hang of it pretty quickly and meetings actually ended up being shorter than normal and most with 100% attendance!”

Two areas which often get overlooked during a crisis are security and data protection. Druces’ IT system is accessed via a web browser: so a single point of sign-on from each computer, and no need for files to be emailed around, saved to desktops of home computers or any other risks. Multi-factor authentication (normally using your mobile device to confirm your identity) added an extra layer of important protection.

All staff were also aware of specific polices around home and remote working.

“We had carried out company-wide cyber-security training before COVID, but ran another session during lockdown, which ensured it was fresh in everyone’s minds. Regular emails were sent reminding people of threats and encouraging everyone to be extra vigilant”

‘A new normal’

As clichéd as the ‘new normal’ idea has become, one thing we’ve noticed at EJC is how willing people have been to try new things during lockdown, and how understanding just about everyone has been about these new circumstances we find ourselves in. When your way of life changes overnight it’s to be expected that some will struggle, or even fight back, but we’ve found across the board that people have been responsive to change, adaptable and resilient. Jo has had a similar experience at Druces.

“Our clients have been very open to our new way of working, and to communicating in different ways, and our staff have all adapted extremely well. Because we provide legal services we have to be careful to make sure we continue to do things correctly; Know Your Client, Anti-Money-Laundering checks and obtaining signatures in the right way, but overall it’s gone smoothly.

“We’ve had to adapt some of our services and offerings too to help clients who need to hold AGMs remotely, or dealing with the force majeure clauses in contracts. Those things nobody ever expects to use, but are now relieved they’re there.”

Back to office life

A continuity plan isn’t just about how to manage when something goes wrong, but also how to return to a state of normality. Druces are gradually reopening their offices during July, and have made it entirely voluntary for staff to return.

“We know it’s not easy for everyone to work from home. Some people have enjoyed it, but it can be hard to concentrate if you have children, or there are more than one of you working in a confined space. We also realise our London base means most people travel to work on public transport which is obviously not ideal. We’ve said people can come back to the office on a voluntary basis from this month, but there is no pressure. Some are looking forward to it, but some prefer to avoid travelling at the moment.

“We’ve followed all the government guidelines, and are beginning with low numbers in the office. We’re introducing an agile working policy to make it as easy as possible for people to continue working from home if they need to.

“Longer-term, we’re going to look into improving our software and processes further to make flexible working even easier. One inevitable problem with the legal industry is the amount of paperwork, so we’re looking to scan more documents for digital storage and access in the future.”

Flexibility is the key. You can’t just say ‘We’ll use this method’; you have to put multiple options in place so that people can work out what’s best for them and, of course, their clients.

“I’ve been speaking to Adrian at EJC regularly, both on a general level before Covid-19 even existed, and about more specific things as the crisis has unfolded — advice on laptops and other hardware, security issues, strategy and Microsoft Teams. It’s been really useful to have that support, someone who can advise me on best practice as well as access to the EJC team for specifics — like I said earlier, getting printers working and WiFi connections.”

So many people used to see business continuity as a bit of a tick-box exercise, something that was done begrudgingly. Hopefully people will now realise business continuity plans are needed for situations like this, although again, who could actually plan for a countrywide lockdown? Knowing what to do when something goes wrong is vital to keep your business going, and don’t forget, review (and test) your plans regularly to ensure they work.

Druces have clearly given Jo the time and flexibility to put a solid continuity plan in place, and are to be commended for that. The last few months have seen them rewarded for their foresight: the business has been able to continue functioning and effectively serving its clients during a countrywide lockdown. Time spent planning ahead saves stress, hassle and often expense when things do go wrong. We have found, for example, a shortage of laptops and webcams available to purchase as companies scrambled to equip their staff at the last minute.

You cannot plan for every specific problem, every specific emergency. But you can be prepared for something to go wrong. We don’t know if this is the last lockdown we’ll experience, or if this is a way of life here to stay. We don’t know which building might be destroyed, or when a transport strike stops you from getting to work. We don’t know which problems will affect your business, how severely or for how long.

But we — and Jo Secker and Druces — know that if you put the effort in now your life will be much, much easier, whatever the circumstances.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss your business continuity plans, or any other changes you need to make as we adapt to a new way of life and work.

Druces LLP provide business and private client legal services. Visit their website, or find them on Linkedin.

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