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Disaster Preparedness with a Remote Workforce

Disaster response has always been a key element of a corporate IT strategy, and in increasingly turbulent times it is critical to help businesses prepare for the unexpected. As businesses regain their footings from COVID-19 and adapt their IT strategies to accommodate the remote workforce, they must also reevaluate their disaster preparedness plans to address the risks this highly distributed footprint introduces.

New risks of a remote workforce

Remote work makes businesses more vulnerable than ever, and this increased exposure warrants a heightened focus on disaster recovery (DR), data backups and cybersecurity awareness. While the threats—including natural disasters, human error and malicious attacks—remain the same, addressing these risks across a dispersed user environment that lacks corporate protections, such as generators and secure connections, adds a new layer of complexity. 

Natural disasters. Natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, represent an increased risk in a distributed environment as IT teams must manage systems across a wider IT plane. Without sophisticated corporate network infrastructures, remote employees, who are working across multiple regions and utilizing the cloud to collaborate, are more susceptible to downtime and data loss in the face of a storm.   

Human error and cyberattacks. With users accessing and sharing data across personal networks, potentially without VPNs, the risk of a man-made security lapse greatly increases. Limited access and oversight by on-site IT teams further increases this risk as IT teams rely on employees to utilize secure Wi-fi networks and VPNs, and avoid opening suspicious emails. Hackers recognize these work-from-home vulnerabilities and are exploiting them through increasingly advanced attacks. In fact, 90% of companies experienced an increase in cyberattacks as employees transitioned to remote work during the pandemic. 

To promote operational and data resilience, organizations need to devise and implement disaster preparedness strategies that address the needs and vulnerabilities of the remote IT landscape. 

Building a disaster preparedness plan

The business impact analysis
Before building a disaster preparedness plan, businesses should conduct a business impact analysis (BIA) to identify critical systems, analyze needs, define and set IT priorities, and allocate DR resources with their budgets in mind. A third-party professional services team can assist organizations in this complex process and help them devise a comprehensive plan that integrates disaster recovery (DR), data backup and employee awareness. Organizations may also want to consider consolidating partners and streamlining services to simplify the management of the solution.

Backup and recovery
DR and data backup are essential pieces of a disaster preparedness plan as they promote uptime and resiliency and ensure data integrity. Without the protection of corporate safeguards, remote employees are more vulnerable to outages and attacks. The cost of downtime is well documented, and even a minor interruption can impact sales, productivity, and brand and customer confidence. 

Disaster recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) and cloud-based data backup are accessible and cost-effective options to protect a distributed environment. DRaaS has become a go-to data protection strategy for businesses looking to ensure their data and applications remain safe and accessible from any location. With no upfront investments, DRaaS offers faster implementation and increased business continuity compared to traditional in-house DR infrastructures. It also puts disaster monitoring in the hands of experts to minimize the demands on the internal IT team. Equally important to having a DR solution is routinely testing it. This ensures its validity and confirms employees can execute it.   

To protect and quickly restore data, businesses should also perform regular, automated cloud backups. Backup solutions that offer near-real-time data replication deliver more granular control, allowing organizations to recover data from the point just seconds before the disruption.  

Education and training
Avoiding a man-made disaster requires a company-wide commitment. Employees need to understand cybersecurity best practices and how to recognize and mitigate a potential threat. Cybersecurity education and training can provide employees with the tools and knowledge they need to minimize these exposures. 

Regular awareness training should also introduce the latest malware threats and detail how specific protocols and tools such as the corporate VPN, secure routers, frequent password updates and two-factor authentication strengthen uptime and data security. 

Disaster preparedness in action

Flexential’s internal DR practices and protocols offer its customers a high level of preparedness. This disaster response was on full display in 2021 when Texas was hit by a powerful winter storm. Flexential quickly deployed its disaster response teams and enabled its robust disaster preparedness program which includes load testing UPSs and emergency standby generators, putting vendors on standby for emergency fueling, and implementing other contingencies to avoid operational impacts. Despite record-breaking destruction and power outages, Flexential ensured customers in its Dallas – Plano data center experienced no downtime.  

These same winter storms impacted telecommunications across the Dallas-Fort Worth region. However, the resiliency engineered into Flexential’s connectivity solution ensured customers who subscribe to its connectivity service were not impacted by the network outages that were prevalent in the area. The company was even able to quickly meet the needs of impacted customers who were not subscribed to its network services. In one case, Flexential installed emergency bandwidth within five hours to enable a nationally recognizable retail chain to make their payroll deadline.

For customers like AutoNation and AsTech, this only bolstered their confidence in Flexential. AutoNation’s Adam Rasner, Vice President, Technology Operations, wrote on LinkedIn, “AutoNation would like to thank our partners at Flexential as they work hard every day (and particularly this week) to keep our data centers online during this terrible weather event in Texas.”

John Sotello, Vice President of IT at asTech agreed, adding, “Second that Adam Rasner. Big thanks to the Flexential team for allowing us to use conference space to support employees who lost internet at their house.”

Conclusion

The pandemic has forever changed the work environment. As businesses continue to support remote workforces, a disaster preparedness plan that addresses the challenges of this environment will be an increasingly crucial element of the IT strategy. Businesses need to remain diligent in this effort, regularly assessing their vulnerabilities, updating their disaster preparedness solution and providing ongoing employee training to confidently weather any disaster.

Patrick Doherty, Chief Revenue Officer

Patrick Doherty

Chief Revenue Officer

Patrick leads sales, sales operations, marketing, solutions engineering, channel and commercial management for Flexential and is responsible for the company’s focus and revenue growth investments.