Ask the Expert: Hard Truths in Hard Times

By Dallas Emerson

Everyone is a remote worker now. Some were prepared to be; others weren’t, but we’re all in the same boat.

When I started work on this article, I hoped to come up with some quick tips to help organizations that weren’t prepared to go remote before quarantining began. But here’s the thing: Quickly going remote takes preparation, and COVID-19 kicked us out of our workplaces so quickly that there was almost no time to get ready.

COVID-19 is not a normal disaster. Normal disasters hit hard and fast and then leave us to pick up the pieces. Sometimes lives are lost and often property is damaged, but life for associations can resume to normal or be adapted to the changed circumstances quickly. Usually, we can return to our offices or rent new space when the dust settles.

But this pandemic has forced us to isolate for long periods of time; we cannot easily coordinate unless we had already planned to do so. If your data was not already in the cloud, you will face enormous difficulties getting it there if – like most of us – your office is closed. Free communication apps are experiencing unbelievable demand causing many to buckle or become extremely slow.

Simply put, if you weren’t ready for this, and you aren’t willing to spend a lot of money to get suddenly overworked IT professionals to rebuild your entire IT infrastructure quickly, you are in for a long few weeks.

All of this, unfortunately, that means that we have to focus less on the short-term and more on the long-term lessons this has taught us.

The biggest lesson we learned? Disaster recovery is overrated, and business continuity planning is underrated.

When it comes to IT, most people think about disaster recovery, which assumes one traumatic event, like a hurricane or wildfire, where you pick up the pieces. This virus, however, has been a rolling disaster; it slowly spreads and has denied us the ability to operate as usual for the foreseeable future. When there’s no end in sight, how can you even plan to pick up the pieces?

An operational continuity plan is about working through a disaster; no recovery needed, just pushing ahead. This means offloading as much of our infrastructure to the cloud as possible, and ensuring your cloud provider is reliable.

What is the best way to ensure reliability? Pay for your services. I often run into association executives who want to use free services for their tech needs.

Do not do this.

In a disaster, like this pandemic, free services are below the bottom of every provider’s priority list. Remember: They want your money, and the best time to get it is when you desperately need their services to work. When you transition infrastructure to the cloud, you want to be paying for it so you can demand the service you deserve; otherwise, you run the risk of being up a creek without a paddle.

Your working data can be stored with OneDrive, Google Drive (the paid-for version), Box.com or DropBox for Business. Email can be hosted through Office365 or G-Suite. Phone systems can be operated through a Cloud PBX setup that removes the need to be in the office. Databases can be hosted with Amazon Web Services and other third party providers.

Here’s the good news: All of this technology is available today, and many of these services have nonprofit rates if your organization qualifies. When the dust settles, and that’s hopefully soon, every association executive’s top operational priority should be preparing their organizations to work 100% remotely. Some may even want to consider the cost savings of working with no permanent office at all. If we all focus on reducing our physical infrastructure needs, we may find entirely new ways of working day-to-day – you may even prefer it. And when the next disaster hits, you can ride it out and focus on serving your members.

Dallas Emerson is a TSAE member and the Technical Sherpa for The IT Guys (www.itguysusa.com), an IT support firm in Austin that helps nonprofits. Reach him at dallas@itguysusa.com.

Photo credit: iStock.com/filadendron

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