Forth Bridge chaos ‘shows need for remote working’

Disruption caused to businesses by the closure of the Forth Road Bridge could have been ameliorated by employees working from home. Picture: Jane Barlow

Disruption caused to businesses by the closure of the Forth Road Bridge could have been ameliorated by employees working from home. Picture: Jane Barlow

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WHILE the Forth Road Bridge may have re-opened to cars, the storm around its closure rages on – failures to prepare, disruptions to businesses and the promise of a robust government inquiry.

With more than 24 million vehicles using the bridge annually, the tiny fracture found in one of the supports is causing chaos.

While MSPs struggled to work out what went wrong and who to blame, tailbacks either side of the Forth created an army of angry commuters unable to reach work, and put small businesses across Scotland in jeopardy. December and early January are crucial for small businesses that rely on the festive period to pick up the shortfall from the rest of the year. Organisations missing employees have few options: reduce or suspend services, or close up and wait for the storm to pass.

The disruption caused by the closure is similar to the kind of scenarios business continuity plans (BCP) are put in place to deal with. Whether it be fire, flood or earthquake, when an incident prevents employees reaching their workplace, BCPs may call for remote home-working – if an organisation’s IT infrastructure supports that.

Admittedly, it’s a little melodramatic to equate the bridge closure to disasters that shut businesses down, but the squeeze may have already had an impact – with cash flow issues and the absence of key personnel. A week or two of reduced cash flow can be devastating to a small business and, with problems mounting, the fact is, organisations adapted to remote work are better placed to maintain operational services through to the re-opening.

Numerous networking applications give employees remote access to their workplace IT systems but this may be beyond the means of smaller organisations. Fortunately, viable home-working options are available to maintain your small business’ operational cap­acity during this kind of event.

For small businesses, cloud computing services are by far the most accessible platforms to facilitate remote work – and can be extended to personal mobiles and tablets. Services like Google Docs, Office 365 and LibreOffice allow for the storage, creation and editing of a range of professional documents – Office 365 in particular hosts impressive sharing and collaboration tools, meaning employees can remain productive outside the office.

Similarly, apps – like Slack, Dropbox and Trello – offer their own remote functionality which can keep everyday work processes ticking over.

Not everyone will be able to incorporate remote work into its everyday IT processes – at least, not at such short notice. While fingers are crossed that the bridge repairs are swift and successful, small businesses should use this as a wake-up call to ensure future disruption to normal service isn’t a lethal blow.

Steve Ross is managing director of Shackleton Technologies

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