Effective communication is one of the most vital components of any business and can work wonders towards a company’s long term success. Ideally, employees should be able to easily communicate with management, and vice versa. Employees typically also require channels to communicate laterally, to those in other departments, as well as externally, to clients, customers and so on. Most employers understand the importance of collaboration, and strive to foster effective communication throughout the ranks of their company.

However, no matter how well structured a company is, when unexpected disruptions impact day to day operations, communication can often be rendered ineffective. This is unfortunate, as communication during moments of crisis is of unparalleled importance to corporate stability. Providing the right information to the right people at the right time can not only help keep the business afloat, but can even be critical for personal safety. One of the best ways to ensure that lapses in communication do not prove to negatively impact business or the well being of employees, is by incorporating a robust communication strategy into the company’s business continuity plan. And one of the best ways to do that is to ensure that the communication strategy is updated to match current technology.

In the past decade, technological advancements have dramatically changed the manner in which key team members can communicate with one another during a workplace crisis. The same mobile phone technology that has improved the efficiency of routine tasks, such as coordinating a pick up for children from soccer practice, can be similarly utilized when dealing with unexpected events in the office as part of a business continuity plan. In addition to being a tool that enables alternative vocal communication in times of crisis, when more traditional methods are unavailable, cellular phones are also used for email, text and accessing the internet. 

In addition to providing a link between key team members, during a disaster, modern smartphones can be used to confirm which locations remain operational and which services remain functional. Of course, during times of need, internet connectivity is not always reliable, or even available, but even in this scenario, the smartphone can provide benefits. Most contemporary phones (and tablets, for that matter) have the ability to store documents offline, which can make them an ideal place to store a copy of the company’s continuity plan, as well as emergency contact information and other relevant information. As mentioned previously, during an emergency, internet connectivity may be out. The same holds true for power. The smartphone is capable of performing a number of important tasks without external power or internet connectivity, but it is important to ensure that phones remain adequately charged, as well as periodically updated and backed up.

In crisis situations where connectivity is not an issue, the internet has also had a profound effect on business continuity. Services that store files remotely, including iCloud, Evernote and Dropbox, can provide access to critical files and applications that previously would not have been attainable without the use of physical storage devices. This can boost productivity, and can help alleviate some of the damage that unexpected interruptions to daily operations can cause.

One of the biggest new online developments in business continuity, however, is the unprecedented rise of social media. Though often dismissed as little more than a world renowned aggregator of adorable cat photographs (and, subsequently, a notorious time waster), social media can be a lifesaver during emergency situations. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 75% of companies with business continuity plans in place include social media services in their crisis communications plans.

With social media, organizations can keep employees, clients and the general public up to date during interruptions of business. Of particular relevance to the public sector, there have been countless examples of this occurring in recent years. During the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, social media was used to coordinate relief efforts and health care initiatives. Closer to home, a similar strategy was utilized during the 2013 floods that ravished communities in Alberta, and, during the horrific shooting at Parliament Hill in 2014, various government bodies kept the public notified of the developing situation via twitter updates.

Here in the lower mainland, we saw this when a container carrying hazardous materials caught fire at the port. City Hall, the VPD, Coastal Health and a number of other organizations took to social media to inform the public of the situation and to warn nearby residents of the potential danger associated with smoke inhalation.

Though social media is useful, it is advisable to exercise caution, and common sense, when using these platforms. Social media is an effective way to dispel rumours and provide the public with useful information, but it is not ideal for relaying confidential information, communicating with a targeted group or obtaining replies/answers. During the port fire, for example, the City of Vancouver was successful in their efforts to communicate the dangers to residents of the East End, as the residents living there were quite likely to either a) be an active social media user b) have a neighbour/friend/family member that is an active social media user or c) see the billows of smoke outside their windows and search for information online. Less effective was the city's efforts to communicate to the homeless population of the Downtown Eastside. There were targeted messages informing these residents to find shelter, but little in the way of guarantees that the message would be received. 

Minor issues aside, utilizing social media, as well as the other previously mentioned advancements in communication technology, is a great way to boost the effectiveness of your company’s business continuity plan in order to prepare for the next crisis before it occurs.