The Bay Bridge, connecting San Francisco to Oakland, California, carries approximately 280,000 vehicles per day. Many of those vehicles are transporting employees to their workplaces in the greater San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland area, which is why those of us who work at Cisco headquarters in San Jose were directly affected or know someone who was by the bridge’s recent and unexpected shutdown. This debacle, caused by failing and falling bridge beams, left thousands of workers stranded, backed up in traffic, or forced to find alternate means of getting to work, such as circuitous commutes, ferries, or public transit. Others found alternate means of working.
Employees with remote access capabilities and those whose jobs do not require full-time, in-person presences could telecommute during the bridge closing. Although this does not seem like a revolutionary notion in our day and age of anywhere, anytime work and with wireless access in every airport, hotel, and coffee shop, are most organizations gearing up all of their essential employees with the capabilities to work remotely? Can businesses ensure business-as-usual during major interruptions, such as severe weather, widespread employee illness, or bridge closings? New data suggests they can not.
According to a recent Cisco-commissioned survey, 74 percent of the 502 IT decision-makers surveyed said that fewer than half of their employees were currently set up to work remotely. Asked why more employees did not have remote access, 38 percent said that business requirements did not necessitate it. And only 22 percent of those top decision makers felt that their current remote access solutions have contributed to their disaster preparedness.
On the other hand, the same survey respondents touted the numerous benefits of remote access. 71 percent of respondents said that employee productivity is a key business driver for providing remote access. Further, 62 percent said that their current remote access solutions had resulted in increased employee productivity, 57 percent noted an increase in employee satisfaction and 42 percent realized a reduction in overhead costs.
For years, companies have been doing business continuity and resiliency planning – purchasing backup generators for power outages, and backup networking equipment to avoid full-system failures. But where does employee flexibility fall in these plans? Currently, companies are on higher alert in light of the potential employee absenteeism that the H1N1 epidemic could cause. But if businesses (hopefully) make it through the flu season unscathed, will they lose sight of their business continuity planning? We in the Bay Area know this could be a mistake.
We haven’t seen the last of the Bay Bridge closings, as these updates were only a stopgap while the long-term repairs for the bridge are being planned. Your city or town may not be highly dependent on bridges, but no place is trouble-free. Severe weather, road closings, and illnesses can hit anywhere. It seems to be a no-brainer to implement solutions that could increase day-to-day employee productivity, and, at the same time, ensure that businesses could operate seamlessly during blips.
The reliability of the Internet now is arguably as important as that of physical bridges. Reason being, the Internet and all networks are essentially systems of figurative “bridges” connecting workers to each other and their crucial applications. This is why the graphical representation of a bridge graces the Cisco logo. Right now, we’re thankful it’s the Golden Gate and not the Bay Bridge.