As a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, organizations of all types and sizes have experienced tremendous disruptions. From the way they conduct business, such as restaurants offering take-out and delivery only to airlines returning to the old-school way of boarding planes – from the back of the plane forward, regardless of class – with many questioning their very ability to survive? Traditional office space – specifically open-concept offices that pack more employees into a smaller area will also likely change with the ripple effect extending to industries such as the commercial real-estate market itself (in the form of lower demand) to the local restaurants and coffee-shops who’s life-blood is day-time clientele from local business.
In a recent US survey fielded by BSI, when asked their level of preparedness prior to the coronavirus outbreak and where they see themselves in the phases of recovery, nearly 30% of the approximately 800 surveyed reported that 10% to 50% of their workforce will continue to work from home once the next normal takes shape.
So, what does this mean for business?
BSI’s own transition:
BSI’s purpose is to inspire trust for a more resilient world. Through our work with standards, including being integral to the development of some of the world’s most commonly used ISO standards, and our long history as one of the first Notified Bodies in the world, we take very seriously the concept; walk the walk. Like many organizations around the world, we were diligently monitoring the progress of the COVID-19 outbreak. And, as a global company, we felt the impact almost immediately in our offices in China. As the outbreak spread across the world, so too was its effect on our operations, as well as our clients.
Adaptability. Resilience. Agility.
As a certifications body, performing audits is essential to the work we conduct for our clients and our contributions to the greater good. In a time of severe disruptions to manufacturing, transportation, and public health, our essential role and responsibility is to help our clients maintain their certifications so that they can continue to operate effectively and in compliance. In addition, our services include helping our clients stay safe – keeping their employees safe through environmental, health and safety protocols, as well as protecting their, and their customers’, data through our cybersecurity and information resilience work. In the spirit of “we’re all in this together”, we made readily available, outside the normal subscription service, critical information around supply chain disruptions organizations were facing worldwide, and, in the UK, we provided free access to the most relevant standards to meet the challenges of government and the private-sector.
As we focused on assisting our clients, we also took steps internally to protect our people, and our operations.
Our own business continuity plans were implemented in each office, in each country, in compliance with local laws and guidance from government agencies and the World Health Organization. Well thought out plans for responding to disruptions is key to an organization’s ability to quickly adapt to any situation. Agility is paramount to limiting the impact to operations and people. As the need to close offices in response to shelter-in-place orders increased, we were able to quickly increase our VPN capacity, evaluate and adjust security protocols, and train staff on new procedures so that our own transition to a workforce that would primarily be teleworking was seamless. In fact, at one point nearly all of BSI’s 874 employees in the US were working remotely. “With the exception of a few essential employees, nearly all of America’s associates worked remotely inside of three weeks as lockdown orders in the region began to take effect,”, said Tim Wren, Regional Commercial Director, BSI Americas.
For us, remote working is nothing new. The majority of our colleagues are homebased; however, a large portion of our teams work in offices around the globe – insuring their safety, and the safety of their families, was our primary concern and being able to assist our clients was an extension of that.
One of the key functions of a certification body is conducting audits to ensure compliance to regulatory or industry standards. Traditionally, these are conducted in person in order to see first-hand the facility and documentation, as well as to conduct the necessary interviews with personnel. However, over the past several years, as technology has progressed in a way that makes it possible and effective to do so, BSI has offered the option of remote auditing. Relying on this experience, as COVID-19 became a pandemic and restrictions and limitations on travel spread, we were able to quickly transition to delivering nearly all of our audits globally remotely. Carlos Pitanga, COO of Assurance for BSI American, said, “We were pleased to be able to minimize client disruption by quickly delivering nearly 90% of our certification audits remotely in April/May. Yet, we continued to deliver face-to-face audits where required by the scheme and/or reschedule them to a later time.”
BSI is at the forefront of using remote auditing and immersive technology to deliver our services. We work with our clients to determine their needs, comfort level, and capabilities. Using teleconferencing, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, and others, we conduct face-to-face meeting and interviews. Documents can be reviewed through screen sharing and file sharing platforms. Tours of facilities are done using live video apps on phones and tablets, and even via smart glasses, such as Google Glass. In this instance, we ship the device to the client, train the client’s representative who will be using the device, and then the auditor is able to guide the wearer through the facility in real-time while requesting certain areas and items be observed. Although not all audits can be completely conducted remotely, technology, and the limitations imposed on travel as a result of the current pandemic, have accelerated the adoption rate of the remote auditing. In addition to the convenience they offer, another benefit is that less travel results in a smaller carbon footprint, as well as reduction in costs because there are no travel fees incurred.
Another key aspect in helping our clients to continue to function, and prepare for the future, is training. Our Live Online training is unique in that, in addition to traditional recorded courses, we also offer live options that allow for face-to-face interaction with the instructor and other attendees in small groups. In fact among certification bodies, BSI is a pioneer in this form of training and recently celebrated our 5-year anniversary of the format. This experience allowed us to pivot very quickly from in-person training to more live online opportunities to continue to support the needs of clients and students with the same high-quality delivery and interaction face-to-face.
In Part II we’ll explore what the next normal will look like.