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Why Your Accounting Firm Needs Disaster Preparedness Now More Than Ever

As all of us are more aware than ever before, the necessity for disaster preparedness and crisis management plans aren’t just theoretical—they are pressing need and relevant to all lines of business.

Yet, many firms and organizations (big and small alike) have been caught flatfooted when something unexpected and catastrophic happens. "Expect the unexpected," goes the old saying, and yet so few do. Many firms either don't have a disaster preparedness strategy or have one in a binder somewhere, gathering dust (which is the same as not having one).

These companies—including many accounting firms—are left scrambling, trying to figure out what they should do in response. Do you know how to conduct your business after a disaster? How quickly can you manage a return to normal operations? Will you be able to conduct normal operations? Do you have the capacity to pivot to modified activities that still get business done? And can you manage in such a modified scenario for an extended period? 

Whether your answer to the above questions is “Yes,” “Maybe,” or “I don’t know,” you owe it to yourself, your business, and your clients to dust off and update—or create for the first time—those crisis management strategies that will see you and your firm through the next ‘unexpected.’

Disaster Preparedness Factors to Consider

With the shared experience of the pandemic, now is the time to make disaster preparedness part of your organization's culture. With the recent crisis fresh in everyone's mind—with a genuine crisis as a real and tangible possibility for them—this is the perfect time to drive home the importance of future preparedness for your firm.

As you prepare your disaster recovery plans, there are numerous factors to consider. As a starting place, think about how your firm can address some of the following areas:

1. Your People

Your company’s priority needs to be looking after the welfare of your employees. Do they still have access to payroll, insurance, health care, and other support programs? What kind of flex arrangements need to go into effect so that employees who must look after children or other family members during an emergency can meet both their work obligations and their obligations of care? What health and safety protocols need to be in place to ensure a safe return to work?

You also need to keep your employees informed during any work disruption so that they can educate both themselves and your clients about the status of your firm and its business continuity.

Are you communicating the most accurate and up-to-date information about the emergency to your employees regularly? Are you reassuring them about the status of your company and what that means for their employment?

2. Technology

Happily, we live in a golden age of technology-enabled remote working options for our disaster recovery plans. Cloud computing, VPNs, video conferencing SaaS, and widespread high-speed internet make business continuity during a crisis more viable than ever. Your plan needs to lay out what technologies will be used and who will be responsible for ensuring they are rolled out to all staff in the event of remote work. Consider, for example, equipping all staff (but critical personnel at a minimum) with laptops they can take home, which will speed the transition to work-from-home.

3. Physical Assets

What physical resources do you need from your office, and can they be retrieved safely? Can you get items like computers and desk chairs to staff if you need to work from home for a prolonged period? Do you need a temporary location for your business because your current offices are inaccessible? Think about document storage and recovery. What sensitive papers do you need to secure from your office? Is digitization and moving vital documents to the cloud a more secure solution for your disaster preparedness plan?

Putting Your Plan into Action

If you want your plan to be acted upon when the time comes, make sure you keep it accessible, comprehensible, and easy to understand and remember for your staff. It can't just be a giant binder that will sit unread on people's shelves.

Consider your messaging within the office about the plan: hang posters reminding people of the plan in high-visibility areas, like breakrooms and washrooms, where staff will be sure to see it. Distribute quick reference cards (the more visual, the better) that people can turn to in an actual crisis to walk them through priority steps.

Once plans are drafted, assign clear responsibilities amongst your staff. Everyone should know who is responsible for what elements of the plan in the event of a crisis. Everything from fire captains in charge of evacuating the office to who is responsible for setting up remote IT services for staff working from home for extended periods needs to be assigned. Then drill with your team and hold workshops on the preparedness plan's contents so that should the time come, it won't be the first time people have encountered the plan.

All business leaders and their staff should see a comprehensive, documented crisis plan as a truly practical necessity based on the hard-learned lessons of our times. Learn more about how to pandemic-proof your practice with Hybrid Cloud or jump-start your practice today with the Caseware Suite.

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