10 areas to revise in your disaster recovery and pandemic plans

Many firms have gotten by without standard business policies and procedures in place. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to have a business continuity and disaster recovery plan and a pandemic plan in place. Now is an excellent time to consider updates to these plans as well as other business plans and policies.

The following 10 areas to update in your disaster plan, from CPA Mutual and Network Management Group Inc., are simply a starting point to get you thinking -- do not stop with these 10. They are areas that have needed attention most among CPA firms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Put employee safety first, and client or customer contact second.

1. Work policies

Coronavirus - Mall sign
A coronavirus sign stands on a post in the Covent Garden district of London, U.K., on Monday, June 15, 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson encouraged consumers to go out and "shop with confidence" when stores reopen in England on Monday, as he suggested social distancing rules will be eased. Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg
Consider changing these. Traditionally you may have required hours in the office and scheduled meetings. Do these apply during a disaster? What is truly needed, and what should be changed or eliminated? Review your policy and procedures manual for policies that are outdated, inappropriate, or simply not applicable in a business continuity or disaster recovery situation.

2. Technology

Server racks in a row. 3d illustration.
Remote technology enabled work to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you used public or private cloud technologies, virtual private networks, voice over IP, Software as a Service, or some other approach, your business could not have easily continued without remote technologies.

3. Security

Adaptive security
Security concept: Lock on digital screen, contrast, 3d render
Bad actors recognize that people are working at home, and that security is not what it should be. They are attacking remote sessions with remote desktop protocol or remote desktop services. They are finding vulnerable remote servers in cloud providers as well as on premises.

Address traditional attack methods like spam email, web links to bad sites, and attached files that contain malware to help employees avoid making security mistakes. Review use of standard security tools, such as multi-factor authentication, virtual private networks, plus a traditional antivirus software product.

4. Service standards

Your firm has products and services that are engaged, produced and delivered with deadlines and quality expectations from your clients. If you are not able to follow your standard procedures, such as pre-planning, face-to-face meetings and board delivery, how do you produce and complete the work? Consider the changes you should implement in this area.

5. Communications and reputation management

With COVID-19, broad regions of the world have been affected. You saw how companies have communicated their handling of safety, cleanliness and business value proposition. How do you protect your firm's reputation, and how do you communicate that during different events in a disaster? Update your crisis communications policies and processes.

6. Health and safety protocols

With COVID-19, early in the outbreak, it was not clear how the disease spread. Further, there was a great deal of misinformation at the time and there still is today. How do you locate and communicate accurate information? How should you apply social distancing, the use of masks and handwashing? Further, how can you manage risk? Some guidelines may seem tedious and tough to maintain, but document your process.

7. Meetings and interaction between employees and clients

Are face-to-face interactions wise during COVID-19? What about asymptomatic carriers? For that matter, how wise is it for employees who are not well to come in during cold and flu season and spread what they have to others? What is the risk to your firm?

The use of video cameras during web meetings increased in the U.S. from around 30 percent before the pandemic to 60 percent. More video usage is a positive outcome. The volume of web calls "zoomed" into the billions of minutes. Consider how professional your web meetings appear, backgrounds in use, and whether you want to mandate camera use. Also consider privacy issues.

8. Revising processes

While it is hard to be sure of the long-term outcome, firms learned several things about their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were ready for remote work, and some were not. Some found a few technological things that did not work, like phones or virtual private networks. Others found they were not as paperless as they thought, or they were not able to share and control work with workflow tools. Workflow tools for CPA firms have been the most common technology purchases in the post-pandemic world.

9. Flextime

No help from the taxman.
Team members who were used to office hours and isolating their work to an office received the most significant shock during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even those who were frequently remote workers found they were more isolated than ever during stay-at-home orders. Most found that their workloads increased. Further, with children's education needs, there were distractions to support the family as well.

Consider what your firm's policy should be for professionals and staff alike when work demands shift from the office to home or if you require extensive travel and time away from home.

10. Professional appearance

Woman confused at computer
Think about your video meeting experience. How many do you attend with people in T-shirts? Nothing against casual clothing, but is that the image you want to convey for your firm? Consider meetings that had family noise and distraction or clutter in the background. While some of this cannot be helped, some can be managed with standard firm-supplied backgrounds, lighting standards, as well as preferred, recommended or supplied equipment such as webcams, headsets and microphones. How professional do you want your firm to appear?