Working from home right now? Here’s a suggestion for your company’s leaders:

With lots and lots of companies asking their employees to work from home right now (“WFH” has become super-prevalent on Slack statuses where I work), there’s probably a lesson to take away from all of this. One your company leaders should seriously consider.

Asking employees who normally work in an office to start working from home – whether in response to a viral outbreak, a regional disaster, or even just the office being unavailable for some reason – can be a big deal.

First, there’s the “human price:” people have to figure out how, physically, to set themselves up to work from home. They have to have the right equipment. They have to have tools like Slack or Teams or Zoom or Skype or whatever to collaborate remotely – and they have to be accustomed to using those tools.

Next, there’s the “preparedness price:” are all company apps accessible remotely? Are you using the right combination of cloud-based apps, VPNs, or whatever else so that people can get their jobs done?

A lot of companies plan and prepare for disasters, and even hold annual or semiannual “disaster recovery exercises.” Those are an opportunity to put plans to the test, find out what doesn’t work, and evolve those plans as needed. They’re a chance to realize, “oh hey, they new app we rolled out this year isn’t in the plan, and we need to do something about that.”

So I’m suggesting that any company which can do so (and if you’re working from home right now, then your company can do so, even if it doesn’t prefer to do so) hold an Annual Mandatory Work-From-Home Week.

It’s a chance for new employees to come up to speed on the Work From Home Plan, and for existing employees to refresh. It’s a chance to remember, “crap, I got a new laptop and don’t have a spare charger at home anymore.” A chance to realize that one new cloud app doesn’t work correctly through the Okta app on an iPad (which might be someone’s work-from-home device).

It’s a chance to reinforce the remote-working human model: how we interact with each other, how we discipline ourselves to get the job done when we’re not in a dedicated work environment, and so on. It’s a chance to practice how the company communicates with itself at the micro and macro levels.

Critically, it’s a chance to build and maintain a critical business capability that the business may need to call on again some day. And this is a critical business capability, as many companies are now discovering. Being able to shift into Work From Home Mode (WFHM) enables businesses to stay online and as productive as possible through challenging times.

Your company doesn’t need to be prepared to shift to an “all-remote” working model, nor does it need to offer “work from home” as a standard option for employees. This is about disaster preparedness, nothing more. It’s no different than a fire drill, an active shooter drill, or any other “drill” you conduct to maintain healthy business capabilities.

So if your company is currently dealing with a work-from-home situation, start developing a plan to make that smoother and better for next time. Discuss that with company leaders, and ask them whether this really is an important part of their disaster response toolkit.

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