Blog How to Prepare for the Next Disaster

How to Prepare for the Next Disaster

Significant disasters interfere with the normal modus operandi of individuals, organisations and society. Take for example the recent pandemic that limited the free movement of people in lockdown. These disruptions radically change the behaviours and preferences of people, adapting the way they consume technology.

Organisations experience impacts on both the employee-organisation interactions internally as on the customer-organisation interactions externally. The most impacted will be the traditionally organised companies that have not yet embraced the digitisation of their processes. Nevertheless, additional challenges appear for all companies – even the agile ones.

Authors: Günther Lemmens, Jens Desmet & Sonja Noben
Impact on employee-organisation interactions

Impact on traditional hierarchical organisations

Traditional command & control organisations that suddenly have all their employees working remotely will have a difficult time. They will experience a loss of control, something that feels quite unnatural. In this situation, it will be hard to maintain trust between manager and employees. Daily face-to-face interactions have been the basis for many operational and commercial processes since decades and will collapse, resulting in dramatic impacts on the viability of companies. The bigger the organisation, the larger the scale of disruption and the possible effects of this stress test.


For many employees, the situation is equally disturbing. From the comfort of the directive workplace environment, they fall into a stretching autonomous home office situation. In these situations, managers risk focusing on results and outcomes while failing to balance this with attention for human connection. Employees need that connection to be motivated and committed, even more when remote. Without motivation and commitment, productivity will drop dramatically over time.

Impact on agile and scaled agile organisations

Companies that have already installed an agile way of working will experience a more fluid shift from working on-site to working remotely. The simpler processes, the natural autonomy of teams and the clear flows of priorities enable a more natural transition into the new disrupted situation.

The organisations that have already addressed scaling will notice that their agile teams remain productive. The scaled practices help them to translate that change to the evolving strategic priorities for the teams. And if one thing is sure, it is that strategy change is unavoidable during a significant disaster.

Business Agility

We need to acknowledge that, in the wake of COVID-19, social distancing will become a more significant part of our culture. Remote working will become the new norm, also for Agile companies. Collaborating remotely holds specific new challenges.  New technology-supported practices, complementary policies, behaviours and mindsets need to be installed to enable successful continuity of Agile collaboration and planning. This is especially important at the level where scaling takes place to translate strategy adaptions effectively to the team’s objectives.

Impact on communication & change management

In times where employees do not reach the company soil, it is crucial to keep employees empathic towards the organisation. It is vital for leaders to over-communicate, make the employees feel the organisation cares for them even when they are working remotely.

Failing to communicate will generate the opposite effect: employees feel left behind in their situation and perceive the organisation as insensitive, not caring. This creates a destructive distance.

Change & Communication

Disengagement towards the company generates a risk. During major disasters, this risk will be a lesser problem initially as people seek stability first. Once the disaster is over, the disengagement will fire back in the long run, and many employees may leave the company.

Impact on infrastructure & security

Large amounts of employees working remotely stretches infrastructure capabilities to their maximum. Basic capabilities installed for occasional remote working appears to be insufficient both from a reliability as from a security viewpoint.

Reliability of infrastructure fails when the bandwidth is insufficient to cope with all the additional communications between employees and when the number of VPN connections necessary to keep all remote workers connected.

Digital & Data Technology

Security also faces the threat of cybercriminals. They will target the home office infrastructures (personal & WIFI networks, personal devices) that employees will use to work remotely. These home infrastructures are often less secured, making them attractive points of access to company data and support.

Impact on Customer-Company interactions

Impact on operational digital channels and digital strategy

During the last decade, many organisations have adopted a multi-channel approach, strengthening customer-company interactions. However, for many organisations, these digital channels are merely an additional channel reinforcing the traditional face-to-face channels.

Digital channels weren’t developed with scaling in mind, unable to support all products and services autonomously. As social distancing becomes a more significant part of our culture, face-to-face interactions will become complementary to digital channels. This inverses the priority of the different channels, disrupting known and installed business models.

Customer Engagement

The ability and agility of organisations to adapt their business model fast at full scale, covering all products and services and customer segments, will strongly determine whether they can secure their business for tomorrow. If they succeed, they will gain additional business momentum.

Being robust is not good enough. An organisation needs to show adaptability and resilience in its strategy. It must push their digitalisation efforts forward, being empathic to service the new experience needs of customers.

Impact on marketing communication

The customers need feedback on how the organisation is coping with the impact of a significant disaster. Often some services or products are in partial or complete discontinuity. A company needs to supply sufficient information on what to and not to expect.

Marketing Communication

Be clear on workarounds or what alternate (digital) channels are available to access services and products. Else, they will risk losing their customers as they turn away and seek alternatives offered by the competition.

To conclude

Significant disasters affect your company, whether it is organised in a traditional fashion or an agile fashion – in multiple aspects. To safeguard your market position, you need to adopt a pro-active attitude and prepare for potential risks on both the employee and the customer relationship.

Make sure your workforce, channels, infrastructure and communication are up for the task. DigitalScaler has the experience to apply agility at scale, enabling you to react to major disasters with more flexibility. We tailor to your organisation’s specific context, creating a more resilient organisation as a result.

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