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Today we inhabit a new normal where business continuity means empowering employees to work from home. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are attempting to accommodate greater levels of remote working than ever before. Their success in this effort will, at least in part, determine how Canada’s economy fares next.

What lessons can we take from this race to enable remote work? And how can Canadian businesses apply them in the weeks and months ahead?

Business continuity planning is key

While it would have been difficult to predict a global issue on the scale of coronavirus, larger corporations generally do plan for disruptions that prevent employees from getting to work. Recent weeks have shown us that, while some organizations were very prepared and took steps to mandate remote working early, others took longer to turn the best-laid plans into reality.

Smaller businesses have particularly struggled to prepare for the pandemic. Many of them did not have continuity plans in place facing into this period of disruption.

Business continuity and disaster recovery plans are often confused. While enterprises should prepare for both scenarios, understanding the difference between the meaning of these two terms is critical. Disaster recovery is needed when your own infrastructure is hit by an event, whereas business continuity is required when infrastructure is intact but there is an impediment stopping employees from coming to the office, just as we see today.

If you haven’t made adequate preparations, the best time to start is right now

For companies looking to create digital workplaces in today’s environment, they first need to assess their workforce and any business operations software and tools that are in place.

From there, a remote access framework can be developed. This should take the operating environment into account, whether it be on-premise IT or public cloud. A key benefit of a cloud environment is that companies can quickly and easily set up digital workspaces that allow them to ‘burst’ up or down the number of users depending on their needs, without having to maintain that infrastructure if it’s not being used.

The timescale required for companies to establish digital workspaces is subject to the relevant policies they want to put in place. In a straightforward cloud environment, companies can use Workspace ONE to get up and running in a week or two, allowing their employees to access applications and resources securely in one place. Productivity can quickly be brought in line with that achieved within the office environment.

Returning to normality shouldn’t mean a return to the status quo

It’s human nature to long for a return to the normality we once took for granted. But companies must recognize that empowering team members to work from anywhere is not a stop-gap solution to counter the operational challenges posed by recent events.

As VMware’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger puts it, the pandemic “is a ‘black swan’ event that … will permanently change the way we work.” In other words, flexible working conditions will increasingly be part of the new normal, as Canadians adopt new habits and become more comfortable operating in remote settings.

Think of digital workplace as more than a technological evolution of the traditional office environment, but as a business strategy to cater to the changing attitudes of today’s workforce. After all, a global VMware survey conducted last year shows that eight in 10 (83 per cent) employees and IT/HR decision makers agree it’s important to be able to easily work remotely from outside the office — and who could disagree in today’s climate.

Studies have also shown that workers are more productive when away from the distractions of a traditional office, and as the way we work evolves, so too will physical workplaces as companies re-examine their real estate needs.

The situation we find ourselves in offers the possibility to create a remote-first culture, where real-time collaboration takes place digitally. By building a strong work-from-remote strategy, businesses will be left with an agile and flexible workforce that can embrace change quickly. They will be better prepared as we face similar situations again in the future, while benefitting from a much-improved employee experience when it comes to attracting talent.

At this moment of deep uncertainty, taking the opportunity to embrace true workforce mobility could be the silver lining that supports the recovery of our economy in the long run.

John Scott (author) is the national sales director for End User Computing & Mobility at VMware Canada.

Read this message from VMware’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger, to learn how the company is giving back to the community in this time of need. Click here to discover how VMware is helping companies maintain business continuity by keeping remote employees engaged and protected.

Advertising feature produced by the advertiser. Globe Content Studio and The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.