No matter the size of the business, ensure that contingency plans fully reflect our new hybrid ways of working, explains Jane Robson

All businesses need contingency plans. However, many sole traders and micro businesses dismiss contingency planning as ‘not relevant to me.’ But in reality, these are the very businesses that could be most severely affected if something goes wrong.

Floods and Fires

You’ll be lucky not to fall victim to the weather at some point. Whatever nature throws at us (from whatever direction) and whatever gets the blame, there are going to be times when it is difficult or even impossible for staff to make it to work. Or flooding at your premises could make it impossible for staff to do any work.

In the twelve months up to June 2023, the UK Fire and Rescue Services attended 173,872 fire incidents in England alone. Not all incidents were businesses, but many were. Insurance will take care of the likes of stock being damaged, but how quickly will there be a payment and how soon can you source replacements? And, if you rely on staff having a space to work in, what does a fire mean for the future of your business – in the short, medium, and long term?

It is important to draw up plans to cope with a situation where circumstances beyond your control result in your office/shop/warehouse/etc. being short of staff or even empty. Also, consider how your plans will need to change the longer the situation persists. It is important to have an idea of how long you can go without staff (or a workplace) before you have a serious problem and to produce possible options to help avoid getting to that point.

Remote Working

If your business has decided not to have a permanent office address but rather have all staff working remotely, you may be thinking that the risk of your business being impacted by severe weather or fires has reduced. But is that really the case? If you haven’t shifted your contingency planning from focusing on a single address to multiple locations, you may be in trouble. And don’t forget that those extra locations are not limited to your staff’s kitchens, back bedrooms or sheds. The internet connections that allow you to work seamlessly as though you are in the same building are potential weak spots, even more so if an employee is relying on mobile data – phone masts are even more exposed to the wrong kind of weather.

When everyone is based in one workspace, it is easy to ensure that staff are cross-trained on multiple duties so that there is always cover. But that can sometimes be more difficult to implement when people are working remotely.

The advent of remote working can do great things for flexibility, productivity and even staff retention, but we do have to recognise that this model is not without risks, and we need to ensure that our contingency plans fully reflect this new way of working.


You should already have systems in place to ensure you have backups of documents. If storage of your important work is cloud-based, consider keeping a copy of your most vital data in at least one other place. It may feel a little Luddite-esque, but no organisation or technology is foolproof, and while you may expect a cloud service provider to take full responsibility if anything goes wrong, consider the size of your company and the size of the cloud service provider. Are you a big enough customer to merit more than a response of “Oh dear, how sad, never mind”? If you really can’t function without certain data, it’s best to take a belt and braces approach.

And if huge service suppliers can be fallible, so too can you and your team. Regular reminders of how and where to save work may feel tedious (for all concerned), but taking processes for granted or not taking seriously the need to have processes can lead to huge problems. This is even more important when staff work remotely. Remote workers also need to have a backup to cover loss of internet connection, such as using mobile data, even for just long enough to email documents to a colleague.

Remember to think through the consequences of your planning. For example, don’t assume that every remote worker will have spare data on their phone. You may need to supply your remote staff with work phones or separate SIM cards (these days many phones have double SIM card slots).

Losing Staff Suddenly

Loss of a member of your team can happen for any number of reasons, and most of the time you will have a month’s notice to find a replacement, organise any necessary training, and work out any tweaks needing to be made to maintain your service or production of your product. But what happens if the loss is sudden and unexpected? It is not something anyone is keen to consider, but the sudden death of a colleague could have a massive impact on your business.

You may be in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with staff grief and managing logistics. Often when people deal with the loss of someone close, work can be a welcome distraction, but when a colleague dies, the workplace offers less opportunity to escape grief.

Grief can affect people in different ways – physical, emotional, and psychological – and you will need to navigate a course that simultaneously looks after your colleagues and helps to keep the business running. You will find this task easier if you have already planned as much as possible for this eventuality.

Communication Is Important

Inform colleagues about the death of a staff member with sensitivity. This is particularly important if a team is small, but regardless of the size of the workforce, always bear in mind that close friendships may have developed. Provide colleagues with contact details for sources of support.

If possible, speak to people in person, prioritising the deceased colleague’s immediate team.

Be respectful of any limits on information requested by the person’s family.

Consider how you and your team will pass condolences on to the deceased person’s family. Decide if you will organise sending a condolence card and/or flowers from the team or leave it to individuals to pay their respects in their own way, in which case you will need to organise passing on contact details.

Practical Aspects

Dealing with clearing the deceased colleague’s desk or cubical can be difficult – there may be triggering reminders, such as handwritten notes and personal effects (perhaps a favourite pen or mug). If your company employs a large number of people, it’s likely there will be an HR department to deal with this, but in smaller organisations it may fall to you to organise this. Be cautious about delegating this task, but it may be something that another colleague takes some comfort from. Also consider if the family of the deceased wants to be involved in some way.

If the deceased colleague worked remotely, you will need to consider how and when you contact the family regarding such things as business keys, files, and computer equipment. If work is stored to the cloud, then retrieving a work laptop will be less urgent.

However, you may need to prove that equipment belongs to the business. Keep, store, and have easy access to receipts and any relevant serial numbers. While you don’t want business equipment to be included in the estate of the deceased, you will need to be mindful of approaching this with sensitivity.

The impact of the sudden death of a colleague on the business itself can be mitigated by safeguards such as sharing calendars and contact lists, but this will vary from business to business. Plan ahead to ensure that your customers continue to receive your services and/or products. You must also consider how work will be re-allocated in the event of a member of your team passing away unexpectedly. This may vary from colleague to colleague.

The burden of looking after your colleagues while assisting with keeping the business on track may rest on your shoulders, but do remember to include yourself in the mix. Being in crisis management mode may spare you from the initial emotional impact of the loss of a colleague, but grief has a way of catching up with you.

Jane Robson is CEO of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its ... (Read More)

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