Surviving Odette: 5 Important Lessons in Disaster Preparedness for Tech BPOs

Last December 16, 2022, a devastating tropical cyclone passed through the Philippines, making 10 landfalls across the central Visayan islands. Typhoon Odette wrought massive damage to the nation’s second-largest urban center, Cebu City, where LegalMatch Philippines centers its base of operations. For nearly a month, residents struggled with the massive shutdown of power, water, and telecommunications. Internet connectivity issues crippled many IT-BPO operations. This in turn resulted in huge income losses and unemployment. 

How did LegalMatch Philippines survive Typhoon Odette? Here are five lessons that we learned in disaster preparedness as a tech BPO. 

 

1   Prevent Data Loss via Cloud-based Computing and Communications 

As one of the top global destinations for quality professionals for Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing solutions, the Philippines has seen a steady boom of investments in startups and companies in recent years. These companies served clients in the United States, Europe, and Australia, among others. Many handled sensitive or important data for their clients. Tech BPOs took on the development, production, and maintenance of their software solutions and online platforms. Loss of data and work files pose significant impact to client operations. 

In a talk with the LegalMatch Philippines IT systems administrator, he said that it was fortunate that the company had been using Cloud-based data storage and communication channels ever since the pandemic forced them into remote work. By the time Typhoon Odette came through, all the employees had transitioned to working with platforms such as MS Teams and Sharepoint.  

 

2   Ensure that there is Enough Cash on Hand before the Typhoon Hits 

The super typhoon not only plunged the city into darkness for more than three weeks, it also shuttered many businesses, including banks. Residents lined up at the few ATM machines that were functional for hours on end, at times leaving without cash because it had run out. 

The LegalMatch Philippines finance team faced difficulty in releasing salaries. The typhoon had struck on the day that they were supposed to start processing the payroll. Usually, they just credited amounts to the employees’ bank accounts. But the latter requested that their pay be released in cash. This is because local establishments insisted on accepting only cash. Banks could not cater to the volume of ATM withdrawals daily.  As a disaster preparedness measure, the finance department should ensure that there is enough cash on hand before a potential catastrophe happens.  

 

3   Explore Options for Power and Internet Connectivity 

The lifeblood of any tech company providing professional services to clients abroad is its employees. But how can employees work without electricity, internet, or even a mobile phone network? For Legalmatch employees in Cebu, this was the scenario in the first two weeks after the storm.  

In less-damaged areas and neighborhoods, remote workers celebrated the return of their mobile network signal, only to discover it gone again in a few hours. Often, the unwitting culprits were government workers clearing fallen trees, posts, wires, and cables.  

LegalMatch Philippines rented out 3 big rooms in a co-working hub that accommodated all of its Cebu-based employees. They were invited to use them up to a month after the disaster. The hub provided fiber internet and individual workstations with electric outlets and ergonomic chairs. To those who were too far from the hub but had access to better telecom signals, portable WIFI modems were purchased and sent.  

 

4   Give Aid and Support to Staff and their Families 

Aside from the power and connectivity issues that rendered them unable to work, affected employees had to ensure food, drinking water, and other needs of their families. It was especially difficult for those with small children, elderly parents and persons with disabilities. 

Legalmatch Philippines allowed all of its Cebu-based employees, to take paid leaves in the first week after the typhoon to attend to their families. Loans were made available too, ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 pesos per employee. These were payable up to 3-6 months via salary deductions. A 2,000-peso cash gift was also given, which was fitting considering that the storm happened a week before Christmas. 

 

5   Organize a Disaster Preparedness & Response Committee 

While most company policy manuals contain sections dictating what to do during emergencies, there usually isn’t an internal committee that oversees this. It would be good to organize one, ideally, composed of the leads of departments or work teams. These individuals could assist in expanding or improving the company’s emergency preparedness and response plans, taking into consideration the contexts and needs of their subordinates.  

The Human Resources Department would do well to check if there are employees who have training and experience in first aid and disaster risk reduction management and tap them to lead the committee.  

 

Planning for Disaster Resilience 

The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. It ranked third in the 2018 World Risk Index and tops the list of the countries most affected by climate change in 2019. In the last decade, no year has gone by without the Philippines suffering the onslaught of Category 4-5 tropical cyclones. Warmer temperatures in the western Pacific Ocean support their formation. 

While rescue and aid are often the focus of counter-disaster planning, time and effort should be invested into disaster preparedness for tech BPOs. The severity of impact is out of our control, but preparing resources, and conducting business continuity planning and training will ensure that we will be disaster-resilient: able to bounce back from the disaster faster, better and stronger than ever. 

5 Must Haves for a Work from Home Dad

The pandemic-induced lockdown was not easy for many. Some lost their jobs, and many explored how to find jobs while they were forced to stay at home. I myself started being a work from home dad jobs two years ago. For the most part, I’ve learned to adjust, but the road towards achieving my current comfortable work-life balance was not easy. Here are 5 must-haves to be a successful work from home dad. 

 

#1 A Dedicated Working Area  

One of the biggest misconceptions about working at home is that one has the freedom to work anywhere in the house — the kitchen table, the living room, bedroom, garage. I had to “unlearn” this the hard way. I soon found out that the kitchen and living room were always occupied and therefore distracting. The bedroom made it easy to fall asleep when I shouldn’t. The garage was not conducive because I was at the mercy of the heat and humidity as well as distracting noises from the street or the neighbors. 

If you don’t have a spare room to use as a dedicated home office like I do, it might be a good idea to set up a dedicated workspace at a quieter corner of the living room, away from where other family members normally converge (near the TV or dining area). To keep the peace, I sat down with my family to set ground rules. The TV volume had to be lower during my work hours. When I am on video conferencing, they must try their best to stay away from my workstation. Investing on a good noise-cancelling headphone could also help.  

 

#2 A Laptop with a Good Battery 

One of the biggest problems that plague remote work here in the Philippines is access to uninterrupted power supply. From unscheduled blackouts to power cables snapping or transformers exploding during heavy downpour and thunderstorms, these sudden power interruptions could make you miss important deadlines.  

Even if you have been using the same trusty high-end laptop for years, it stands to reason that its battery life had seen better days. Replace old batteries before they totally give out. Once you have enough money, make the investment on a new laptop with good battery life. You will find that it will soon pay for itself.  

For uninterrupted connection to the internet, get a power bank for your WiFi router. Just be sure to buy from a reputable store because there are many defective or bad clones on the market. 

For those with desktops, getting a decent UPS (uninterruptible power supply) is the way to go. Although it may only keep your desktop running for less than an hour, it will allow you to save your work or at least alert your employer that there’s an outage. It will also prevent damage to your desktop components in case of a power surge. 

 

#3 An Office-Appropriate Chair and Table 

Don’t hesitate to splurge on a decent office-grade table and chair. Working from home still means having to sit in front of a computer for 8 hours or more. There is a reason why “office furniture” is category of its own — it’s not just about office aesthetics but ergonomics.  

If you are currently using a table and chair that do not allow you to work on your computer at the right level and height, you will soon find yourself complaining of back and neck pain. Get a table that can accommodate your laptop and other work equipment but will not strain your elbow or contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome 

 

#4 Proper Lighting 

Some people say that a lighted monitor is good enough. Others say working under the kitchen or living room light fixtures is okay. But there’s a reason why big companies invest in proper lighting and positioning of office desks and computers. For instance, you may not notice that house light may hit your screen and cause glare, putting your eyes under strain to accommodate the brightness. It can also get worse if your screen is near a window, as sunlight could cause glare too. Consider using darker or light-blocking curtains on the windows near your station.  

 

#5 Set hours for work and for family 

If there’s one advantage that onsite office work has over working from home, it’s that it’s easier to turn off “work mode” as soon as you step out of the workplace. But when you’re working from home, you may find it difficult to “leave work” when your office is literally a few steps away from wherever you are in the house. 

Re-learning how to leave your “work self” is an integral part of achieving work-life balance as a work from home dad. And the best way to do this is by adhering to a strict “work time” and “family time” schedule. Once your shift ends, it’s important to distance yourself from your laptop/desktop and dedicate the rest of your day to your family. It won’t be easy, and many struggle balancing their work and family life even before the pandemic, but just stick to this routine and you’ll eventually get the hang of it. 

It may help for you to have two separate user accounts in your computer, one for work and another for leisure, and the moment your shift ends, log-off of your work account. This can aid in conditioning your mind to follow your work-life balance schedule. It must be able to distinguish  that work time is officially over — just like when you log out from the office. 

The Takeaway 

Finding a good company to work for is often hit or miss. But with the global job market opening to accommodate more and more remote workers, remember that when deciding which companies to work for, compensation is simply not enough. Big salary rates are ultimately worthless if you’re working for a company that demands more time than you can afford and sees you merely as a replaceable gear in their machinery. You will be happier if you find a company that genuinely value their remote employees’ growth and rights and ensure that you’re working with a competent and welcoming team. When applying for a job, do your research on the company. Look them up, see what their previous or current employees say about them. And while you’re at it, check out opportunities at LegalMatch Philippines here