We heard the earthquake warning device echoing loudly throughout the building. This wasn’t a drill. We left everything on our desks and started to head out. Taking the elevator was not an option so it’s a good thing that we were just on the 5th floor and not on the 17th. We spent almost two hours outside the building until everything was cleared. And when we came back, our director called for an emergency meeting: schedule a run-through of the business continuity plan (BCP). We already had one, we just needed to execute – and make sure it works.
The week after the incident, different teams were called upon to do a BCP rehearsal. Our team was the last to go thru the process; everyone was instructed to stay at home and maintain business as usual (BAU). It took us six weeks to get everyone on every team thru the BCP. We managed to test our BCP and have proven that it works. Any deviation from the plan can just be a minor tweak but we had confidence that it works. These types of experiences are what made me really focus on high availability and disaster recovery.
With the COVID-19 outbreak situation worldwide, a lot of people are being asked to work from home and restrict travel. Some companies did a dry run to see if their BCP and current infrastructure can handle the sudden increase in work-from-home workforce. Many found out they weren’t ready and scrambled to make it work, given government directives to remain at home and do self-quarantine. Still others were focusing on tools, be it for collaboration or communication (yes, there is a big difference between the two). But the most important thing about dealing with BCP isn’t the BCP itself. Nor the infrastructure. Nor the tools.
It’s the people.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused a lot of people to panic and become fearful. Uncertainty breeds fear. And fear breeds anxiety. Everything that is happening in the world because of the COVID-19 outbreak is causing uncertainty – crashing global economy, sick and dying people, lost jobs, closing business establishments. Those who were told to work from home struggle with making it work. The struggle of dealing with a stable internet connection with everyone being at home and bandwidth usage is at its peak. They worry about childcare because schools were closed, wondering how they can do their work while dealing with highly energetic kids. Some are stressed out because they’re not sure if they still have a job to go back to after all this is over. Others are panicking over whether they have enough groceries and basic supplies that would last them for weeks – even longer. The challenge of staying physically and mentally healthy while caring for at-risk family members. What good is a BCP if the people who are supposed to make it work can’t get their head on straight?
A personal BCP
Anything that breaks routine can be chaotic, stressful even. We humans are so used to routines because they make us feel safe. We find comfort in certainty. We go to work early in the morning, take the same route everyday, log in to our work computers while having a cup of coffee, talk to colleagues, check our emails, have lunch, get more work done, and head back home. We do this every single day like clockwork knowing we’ll do it again tomorrow. And when that doesn’t happen, like when you’re told to stay at home and self-quarantine, we get stressed out. Our brains cannot handle the all the changes happening at the same time. And that causes anxiety.
But disasters – and pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak – are difficult to prepare for. We cannot control what happens to us and around us. But one thing we can control is how we respond to them. We can control our thinking. Our reactions. And our mind. Controlling our responses, making them positive, is the first step towards having a personal BCP.
Spend the first few hours of your day writing down the things that you do at work everyday. Even the mundane. You’ll notice that a lot of those things can be done quickly now that you don’t have to deal with distractions and unnecessary interactions. Focus on the essentials and learn how to prioritize them. Next, identify possible challenges with working from home – kids, NetFlix, work area (if all you have is the dining table, you would need to move your work computer away during meal times), logistics, time management, interruptions, motivation, isolation. Knowing what the possible challenges are can help in dealing with them as they come. Knowing who to approach when your VDI system isn’t working is easier when the person is just a cubicle away instead of a few miles away. But knowing that he’s just a phone call or an instant message away alleviates the stress a bit.
But most important in this new reality of working from home is empowering yourself. Because you won’t be able to do any of these if you still feel stressed and anxious. Start your day with answering the question, “what’s good about this?” You’ll be surprised at the number of things you can be grateful for because you were “forced” to work from home:
- – You save an average of one (1) hour each day avoiding commute, if your average travel time to and from work is half-an-hour. That’s an average of 20 hours for the whole month.
- – Avoiding commute can significantly reduce stress and anxiety caused by being on the road – annoying drivers, bad weather like snow, heavy traffic. If you wear a smart watch, you’ll see the difference in your heartbeat rate and stress levels when you were commuting and now that you’re not.
- – Less pollution – air and noise, to be more specific. You’ll feel a bit relaxed and peaceful just from not hearing cars and people. You get to breathe a bit better because there are way fewer vehicles on the road.
- – Appreciate people more. The law enforcement personnel that ensure our safety during these times. The healthcare providers who risk their lives taking care of the sick and those affected by the outbreak. Your network engineers who make sure that your VPN connection is stable enough for you to work from home. The staff at the grocery stores.
- – You don’t need to put on an expensive shirt. PJs work. But not during video calls
I can go on and on, listing things that you can be grateful for. Every single day. Come up with your own list. I’m sure you can think of more. This exercise alone can greatly reduce stress and anxiety, helping you manage this new normal. Keep track of your new routine, starting with this list of things to be thankful for. Let me know how it has been after a few days.
My response to the COVID-19 outbreak
I’m supposed to be on vacation. Right now, I’m in the capital of the Philippines where the national government has issued an extended community quarantine and curfews to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It’s the first time I’m experiencing this in my home country (I was in grade school during the Martial Law era and I don’t recall it being this frightening). With a population of 12.8 million, the city capital looks and feels like a ghost town since this weekend – malls and schools were closed, public mass transportation was suspended, law enforcement checkpoints were setup. The weekend had people rushing to the grocery stores to stock up on supplies in preparation for the lockdown.
Given that I can’t really do much while I’m here (the lockdown will be for 30 days so I cannot go back to Canada just yet), I’m making the most of the situation. Hence, I am doing a special run of my online training classes at a reduced price from 06-April to 01-May to help IT professionals and DBAs cope with the situation. It’s my way of giving back because the training classes now include strategies on dealing with stress and anxiety. It’s not too much, but we’re all in this together. Every small contribution goes a long way to fight this global pandemic. And the better prepared we are, the better we can deal with this.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. And regardless of your religious affiliation, take a moment to say a little prayer for those who are suffering because of this. Take care of the people that matter to you and let them know how much you love them.
- – SQL Server Always On: The Senior DBA’s Ultimate Field Guide – April 06-May 01, 2020 02:30PM-04:30PM Eastern (19:30-21:30 UTC) online (click to see in your own time zone)
- – SQL Server DBA’s Guide to Docker Containers – April 06-17, 2020 05:00PM-7:00PM Eastern (22:00-24:00 UTC) online (click to see in your own time zone)