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The Downtime Dilemma – How Should Businesses Respond to Internet Outages?

Published November 9, 2023 (last updated on April 17, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer

Man frustrated at laptop

Millions of customers of Australia’s second-largest telecommunications provider, Optus, were recently plunged into a blackout following an outage of the company’s mobile phone and internet services. 

The outage put a stop on government services, public health facilities and transport systems, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Aussie businesses.  

From online banking disruptions to independent coffee shops being unable to process EFTPOS payments, reports of impacted trade flowed in from across the country. 

With Optus services back up and running, business owners can breathe a sigh of relief – for now. There are bound to be more outages further down the track.    

When an internet outage hits, businesses can take steps to minimise disruption and maintain productivity. Here’s an end-to-end guide that will help your business effectively respond to an internet outage. Does that sound like something your business could do with? Find out how to beat the blackout!

How to create an outage response plan 

To mitigate the impact of internet outages and ensure business continuity, it’s crucial to have a well-defined response plan in place. Once adapted to the specifics of your business, the following steps can help you and your team navigate a period of internet downtime.  

1. Assess and communicate 

  • Identify the extent of the outage: Determine if the outage is affecting the entire company, specific departments, or just particular employees and processes. This will help you assess how and where the blackout is impacting your business’s activities. 

  • Assess critical operations: Identify critical business functions that require internet connectivity. This might include communication with clients, processing orders and payments, or accessing data. Where possible, implement temporary alternative processes. For instance, you might contact clients via telephone rather than by email.  

  • Communicate with employees: Inform employees about the outage and its effects on the business, providing clear and concise updates on the situation. If possible, use company communication channels like email or chat platforms. Also give a detailed briefing of any temporary processes to relevant staff members. It sounds contradictory, but keeping communication lines open and staying connected is key during an internet blackout.

2. Use alternative workflows and tools 

  • Use offline productivity tools: Encourage your employees to use offline productivity tools like word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation software to continue working on tasks even without an internet connection. 

  • Explore cloud-based applications: If internet connectivity is limited, consider using cloud-based applications that can be accessed through mobile devices. This can give your staff access to essential tools like email, calendars, and project management platforms. 

  • Use mobile hotspots: For staff with a different mobile provider, they may be able to use their hotspot. Business owners should consider reimbursing staff for the cost of data usage. They should also weigh up the increased cyber security risks that come with using hotspot connections.    

  • Establish alternative communication channels: If email or company chat platforms are unavailable, you can consider using alternative communication methods like phone calls, video conferencing, or instant messaging apps. 

3. Adjust your staff management 

  • HR software: These days, countless businesses use HR software to monitor staff attendance and work hours. If your HR software is out of action, you can revert to a manual process of staff signing in and out of the workplace.   

  • Business closure: In the case of a severe outage, you may decide to temporarily stop business operations or shut down the workplace completely. However, it’s crucial to apply the correct employee entitlements during the closure. This may include offering employees a choice of taking paid leave, or in some cases, standing down employees.  

  • Work from home options: You might decide to ask staff who are already set up to work from home to do so during an internet outage. While this may seem like something most employees would be receptive to, make sure you understand your legal obligations before asking in-office staff to work remotely. Employees may have an entitlement to work in the office written into their employment contract.  

Do your staff work from home?

Flexible working has become the new norm these days. If your staff have work from home (WFH) arrangements, you need a WFH Policy.

As an employer, you still have health and safety obligations to your staff working remotely. Keep your staff and your business safe with a clear and robust Work from Home Policy.  

Download our FREE Working from Home Policy Template today! 


Long-term strategies for outage resilience 

The Optus outage has underlined that even the most robust internet infrastructure is not immune to disruptions. Internet outages can occur at any time, due to power failures, technical glitches, cyberattacks, or even natural disasters. This uncertainty means it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive.

Here are some additional steps you can take to proactively build your business resilience against future internet disruptions:

  • Plan for future outages: You need to develop a comprehensive outage response plan that outlines clear procedures for communication, task prioritisation, and alternative workflows and processes. Regularly review and update the plan to reflect changes in technology and business operations. 

  • Employee training and awareness: You should provide training to employees on alternative workflows and communication protocols during downtime. Ensure they understand how to access and use offline productivity tools and alternative communication channels. 

  • Regular testing and simulations: If you really want to prepare, you could conduct regular tests and simulations to ensure the effectiveness of your outage response plan. This allows you to to identify areas for improvement and tweak procedures based on the test results. 

Respond, recover and refine

In today’s digital age, businesses are heavily reliant on the internet for operations. From communication and collaboration to online transactions and data storage, internet connectivity has become an essential lifeline.  

When faced with an internet outage, businesses can suffer significant downtime, financial losses, and reputational damage. This means it’s vital to respond, recover and refine your plan each time an outage happens.

By following the steps listed above, you, your team and your customers won’t feel so lost in the dark next time an internet outage occurs. Rember – a blackout doesn’t have to mean down and out!  

How can Employsure help?

Over 30,000 businesses across Australia and New Zealand trust us to support them with their employment relations and workplace health & safety obligations. We can help your business too. Call our FREE Advice Line on 1300 651 415 to get all your difficult HR questions answered today. 

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