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On Sunday 9 February, the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo was rocked by a massive thunderstorm. Then the heavens opened and the deluge continued throughout the night. The city of 12m people woke the next morning to find large areas of the centre and surrounding suburbs flooded; electricity was down and public transport was at a standstill. Commuters were left stranded, unable to get to their downtown offices, and power cuts meant working from home was also not an option for many. That’s when a business leader posted a message on LinkedIn that rescued the working lives of thousands of residents.
That notice was posted by Tiago Alves, IWG’s country manager for Brazil, and it invited anyone who needed an office that day to use one of the 34 Regus or Spaces coworking sites dotted around São Paulo free of charge. The post went viral, and soon the centres – that usually serve 16,000 customers – swelled with people who desperately needed a place to do business. When the weather still hadn’t improved by Tuesday, IWG decided to extend the offer for a second day, by the end of which Alves reckons around 4,500 workers had used a Regus centre for the first time. “We estimated that we gave back around 8 million real, which is roughly £1.5m, to the São Paulo economy as a result of opening our doors to everyone,” explains Alves. “Large corporations also started to send their employees to our centres, as well as entrepreneurs and even judges who could not go to the courts.”
But how did Regus centres stay open for business when others struggled? The secret, says Alves, was a carefully thought-out workplace recovery plan. So what does that look like? He says that companies must first map out where their staff work and live – and that means all employees, not just IT or top management. Secondly, companies need to test providers to make sure they have solutions to the problems they’re likely to envisage, whether that involves transporting goods, Wi-Fi networks, warehouses or workplaces. It’s important to know there’s a backup plan that definitely works in practice. Finally, Alves states it’s also about adopting the mindset that anything can go wrong – and being prepared for it.
Following the flooding, his first action was to hold an emergency call with the IWG leadership in Brazil. They then checked their employees were safe and, because they already knew where they lived, were able to put contingency plans in place to get them to work in the absence of public transport. Once that was accomplished, the flexspace-provider focused on getting the message out to customers old and new that it was business as usual.
Gilberto Tiburcio, IWG’s workplace recovery lead in LATAM, says that even if the risk of natural disaster is low for your company, it is always better to be prepared. He explains: “We cannot forget, for example, the last hurricanes in North America, which affected a lot of companies. Some survived but others not, since they could not cover their loss of revenue. He adds: “Everybody knows that a disaster recovery plan is important, but most of company directors are only reminded of it after an incident happens – and sometimes this is too late.”
Regus offers its customers its own workplace recovery plans, and Alves says many of them benefited from that service during the floods. He adds that the crisis provided a worthwhile example of why coworking spaces should be part of the solution for any company in any industry. “When a time like this comes, we make sure we seat thousands of visitors, without impacting our regular customers and without impacting our operations, and helping people to produce on a chaotic Monday,” he states. “This is living proof that the future of offices is the flexibility that coworking spaces bring to not only São Paulo businesses but any company in the world.”