Data center professionals are some of the best-prepared leaders for dealing with extreme risk and unprecedented change. Managers have a high-reliability mindset, are process and procedures-driven, and have rich and varied areas of expertise. Even so, Covid-19 is placing a strain on all leaders and managers.

During this crisis, Uptime Institute offers some advice for leaders, based on recent consultations and member meetings:


COVID-19: Minimizing critical facility risk

This advisory report has been produced by Uptime Institute to help operators of critical infrastructure facilities prepare for, and respond to, the impact of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

People first.

Highlight the criticality of staff well-being — both physically and mentally — and follow through with recommended measures.

  1. Share credible information.
    Information reduces stress and diminishes fear caused by the unknown. Regularly share your organization’s evolving plans. For external information, only use government and other trusted sources (not social media or news outlets).
  2. Don’t neglect personal needs.
    Senior managers must be ready and available when needed. Take private, short breaks, avoid negative mindsets and be assertive in protecting your time and priorities.These steps will enable senior managers to lead more effectively and calmly — and to be more present and available for staff.
  3. Critical industry exemptions
    Throughout much of the world, restrictions on movement and behavior are in place, some confining citizens to their homes. Certain operators have expressed concerns that their staff will not be allowed to travel to work. Most governments maintain lists of critical occupations and industries that are exempt from restrictions. Data center facilities are very often not on the list.

In March 2020, the US government moved to clarify this. The CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) designated the IT and data center sector as critical and exempt from Covid-related restrictions, such as shelter-in-place. The exemptions specifically cover most key engineering, operations and IT operational roles. Full details can be found here.

The UK government’s Cabinet Office and the Department for Education has also now designated the data infrastructure sector as critical, and staff are exempt from restrictions. Details are available here. The UK trade body TechUK is lobbying to have contractors, such as cleaning and maintenance teams, specially added

Other governments have also declared the IT and digital infrastructure sectors as essential and have exempt data center and telecom infrastructure staff from restrictions. Elsewhere, staff are traveling to and from work under vaguer guidelines; some governments have not classified data center/digital infrastructure/IT/telecom professionals or industries as exempt but have granted permission to those performing important or essential work. And, at the time of publication, some countries are yet to impose any work restrictions. Examples of each are shown in Table 1.

uptime covid bulletin table 1.png
Exemption status of data center, telecom, digital infrastructure and IT staff from work-commute restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic – Uptime Institute

So far, Uptime Institute’s globally dispersed staff report no instances of (healthy, nonexposed) data center staff being restricted from commuting to sites in any country.


  • Contact local authorities to confirm exemption status, and lobby for this if it is not already explicit.
  • Ensure site staff are prepared with documentation of their employment and, if appropriate, the organization’s Covid-19 response plan.
  • Construction projects are considered exempt in some countries or states. In others, the rules are open to interpretation. Seek clarification
  • Evaluate projects that could impact data center operational stability. Defer if possible.