On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, referring to more than 100,000 cases across 110 countries and the expected risk of further spread. All companies around the globe are presented with a situation they never anticipated. This has forced organisations worldwide to take precautionary actions by restricting unnecessary employee travel, event cancellation, remote working, and many other steps.
A healthy and available workforce is an organisation’s biggest asset. Such pandemic will mean keeping some employees in quarantine resulting in business disruption. Therefore, implementing a specific ‘Pandemic Business Continuity Plan’ is paramount in order to have a plan and answer questions such as how will you contact your employees and customers? Do you have solid policies and procedures for employees working remotely? What data privacy and security controls are in place with employees accessing information at home? How will you manage employee sick period, leave and travel policies? Can your organisation continue to deliver services?
No one can say for sure what will happen in the months ahead, we have already seen to the disruption of workforces, supply chains, stock markets, and business transactions. It is imperative that organisations, now need to urgently develop, review or upgrade their business continuity plans to ensure operational resilience.
In this blog, we will be covering 7 major points that you need to consider when reviewing your business continuity plan for a pandemic.
1. Re-evaluate Business impact analysis (BIA) considering a global pandemic
It goes without saying that a pandemic forces organisation to take extraordinary measures for the smooth running of the business operations. The delivery of services and products may need to be adjusted, delayed and even stopped. Such actions can have tremendous financial impacts on businesses.
When doing a BIA most organisations evaluate the criticality of business unity during normal operations and market conditions. However, during a pandemic, there are abnormal operations and market conditions. This may impact the criticality of any given business process in your organisation. For example, should a widespread outbreak occur, then your ‘sales’ process’ would be less critical than in normal operations (as most organisations would stop B2B purchasing). However, HR department would be critical to ensuring employee health and safety2. Alternate office locations are not a viable strategy
All business continuity plans with a strategy “work from alternate site” need to be re-evaluated. With the outbreak of coronavirus, organisations have been forced to deploy more agile ways of working. As the number of COVID-19 cases spiral many countries have imposed unprecedented lockdowns. For example, in Italy and Spain enterprises are experiencing complete lockdown and working from different office locations is irrelevant. Under these circumstances, ‘work from home’ becomes the only viable solution for uninterrupted business operations. Recently, many giants like Oracle, Apple, Google, and Amazon are amongst the frontrunners who have asked their employees to work remotely as a precaution. To lower the spread of the disease, most sensible organisations have put work from home plans in place.3. Validate remote working capabilities
Is your organisation able to support your entire workforce to be remote at one time? Do you have bandwidth and VPN licenses for so many? Do your employees have laptops, telecoms or good broadband capabilities at home? These are some of the questions that you need to have answers to. If not, make sure that you work with the IT department and set-up the remote work environment for your workforce. Every tool that allows your employees to work from home like email, VPN, instant messaging, video conferencing, document sharing should be installed and thoroughly checked.
Some organisations also overlook that not all employees know how to work from home; appropriate guidance and help needs to be in place to ensure all employees know how to access the tools they need remotely. Many organisations fall into false sense of security as they think ‘we have people working from home all the time’. However, there is a big difference between people working from home for convenience vs mandatory working from home due to region/country wide shut down; therefore, this needs to be thoroughly tested.
4. Communication must be quick, clear and supportive
In the time of crises, communication holds the biggest part. If your employees are working from home, ensure that they have a clear work schedule laid out. Curate a detailed communication plan/calendar for your employees and customers with regular updates and actions that needs to be taken. Make sure that all key team members are aware of the roles and responsibilities they must perform once the plan is executed. This will help to reduce confusion and will ensure uninterrupted business operations. Inform your employees if there are any changes in company policies. Lastly, if your employee or client becomes ill, be ready to make quick decisions and share information with key stakeholders.5. Cybersecurity tips for remote workers
The rapid increase in remote working can cause some coronavirus-related phishing attacks. Ensure that your workforce doesn’t mix work and leisure activities on the same device and be particularly careful with any emails referencing the coronavirus. Warn your employees against any suspicious emails asking them to check or renew their passwords and login credentials even if they seem to come from a trusted source. Conduct program update checks, penetration testing and use vulnerability scanners to assess computers.6. Know your vendor’s emergency plan
As organisations prepare to combat COVID-19, they also need to ensure their vendors have a proper pandemic plan in place. Make sure that you have a detailed plan-of-action from your most critical vendors. If you don’t have one, request it now. What if your vendor plans to close operations? Will operations be sustainable if your vendor’s employees work remotely? What are your plans in a lockdown scenario? These are some questions that you need to ask your vendor. Prepare a plan and be aware of how that affects all your business relationships. Work with your vendor to design a business continuity plan without interrupting business operations. Also, just like the need to ‘re-evaluate’ criticality of business units, there is a need to re-evaluate criticality of suppliers considering a pandemic as there may be different suppliers who are required to support reduced operations.7. Create a hub for employee information
Amidst the coronavirus hysteria, and constant updates from various media channels, employees can get affected by false facts. It's your responsibility to create a centralised location where updates and the latest information can be compiled and avoid confusion. Create a separate page on your website or on the intranet. It is important to communicate whether there are any active or monitored cases within your organisation/facilities or not. Educate your staff and tell them about some basic hygiene and precautionary actions that they can take. Make it easy for employees to ask questions that cannot be answered on the webpage. Create a supportive environment so that employees will be able to focus on the job during the chaos. Without proper guidance, training and open lines of communication, your workplace can be susceptible to hysteria and panic.
These seven measures will help you to create a robust business continuity plan for uninterrupted business operations in these difficult times. Make sure you have a business continuity management framework in place to address any potential contingencies.
Taking a cue, to help organisations we have developed a template specifically, for a pandemic situation intended for you to put strategies in place and mitigate risks.