Globally, businesses are feeling the pressure of COVID-19. The ripple effect of the pandemic is expected to continue to affect financial markets, global supply chains, and workforce mobility and, since pandemics are not your typical disruptive event, the benefits of proper organisational planning cannot be overstated.
Pandemic preparedness requires extensive organisational planning at all levels to counter the business and human impact of COVID-19. The uncertain timeframe and the length of disease outbreaks mean we all have to develop short- and long-term plans for protecting employee health, assessing third-party exposure, and ensuring continuity of operations. We briefly list the impact areas and corresponding plans below.
Impact areas and corresponding plans
Pandemic preparedness plans (and for the most part all business continuity plans) should focus on:
- Minimising the impact on staff – establish effective communication with employees. How business leaders act during critical moments such as these, will leave lasting marks on their companies and their people. If this is within your means, consider offering psychological and financial support to your staff.
- Minimising the impact on the organisational supply chain and service delivery – during a disruptive event such as the current pandemic, businesses must distinguish between those processes that are critical to operations continuity (as well as what resources are required to support critical operations) and which processes or services can be suspended temporarily.
- Minimising the impact upon the IT infrastructure – a disaster recovery plan can facilitate a seamless return to normal operations and assist to anticipate IT infrastructure needs.
- Protecting the corporate reputation – a crisis communication plan can help businesses prepare for reputational risks while addressing confusion among employees, stakeholders, and clients.
- Enabling the business to return to a new normal sooner – a business continuity plan can significantly improve a business’s resilience. It is, therefore, necessary to determine the resources necessary for operations, how fast these need to be available and recreate those in the BCP. Important areas to consider include human resources, facilities management, communication systems, IT, infrastructure and public relations.
Turns can come in different forms
Economic turns are not uncommon in business, and most business leaders have survived several. However, these turns may blindside you suddenly and unexpectedly such as a security breach, a ransomware attack, or a sudden lockdown due to a pandemic. In these cases, the gravitational pull in the turns may be extreme and the time to impact short. These turns furthermore often overlap and so increase the need to react on different business vectors. Such a range of changes often requires shifts in strategic and operational decisions which, in turn, requires a high-performing executive team.
As a business, we have decided to use the downtime during lockdown not only to ensure business continuity but also to get our house in order and develop a pandemic preparedness plan. We love to share some of our reflections with you:
- In the pre-emption that there would be a national lockdown, we encouraged employees to work remotely. Remote work programmes were therefore essential. Remote work programmes executed correctly will give your business the competitive edge to not only retain your valued talent but also your clients. This could further alleviate some of the financial impacts of the lockdown.
- In order to ensure that the remote work programmes ran smoothly, our business leaders first assisted staff and other stakeholders to overcome their fears of implementing remote work where necessary to ensure we remain a seamless, virtual business unit. Then, we very quickly evaluated the status of all the projects in our production pipeline and came up with ways of maintaining momentum by introducing innovations that ensured minimal disruption to progress while still adding value that clients would be able to use beyond the pandemic.
- We updated our policies to explicitly clarify employee responsibility during a pandemic. Well-designed policies always benefit remote work programmes and provide a sense of stability in volatile times.
- This process will also give you a bird’s eye view of which individuals are suitable for remote working and who needs more support to effectively function outside the traditional office environment.
Using the time during lockdown wisely does not only mean ensuring business as usual. We should take advantage of this time to look hard and thorough at the business as a whole to see how pandemic preparedness can spur innovation through uncertain times that can carry us through the next disruptive event.