Many organisations worldwide were left unprepared for the COVID-19 crisis. A survey conducted by Ernst and Young found that only 21% of board members believe their organisations were “very prepared to respond to an adverse risk event from a planning, communications, recovery and resilience standpoint” before the COVID-19 outbreak. Research studies point to why this number is so low: half of companies (51%) around the world do not have a plan or protocols in place to respond to a global emergency, such as a pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, businesses of all sizes altered their work arrangements to support physical distancing and quickly transitioned their workforces to virtual working environments where applicable. Many organisations are also experiencing new workforce and operational challenges such as increases or decreases in demand, or supply chain disruption. The impact the pandemic has had on companies of all sizes has been seismic, with some industries being hit harder than others.
Developing a business continuity plan has often been a compliance-focused exercise conducted as a requirement by regulators, instead of being treated as a business-critical necessity. Today, organisations worldwide understand how impactful and disruptive a crisis can be on business operations and the economy and importantly, the consequences of not doing business continuity planning.
Research shows that the financial services sector has been the most prepared for COVID-19. Within the sector, directors had a higher level of confidence. According to a survey of 500 global board members and CEOs, nearly three-quarters (71%) claimed to be extremely or nearly extremely satisfied in their effectiveness in overseeing how changes to the risk landscape lead to adjustments to risk appetite. However, there’s still room for improvement. Another survey found that only a quarter of financial services firms relied on existing business continuity plans to manage through the early days of the crisis. About 40% used modified plans and a third created new ones on the fly.
Organisations across all industries will need to rethink their crisis preparedness plans so they can focus on continued business success and resiliency. Further, experts suggest that leading organisations document what they’ve done as part of their response in order to remain agile and better adjust their business continuity plans going forward.
An effective business continuity plan can help organisations reassign resources, communicate effectively both internally and externally, and ensure minimal impact on continued operations. Organisations that maintain updated business continuity plans or business resiliency plans will be able to lessen the impact of a crisis to support continued operations and more easily resume business activities after the crisis has subsided. Organisations that keep their plans up to date and implement lessons learned are four times more likely to come out on top. Further, a widely understood and properly communicated business continuity plan signals to the workforce that you’re prioritising their needs and protecting their health and safety.
Before organisations update or develop their continuity strategies, Deloitte emphasises the importance of performing an in-depth analysis on the organisation’s current state of preparedness. What are the current operational risks? What impact will this risk have on the business? This analysis will help organisations understand what the possible implications will be and how long it will take to recover and return to business as usual.
Though business continuity plans will vary from business to business, we’ve put together a checklist of items to consider as you prepare for either a possible resurgence of COVID-19 or other potential crises in the years to come.
Protecting the health and safety of the workforce during a crisis should be at the top of every business’s priority list. In certain situations, such as a pandemic, organisations will need to mobilise the workforce to protect their people against the spread of the disease. They will also need to think about the return to work and plan this critical return intelligently as part of their larger organisational responsibility – not only to employees, customers, and shareholders, but also to the broader society. Here are several considerations to keep top of mind to protect the health and safety of employees. For COVID-19, this means limiting the spread of the disease and supporting physical distancing measures for employees who remain on-site, as well as considering the transitional period when the rest of the workforce returns.
Organisations will need to put a plan in place to protect the continued operations of critical business processes. In response to COVID-19, some businesses in industries such as healthcare and parcel delivery services are experiencing a spike in demand, while others such as travel and tourism have shut down or pivoted their operations.
Organisations should conduct a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) to identify critical and non-critical functions and roles and understand what will be needed to keep critical roles operational. By doing this, organisations can identify which actions should be taken immediately based on the exposure to risk. Here are some key questions to ask in that process:
As the rest of the workforce re-enters the workplace, essential employees who are working on-site may be at further risk of contracting COVID-19. What extra steps are being taken to ensure essential employees are safe? Organisations must train back-up resources, should essential employees fall ill during either the first wave of the pandemic or during a possible resurgence of the disease. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a greater need for organisations to adopt new practices to build contingency skill matrices, deeper succession plans beyond the executive suite, fast employee onboarding, and training.
Technology readiness will help reduce friction points in the event that regular work arrangements are disrupted. With the health pandemic, we saw a mass shift to remote work, and now we’re seeing many companies extending remote work policies going forward. In their business continuity plans, companies should understand the infrastructure required to limit technical risk during transitional periods.
Having a business continuity program in place will help organisations mitigate risk and lower the impact of disruption to business continuity of emerging risks more seamlessly and effectively.
As part of an effective business continuity plan, organisations will need to take into account the process in which information such as company updates will be disseminated across the workforce. While the type of crisis will depend on a case-by-case basis, a global crisis such as a pandemic will require a global action plan.
Many employees may not be comfortable returning to the workplace, in which case organisations will need a plan in place to allow for extended remote working arrangements until employees feel safe returning.
During a crisis, employee mental health can suffer as the workforce may experience increased stress from economic uncertainty, caring for sick family members, fear of contagion, and more. Here are a few ways organisations can support the mental well-being of employees as a key part of their business continuity plans.
As COVID-19 continues to evolve, organisations are realising that employee engagement is a critical part of business continuity. During a crisis, organisations need to focus extra effort on tailoring employee experiences to meet the evolving needs of the workforce and drive engagement. According to experts, a crisis presents opportunity to transform engagement strategies to improve productivity and business performance.
Organisations will need to set up systems to collect employee feedback and foster two-way communication between leadership and all other levels of employees across the organisation. This will help build trust as well as identify any problem areas that organisations will need to respond to. Incorporating methods of gathering employee feedback such deploying a remote work benchmark survey will help organisations better understand how employees are coping with the transition. As well, organisations should also have the right technology in place to provide managers with real-time data from surveys so they can identify trends and build specific action plans to respond accordingly.
The impact the pandemic has had on businesses and their workforce will be long-lasting. Even after companies get back to speed, organisations should not expect to return to a pre-pandemic state. Employees will have different needs and expectations, customers will have different purchasing behaviors, and suppliers will be playing catch-up. COVID-19 has set a new preparedness benchmark in which organisations will need to continuously adapt and evolve their strategies to better prepare for future risks. Without the right human capital management technology and processes in place, organisations will find it harder to recover after a crisis has passed.
Prior to COVID-19, cloud computing had seen mainstream adoption, with the vast majority of businesses opting to transition one or more of their critical businesses functions to cloud software. Today, cloud technology plays a fundamental role in any business continuity plan. Organisations can consider alternatives to on-premise solutions and move to cloud human capital management technology. This will help centralise workforce data and insights and maintain up-to-date information that organisations can access when needed. This type of technology can also help organisations intelligently schedule, pay, train and reskill their workforce to better support business continuity as well as gain the momentum needed to thrive post-crisis.