May 21, 2020

Updating your business continuity plan: Lessons learned from COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having an up-to-date business continuity plan to help organizations better prepare for a crisis, manage the workforce amid the changing landscape, and support the resumption of regular business activities after the crisis has subsided. From lessons learned during COVID-19, here is a checklist of items to consider when updating your business continuity plan or developing one for the first time.

Many organizations 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 organizations 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: only 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 organizations 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 organizations 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, organizations 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.

Business continuity lessons learned from COVID-19

Research shows that the financial services sector has been the most prepared for COVID-19, with 80% of directors indicating that they believed their firms were very prepared to respond to such events. These organizations are able to draw strength from adapting to new ways of working, with over two-thirds (68%) reporting that moving quickly to adjust to the sharp drop in activity, and being able to function in a flexible work environment, has better equipped their companies for the long run.

This highlights the need for organizations across all industries to better develop their crisis preparedness plans so they can focus on continued business success and resiliency. Further, experts suggest that leading organizations document what they’ve done as part of their response in order to remain agile and better adjust their business continuity plans going forward.

Limiting risk with an effective business continuity plan

An effective business continuity plan can help organizations reassign resources, communicate effectively both internally and externally, and ensure minimal impact on continued operations. Organizations 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. Organizations 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 prioritizing their needs and protecting their health and safety.

Creating or updating your business continuity plan

Before organizations update or develop their continuity strategies, Deloitte emphasizes the importance of performing an in-depth analysis on the organization’s current state of preparedness. What are the current operational risks? What impact will this risk have on the business? This analysis will help organizations 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.

Protect the health and safety of the workforce

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, organizations will need to mobilize 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 organizational 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.

  • Update company policies. For a pandemic, this should involve policies around physical distancing and limiting the spread of the disease:
    • Create space between workstations.
    • Set up a policy around in-person meetings, for example, limiting the meetings to three people or fewer and only holding an in-person meeting when necessary.
    • Consider closing common areas, including conference rooms and cafeterias.
    • Enforce a “no visitor” policy.
    • Consider new scheduling practices, such as allowing a portion of the workforce to re-enter at a time if they feel comfortable to do so.
  • Implement travel restrictions during a crisis and update travel policies on an ongoing basis to include regions the government deems safe to travel. Employees who travel for business or personal matters will need to follow public health guidelines regarding isolation upon returning.
  • For essential workers who may need to continue to work on-site or in the office, organizations should provide, at minimum, hygiene items such as hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, masks, and gloves. Depending on the individual’s role and risk of exposure, more specialized personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators, face shields, and goggles may be required. Organizations must also consider appropriate safety equipment for the rest of the workforce as they re-enter the workplace.
  • Inform and encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 if they suspect possible exposure.
  • Organizations will need to have a plan in place to identify and support employees impacted by disruption. In the case of COVID-19, this would include identifying employees who show symptoms of COVID-19. Employers can track when employees are experiencing symptoms and with whom they have been in contact.
    • Develop a company policy to immediately isolate people who show symptoms. For example, move potentially infectious people away from other employees, customers, and visitors.
      • Tell employees to notify their manager and leave the workplace immediately to self-isolate.
      • Set a policy around when sick employees can return to work once they have recovered. The CDC recommends that sick employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met.
      • Put a leave policy in place around caring for sick family members.

Determine how the business will continue to operate during and after a crisis

Organizations 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.

Financial services leaders in Deloitte’s Confronting the crisis survey mentioned the need to reimagine the talent operating model including what work gets done and where it’s done. Organizations 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, organizations can identify which actions should be taken immediately based on the exposure to risk. Here are some key questions to ask in that process:

  • What are the business critical roles and activities? This might include revenue generating activities and customer support.
  • What are the potential threats to the continued operations of these roles?
  • How will the organization support these roles and mitigate risk?

As the rest of the workforce re-enters the workplace, essential employees who are working on-site will be at further risk of contracting COVID-19. What extra steps are being taken to ensure essential employees are safe? As well, organizations must train back-up should essential employees fall ill during the first wave of the pandemic or during a possible resurgence of the disease. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a greater need for organizations to adopt new practices to build contingency skill matrices, deeper succession plans beyond the executive suite, fast employee onboarding, and training.

Ensure internal technology readiness to support the workforce

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.

  • Identify technology that will be used for employees such as video conferencing software. People should also be familiar with the technology they’re using to limit barriers to productivity as they move to a new remote environment, for example using Single Sign-On, setting up a VPN, and understanding how to contact technical support when needed.
  • Increase VPN capacity. Larger organizations may need the ability to scale up and scale down across locations.
  • Ensure IT teams are on standby for home network troubleshooting and diagnostics. Some challenges employees may experience in a remote setting include trouble connecting to Wi-Fi, setting up a printer, connecting to the VPN, etc.
  • Set up a policy around technology lending. Prepare laptops and other equipment to be shipped as required. Also, if possible, allow employees to obtain or request other equipment such as keyboards and monitors.
  • Provide learning management software to help train employees on topics such as setting up VPNs or remote work productivity. Ceridian is offering a learning portal with resources available free-of-charge to both Dayforce customers and prospects. Access the Learning Portal.
  • Consider extending company technology for personal use, such as allowing employees to use video conferencing software for personal calls.

Related: Engaging remote employees: Eight strategies for the new world of work

Related: COVID-19: IT is the key to business continuity

Develop a business continuity program

Having a business continuity program in place will help organizations mitigate risk and lower the impact of disruption to business continuity of emerging risks more seamlessly and effectively. 

  • Identify an emergency response team and assign the responsibility of emergency preparedness to the dedicated team. The team may include people from the C-suite as well as managers and other employees.
  • Determine organizational objectives for the business continuity program. Here are a few objectives to consider:
    1. Ensuring the continuity of business operations
    2. Monitoring and protecting employee health and safety
    3. Facilitating physical site management
    4. Supporting technology readiness
    5. Being responsive with employees, customers, vendors, partners, and shareholders
  • Organizations can also set up a dedicated email address and telephone number for employees to contact a crisis representative for assistance 24/7.

Establish an internal communications plan

A recently published paper from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) states that false reassurances can backfire. Even when the news itself is negative, candor when communicating company updates will help employees feel well-informed which can build trust.

As part of an effective business continuity plan, organizations 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.

  • Increase frequency of communications. Organizations can set up a daily and weekly communication cadence in which senior leadership such as the CEO or COO deploys information about what is happening within the business, how many employees (if any) have been infected, how company policies are changing, travel restrictions that have been implemented or updated, etc. Here is an example of a communication cadence companies can rollout across their organization:
    • Daily calls with leadership
      • Business continuity core team maintains a touch-base to develop an action plan for the day, review of changes in the situation, and discuss recent decisions that are being made.
    • Daily email communications
      • Update senior leadership on recent business continuity management activities and decisions regarding health and safety of employees, technology support, facilities, customer operations, government announcements, and communications from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
      • Send an email to all employees from the CEO or COO that includes reinforcement of messaging to employees, changes to business operations, as well as messages about available resources for employees.
    • Weekly all-hands calls
      • Weekly all-hands calls to different regions that are operating globally. Provide an update and answer any questions employees may have. Make sure employees understand you are prioritizing their health and safety.
  • Organizations should identify a key leader to share accurate information, such as the CEO or COO.
  • Identify a key contact and assign the responsibility of ensuring all information that is shared with the workforce is accurate and gathered from credible sources. Timely and accurate information is a key component of engaging and protecting the workforce. The spread of inaccurate information can put employees in harm’s way and contribute to distrust of the employer. 
  • Establish a plan to respond to the spread of misinformation.
  • As the crisis evolves, communicate how it is impacting the workforce and may affect employees such as compensation and merit decisions, timing of performance reviews, updates to travel restrictions, as well as information on what the return to work will look like.
  • Determine how information will be disseminated to employees who may not have access to email, for example, employees that are working on the floor. 

Protect the workforce and meet demand with updated workforce scheduling  

  • Ensure flexibility around work schedules. As employees are working from home, some may be managing kids who are also at home or caring for a sick family member. This plan may include allowing for flexible working hours such as taking two hours to help a child with homework.
  • Forecast spikes in demand and set up a system to allow for extended leave of absences. This is critical during a pandemic as employees may contract the disease or must stay home to take care of sick family members.
  • Make scheduling accessible. For industries that are experiencing a spike in demand, consider providing self-service scheduling capabilities so employees can make changes to their shifts on the go.
  • Build out a return to workplace plan by implementing a phased return approach to help minimize risk to health and safety of the workforce and protect business operations. All reopening decisions should be made on a location-by-location basis. For COVID-19, organizations will need to consider local governmental orders and continuous decreases in new cases. 
    • Workforce management technology can help provide oversight into scheduling requirements, manage leave requests, and track absences. As well, organizations can better understand employee availability and forecast demand while supporting a phased return to work approach.

Many employees may not be comfortable returning to the workplace, in which case organizations will need a plan in place to allow for extended remote working arrangements until employees feel safe returning.

Provide consistently accessible mental health resources for the workforce

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 organizations can support the mental well-being of employees as a key part of their business continuity plans.

Related: How to help employees cope throughout the five stages of COVID-19

Related: Resources for employers to support the mental health of their workforce

Related: Ways to support employees who may be overloaded or under stress

Set up systems to collect employee feedback

As COVID-19 continues to evolve, organizations are realizing that employee engagement is a critical part of business continuity. During a crisis, organizations 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.

Organizations 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 organization. This will help build trust as well as identify any problem areas that organizations will need to respond to. Incorporating methods of gathering employee feedback such deploying a remote work benchmark survey will help organizations better understand how employees are coping with the transition. As well, organizations 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.

  • Determine metrics to measure such as remote work effectiveness or overall engagement.
  • Set a cadence for deploying these surveys throughout the different phases of the crisis.
  • Identify and respond quickly to problem areas.

Related: Engaging remote employees: Eight strategies for the new world of work

Building an agile workforce to support business resiliency in the future

The impact the pandemic has had on businesses and their workforce will be long-lasting. The majority of CFOs expect their company to take at least three months to recover once the virus recedes. Even after companies get back to speed, organizations should not expect to return to a pre-pandemic state. Employees will have different needs and expectations, customers will have different purchasing behaviours, and suppliers will be playing catch-up. COVID-19 has set a new preparedness benchmark in which organizations will need to continuously adapt and evolve their strategies to better prepare for future risks. Without the right technology and processes in place to mobilize, reskill, schedule, and pay employees, organizations 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. Organizations can consider alternatives to on-premise solutions and move to cloud human capital management technology. This will help centralize workforce data and insights and maintain up-to-date information that organizations can access when needed. This type of technology can also help organizations intelligently schedule, pay, train and reskill their workforce to better support business continuity as well as gain the momentum needed to thrive post-crisis.

 

Team Ceridian

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