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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 organizations mitigate risk and lower the impact of disruption to business continuity of emerging risks more seamlessly and effectively.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.