With the spread of COVID-19 and the establishment of corresponding emergency measures, now is a crucial time for organizations to review and update their business continuity plan. While the organizations fortunate enough to transition to a work from home strategy are just adapting to this new way of working, the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic will quickly be upon us. High absenteeism will soon become the norm due to sickness and the need to care for loved ones who are ill.
We expect that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in business interruptions for at least six to eight months, with a worst-case scenario of interruptions lasting for twelve to twenty-four months. With that in mind, we are sharing our top ten considerations for planning, developing and executing a business continuity plan and a business recovery plan.
Establish clear succession planning and assignment of authority
Organizations must ensure that responsibilities for each role are appropriately assigned if a person is absent for an extended period. In addition to having clear responsibility for completing tasks, assignment of authority is important to ensure that sign-off for critical activities can continue. Things can come to a grinding halt if a leader who has sole signing authority for essential tasks is unavailable.
Question: Are there any critical activities that could not be executed if the leader of your business unit/division/organization was absent for four weeks?
Prepare for reductions in resource availability
Develop plans to accommodate significant changes in resource availability. How will the organization react if more than half of departmental staff are unavailable due to sickness? How will the organization respond if a city shuts down due to a natural disaster and staff are unavailable?
Question: How will operations continue if a quarter of your organization’s staff are absent due to illness?
Plan for large swings in demand
If a significant increase in demand occurs (e.g., an increase in insurance claims due to a natural disaster), how will the organization respond?
Question: How would you respond if volume were to double in a week?
Establish rules to triage requests
If an organization is unable to maintain service levels due to an unforeseen event, clear rules to triage work must be ready and in place. These rules should detail how to manage lower priority activities and how to action high priority activities when capacity is constrained. Telehealth Ontario has set clear triage rules for low-risk people who have non-critical COVID-19 symptoms and who haven’t been in contact with someone who has travelled: self-isolate, stay home and avoid visiting a health care facility.
Question: How will your organization action low-priority requests when there is a lack of capacity?
Ensure critical systems are redundant
Critical systems must be backed up and duplicated in case the main core systems stop working or fail. Review all systems to determine which are critical and how to access each in the event of an outage.
Question: Do you have backup systems in place if critical systems fail?
Develop remote working capabilities
As much as “hot-offices” and re-directing traffic to other sites can help with business continuity, the ability for staff to work remotely has never been more crucial. Providing laptops instead of desktops and establishing remote access capabilities are just a couple of considerations to execute a remote working strategy. Can the VPN server handle the increase in traffic when the entire workforce works from home? Do staff have sufficient data limits and bandwidth for video conferencing?
Question: What would it take for 100% of your organization’s workforce to work from home?
Expand customer self-service options
Giving customers, partners and staff the option to self-serve through digital channels can reduce or even eliminate the need for face-to-face interaction. Luckily, banks developed online banking years ago, allowing customers to bank remotely in the current crisis. Digitization and automation solutions greatly expand the opportunity for organizations to offer self-serve options.
Question: What activities could customers and staff access through digital channels?
Automate standard tasks
If the current COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt business for 12 to 24 months (hopefully not), work to automate activities will help to limit future business disruptions. Automating standard and repeatable tasks will free up the capacity to focus on more critical activities.
Question: What processes could be automated by your organization in the next 4 to 6 months?
Develop remote options to coach and mentor employees
With the current need to work from home, it will become increasingly challenging to provide the basics of stable and continuous leadership. For example, how will coaching and mentorship be provided to staff when leaders are unable to meet face-to-face? How will staff receive guidance, leadership and coaching if their manager is absent for an extended period? Remote solutions will be critical to supporting the ongoing coaching and mentorship of employees.
Question: How will leaders provide coaching and mentorship remotely?
Design solutions to maintain strong employee engagement and morale
Working from home will make it difficult for staff to stay connected and maintain strong social bonds. As a result, employee engagement and morale could suffer. Develop solutions to help team members connect and have fun. Many networking platforms, such as Teams and Slack, provide ways for people to connect and share ideas and concerns. Virtual huddles and weekly team socials can also help with spirit and teamwork and camaraderie.
Question: What tools and activities will you leverage to help sustain employee engagement in the event of business disruption?
Establish clear channels for internal and external communication
Organizations must communicate clearly and decisively with their employees and customers. Communicate with staff what the organization is doing and how their roles will be impacted. Maintain up-to-date contact information so you can quickly and easily reach staff, then track who hasn’t received the messages so you can reach out through another channel. Effective channels for communication with staff include email, video conference and phone.
Communicate frequently with customers about how service or offering capabilities will be impacted. Effective channels for communication with customers include email, IVR and social media. By communicating with clarity and transparency, organizations can alleviate employee and customer anxieties.
Question: Which channels could you use to communicate with staff? Which could you use to communicate with customers?
Establish back up practices for all essential tasks
Establish back up procedures for all essential tasks, then define, document and train staff on them. Ensure customer transactions can still be processed, even if systems failures delay the transactions. Develop a systems failover for networks and servers. Test back procedures frequently and measure testing outcomes.
Question: How would your staff perform essential tasks if they could not access the office if there was a power outage or system shutdown?
Maintain reserve funds in case of an emergency
There are many variables that can occur during a business disruption that require additional funds. An increase in customer demand might require an increase in staff hours, while a decrease in demand might result in a decline in revenue. A natural disaster might require a company to move to a different location. Reserve funds will enable a company to pay for unplanned for expenses in an emergency.
Question: Do you have enough funds reserved for a business disruption?