Pandemics have the power to disrupt life across the globe. The raging COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 15,000 lives in a span of a few months. It has also taken a toll on the global economy forcing many organizations to shut down temporarily. Several small businesses have had to lay off their employees and now face the threat of permanent closure.
The worst part about a pandemic is the uncertainty surrounding it. No one knows when it’s going to stop or what its full impact will be. This might even cause your employees to be absent from work due to long periods of illness. Additionally, you could lose access to crucial equipment and facilities due to lockdowns.
Fortunately, a business continuity plan can help businesses minimize the effect of the pandemic on their business. Simply put, it is a strategy that outlines the steps you should take to continue normal business operations during a pandemic. While your business still may not function at its full capacity, it will quickly recover in the aftermath.
Here are a few tips to help you design your business continuity plan:
1. Identify Core Priorities
The first step is to identify the most critical components that are integral to your business. It could be a group of employees or certain business processes. It could also be your supply chain or equipment. The key is to focus on those components that are most crucial for daily operation.
Some questions you can explore at this stage include:
- Is it possible for your business to be operational with 50% of the workforce?
- Will production be disrupted if some raw materials become unavailable?
- Will the delivery of products be delayed due to snapped supply chains?
- What equipment and facilities are necessary to keep your business running?
It is crucial to determine the impact of the absence of key resources on your business. For instance, a pandemic can disrupt global supply chains, derailing production, and delivery. Once you’ve recognized the crucial resources, you can start searching for alternate arrangements. For instance, if certain processes must be carried to keep your business operational, you should devise ways to keep them going.
2. Establish a Chain of Command
Any crisis demands swift and efficient decision-making. Can employees be allowed to work remotely? Can you start delivering your products or services to customers? Even the slightest delay in making critical decisions can have catastrophic consequences.
The problem with a pandemic is that anyone could fall prey to it, including top-level executives. It is, therefore, essential to identify key decision-makers and outline a clear chain of command. This will ensure that junior officials don’t have to wait for authorization in the absence of senior officials. It is equally crucial to assign a specific set of responsibilities to each decision-maker.
Additionally, it is recommended that you select a “pandemic manager.” This person will be responsible for screening employees and determine if they are fit to work. They will also help spread awareness among employees and keep track of who is available for work.
3. Explore Alternate Ways to Run Your Business
Let’s say you run a local restaurant. If there is an infectious disease outbreak in your city, people will likely be advised to stay home. You can, however, keep your business operational by offering to deliver hygienic and healthy food to customers. A simple change in your business model could prevent your revenue from plummeting during a pandemic.
If you can’t modify business operations, you should consider alternate staffing arrangements. The first step is to cross-train employees so that they can handle diverse tasks in the absence of their colleagues. This can be instrumental in optimizing efficiency and productivity when part of your workforce is down with an illness.
Additionally, you should explore the possibility of remote working, depending on the size and nature of your business. Some factors to be considered at this stage include client confidentiality and access to resources. Fortunately, modern technology offers a plethora of tools that can simplify the process of remote working. You could also consider transporting office computers and other crucial devices to employees’ homes.
This is also a good time to consider how you will protect employees and staff who must come to work. If they use public transportation to commute, it will put them at a higher risk of contracting an infectious disease. This, in turn, will jeopardize the health and safety of your workforce. You can avoid this by arranging sanitized vehicles to help them commute.
4. Maintain Transparent Communication
Every business requires open and uninterrupted communication to operate smoothly. The role of communication becomes even more crucial during a crisis. The absence of regular updates from senior management creates unnecessary panic among employees and staff. From spreading awareness about the diseases to updating employees about the course of action - communication is essential at every step.
You can use an emergency notification system to send constant alerts to all personnel. Make sure your messages are based on official and verified sources. It is also essential to send them at the right frequency so that your employees don’t feel overwhelmed with all the new information. To find out which is the right emergency notification system for you, check out this detailed guide.
Apart from informing employees about the pandemic, you can outline the steps you’re taking to minimize its impact. In the worst-case scenario, you should also be transparent and compassionate when informing them about layoffs, pay cuts, unpaid leave, etc. This can go a long way to ensure that they come back when your business reopens after the pandemic has been curbed.
Moreover, if some employees are working from home, you should equip them with simple and effective communication tools. Find out if an employee’s home internet connection allows unlimited bandwidth. Check for cell phone network coverage in areas where your employees live. If an employee doesn’t have a high-speed internet connection, you should consider providing them with USB dongles.
5. Update HR Policies
Employees are the most crucial assets for your business. Therefore, ensuring their health and wellbeing during a pandemic is of the utmost importance. That is why it’s essential to review your existing HR policies and make them more flexible.
You can start by finding out the number of Paid Time Off (PTO) allowed for various employees. Lifting the cap on these leaves will encourage sick employees to stay at home until they recover. Otherwise, they might be compelled to come to the office, potentially risking the lives of others at the workplace.
This is also a good time to review employee benefits, such as health insurance, family leave policies, etc. Does the existing plan cover infectious diseases caused by a pandemic? What are your obligations when an employee becomes critically ill and needs life support? These are important points to explore before the pandemic hits your workplace.
6. Test & Improve
Just like any other strategy, your business continuity plan requires rigorous testing and refinement. You can start by executing remote work trials, testing communication systems, and running mock drills for key decision-makers. If you’re considering any alternate business models, this might be a good time to test them as well. The idea is to identify gaps in your strategy and rectify them before it’s too late.
As a business owner, you can’t control the duration or outcome of a pandemic. However, you can take preventive measures to keep your business running during such a crisis. A well-rounded and robust business continuity plan reduces the impact on your sales and revenue. It also ensures that your business can quickly recover from the damaging consequences of a pandemic.
What steps have you taken to develop your business continuity plan? Share your views in the comments section below.