There’s been a proliferation of advice on business continuity emanating from all corners of the business world lately. And it’s no wonder, as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken over all hearts and minds, and the global markets have ground to snail’s pace.
The world can and must go on, they tell us; this crisis has revealed not just the resilience of business leaders, but also those whose operations teams were prepared for such a crisis. The organizations who recognized the importance of business continuity planning in times of smooth sailing are now finding themselves more nimble and better equipped to pivot operations—even when a unique crisis like COVID-19 was not part of the plan.
Prepared or not, organizations must now work within the current landscape. Many governments are offering support such as loans and staff furlough schemes to help companies make it through relatively intact.
Keeping the home fires burning
But even those with a plan won’t be finding this situation to be smooth sailing. While best practice dictates your business continuity plan should really have been thought of ahead of a crisis, not once it hits, these plans can only go so far. It can help you to set up remote operations, for example, or sets out the role of the board or of directors when needs arise. What it probably won’t do is take it the next step and guide you to business continuity throughout a crisis such as COVID-19.
Normally a business continuity plan provides assurance that the relevant plans are in place, tested, people are trained and the organization is ready to respond. However, you never know how the markets, people and businesses will respond to a crisis. It’s one thing to think about business continuity when your own organization is hit by, say, a cyber breach or an earthquake; it’s another thing when the entire world is impacted by that crisis.
So whether you were prepared, or you’re still working on that pivot, there are aspects of operations that you should be looking at to help ensure business continuity through COVID-19. Even if you’re only just starting on your business continuity journey, you need some swift and steady planning to reassure the board that you’re protecting the enterprise and stakeholders.
A 10-point checklist for business continuity through COVID-19
If you find yourself in the midst of this crisis with no real plan for business continuity, start by working on these 10 elements of planning.
How can you ensure the mental and physical safety of employees? It’s important to stress the mental side here, too—the lockdowns happening as part of COVID-19 will be taking a toll on employees’ mental health, and burned out or distracted employees can make mistakes more. Remember to encourage them to keep as fit and healthy as possible so there is less of a long-term impact.
Consider your staffing needs, too. It may be that COVID-19 has resulted in reduced operations and capacity for your business, which may require pivots. Governments around the world are looking at furlough and job retention schemes, so check for details in your jurisdictions.
That new campaign your marketing team was planning? The change in packaging for that product? The move into new markets? Ask yourself if now is really the time to be doing these things. Certainly, any communications coming from your organization need to be in tone with the market, and full of empathy. The hard sell may need to take a backseat while the rest of the business figures out how to stay afloat.
If your business operations, and especially your legal operations, were built around on-premises software or a need to be in the office/on the network to access essential business tools, your people are probably struggling right now. Look into the tools and technologies that can both enable business continuity, and also streamline operations for the future. This could be a blessing in disguise!
It’s easy to be blinded by the short-term right now—by the need to just stay in business—but you should also be thinking about the potential long-term financial impact of any decisions you make. Ensure you do scenario planning before making a decision, but also consider temporarily diverting budget to essential services.
How can you keep the company ticking over when the economy is shrinking? How can you enable your workforce to get stuff done? As with the tools you use, the way you use them and the general ways of working across the business may need to be rethought.
But as you pull the curtains across and try to stay in business, remember your suppliers and other stakeholders. If they go under, it will impact your business—and everyone will remember how you treated them in a time of crisis. Keep relationships strong, and look after your suppliers, but also make sure you conduct a risk assessment across the supply chain as a “just in case” scenario.
Keep relationships with stakeholders strong, too—that means keeping the lines of communication open, and ensuring stakeholders and shareholders all feel secure that the organization is being looked after and is taking a considered and measured approach to business continuity during the crisis.
Reviewing and rescoping
The COVID-19 landscape changes every day, which means you’ll need to keep any business continuity planning under constant review. Create an internal taskforce to go over the numbers, the risk management plans, the scenarios and all related matters and rescope as needed. You may even need a daily or weekly meeting. Flexibility is key to survival here.
And once the dust is settled, make sure you extend that review to the whole experience. Maybe you weren’t prepared in advance; that doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive about planning for the next crisis. Take lessons learned seriously, and put the plans together so you’re better prepared next time. Because there will be a next time.
Leverage technology to keep business operating through a crisis
The importance of technology is heightened in these unprecedented times. Without access to cloud-based software and applications, a business will grind to a halt when its employees can’t get into the office. Diligent’s suite of governance and compliance software can be deployed in various ways, or bundled, to help organizations to keep operating.
To focus on operational assurance during a crisis, organizations need to prioritize and execute their business continuity plans. For example, companies leverage Diligent Compliance, Secure File Sharing and Messenger, to keep essential conversations and information within secure reach while benchmarking and understanding the current state of play. Alternatively, to enable the review and decision-making needed while maintaining visibility at the highest levels, the secure file sharing and messenger capabilities could be used in conjunction with Diligent Boards to streamline board operations.