The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on business is far reaching. Today’s post is a follow-up to last week’s blog, “Leading Remote Teams in Times of Uncertainty” and offers additional food for thought on how to manage in these challenging times. You may also be interested in this recent Protiviti blog: “COVID-19: Is Your Business Immunized Against Supply Chain Disruption.”
These are truly unprecedented times. Never before have corporations, government services and the public-at-large been affected by such a large-scale threat on society and general lifestyles. Regardless of any personal thoughts or opinions, the spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has now moved forward in a manner that mandates changes to how we work, interact and live. The ripple effects are significant as larger geographic areas are now enforcing restricted activities, curfews, and closed restaurants, in conjunction with significant national and international travel restrictions for multi-week durations. As such, typical corporate business continuity plans (BCP) are being stress-tested and new procedures and protocols are being developed in real-time as organization adjust to a “new normal” and attempt to continue critical operations.
While prior IT outages, building closures and natural disasters may have tested certain components of a corporate crisis management plan (CMP) or BCP, the sheer scale and duration of the COVID-19 episode is absolutely unprecedented. So how do corporations manage such an outage event to allow for the greatest resiliency of critical operations?
Communication and Focus on Employees
First and foremost, corporate crisis management plans must be enacted to allow for frequent communication to employees as to the current state of expectations regarding attendance, ability to work from home, and appropriate safeguards. Many corporations have already done a great job of communicating how to deal with time-off for employees who may be struggling with illness, children at home, payroll impact (especially for hourly employees), etc. This type of communication is key to managing the inherent stress involved. Typical communication topics include the following:
- The latest updates regarding the spread of the virus
- The ability to work from home
- Communication protocols(who to contact for personal and business-related issues)
- Payroll impacts and expectations
- Impact on vacation time and benefits
- Travel restrictions, protocols and impact on those currently out of town
- Assistance programs for those who are ill or otherwise in need
- New protocols regarding contractors and visitors coming on premise
- Communication to outside parties, etc.
Already, these messages have been changing on a near-daily basis as new restrictions are implemented on how we operate as a society. One of the key lessons learned from past corporate outages is focus on communication to employees and stakeholders. The COVID-19 situation magnifies this need even more by highlighting the importance to have frequent and clear communications to manage life-safety, business operations and the general stress to the employee base.
Critical Operations and the Ability to Work from Home
In a typical outage situation, companies may reference a previously completed business impact analysis (BIA) to understand the impact on the loss of critical processes and operations and review the impact on those processes over time. Given the unprecedented worldwide scale and extended duration of COVID-19, and potentially impacted supply chain (both upstream and downstream) participants, determining which processes are critical must be determined with these perspectives in mind.
With the recent mandate that employers should increase their social distancing and attempt to allow employees to work from home to help limit the group assemblage of personnel, companies have quickly responded. While many companies have likely tested employees’ ability to work remotely in a limited fashion, the ability to have entire workforces in some cases work remotely may likely not have been previously tested. Specific geographic outages in the past, such as natural disasters, have tested this in limited fashion, but the ability to have the entire workforce operate remotely is unprecedented. While access to the internet is almost assumed to be ubiquitous, the ability to link into corporate resources via VPN for all employees may not be feasible, requiring IT and management to determine which departments and personnel are essential. Key consideration items are as follows:
- Confirm the amount of VPN licenses and network bandwidth to support your users
- Leverage communication technologies for videoconferencing and whiteboarding
- Utilize document sharing platforms to share, edit and collaboration communications, documents, reports, etc
- Determine which critical process must continue and how they can be performed in a remote manner.
Supply Chain and Third-Party Providers
It’s an interconnected world and none of your counterparties are immune to the effects and impacts to COVID-19. That means their operations will directly or indirectly impact yours, and your ability to service your customers and key stakeholders. This requires an understanding of who your critical third parties are, how they are impacted, and what impact they will have on your operational capabilities. Ideally, those third parties and their impacts have already been considered as part of a company’s business impact analysis, and respective response plans documented in various business resumption plans for critical processes. If not already in place, then this will have to be a quick manual exercise to account for this risk and determine appropriate mitigation measures to implement.
Things You Should Be Doing Now
- Reviewing which business processes are critical and activating their individual response or continuity plans
- Communicate often with employees and customers, sharing the latest public health information as they become available with full transparency
- Deploy as many different forms of media as possible to communicate with stakeholders, including the intranet, emergency mass notification systems, newsletters, emails and text messaging
- Initiate communication and coordination with third-party critical service providers immediately to understand all aspects of their pandemic planning
- Assess remote access capabilities such as capacity, bandwidth and authentication, and make prompt adjustments if needed to ensure seamless telecommuting
- Due to the high volume of remote workers, IT should expand bandwidth and network capacity as much as possible and encourage employees to operate in staggered shifts, if possible, to reduce connectivity issues and network overload
- Determine the impact to your supply chain and third-party providers to make adjustments on your commitments to customers, employees and key stakeholders
- Begin documenting your lessons learned now so you can incorporate those thoughts and procedures into your business continuity plans, pandemic plans and crisis management plans.
Protiviti’s operational resilience and business continuity management experts continue to monitor the coronavirus outbreak and will provide additional insights on this major event as it unfolds.