COVID-19 Business continuity planning in 5 steps

19 March 2020

In an unfolding situation like COVID-19, it can feel very much like bracing yourself for battle with an unknown enemy. Each day the parameters are changing.

How your business will emerge at the end of the day, is not only impacted by global legislative, health, and economic factors, but is also strongly tied to your human response, leadership and scenario planning in the time you have now.
While it is fair to assume you are already deep into your action planning, our objective is to help you manage a potential COVID-19 crisis successfully by turning this unprecedented situation into an integrated leadership response.

Building an effective pandemic plan

So much of your planning success will depend on the ‘human response’, that is, how you treat your people during this time when they need you the most.
Your actions as a business now will impact your people relationships indefinitely but will also provide many opportunities to build trust. Consider the possibilities…what if this was the first time as a leadership team you had come together, and empowered your HR teams, who are often in the background, to lead the charge?
Whether it’s COVID-19 or another emerging crisis, there are five key focus areas that should shape the backbone of your planning process.

1) Dust off the Business Continuity Plan

Revisit your business continuity plan (BCP) and check to see if you have a response to something like a virus in there. If not, you need to develop one, starting with defining the rights and responsibilities of the various stakeholders in this response. For example, what do managers have to do, what do directors have to do, what do employees have to do? This is critical to the framework of the response and managing risk going forward.
Next, set up a BCP team by establishing a core group that represents all functions and departments across your organisation. This group should meet daily to achieve two key priorities:
  • Facilitate two-way information sharing; and
  • Undertake scenario planning and workshop of solutions to respond as things change
Note, where a business is unionised, you would include a union member on that BCP team.

2) Scenario Planning

Imagine if this crisis gave you permission to change your approach, to create trust in your leadership team and overall to emerge as a better organisation.
Run in parallel to stage one, engage your finance people in scenario planning around the economic impact on the organisation, the cost implications (organisational and customer-centric), and opportunity identification. Considerations in this phase might include: renegotiation of contracts, creating ‘peace of mind’ communications, and allocating additional resources in areas that need them most.

3) Human Planning

This phase is focused on the protective measures, communication of the plan, and new pay and working arrangements. Considerations in this implementation phase might include: monitoring and management of rapidly changing health advice, flexible or remote working arrangements, travel bans, leave entitlements and changes to pay, or impacts on bonus schemes and share plans.
Planning should not only cover policies and legislation but also consider support mechanisms for the psychological health and wellbeing of team members.
In establishing the overall remuneration impact, all initiatives implemented should be tested by your BPC team during scenario planning. Data is key to supporting decision making here.

4) IT Structures and Controls

Creating an IT plan now is critical. Your information systems teams will play a crucial role in facilitating remote workability and ensuring core systems have the necessary controls in place to support this style of work.
What you should expect in these challenging times, is the infiltration of the virus not only in reality but also virtually in the form of phishing emails and cyber-attacks on systems. Hackers in parts of the world not yet impacted by COVID-19 know you are in a weakened position and are very active.
Emails disguised and headed by trusted sources will become prevalent, e.g., ‘click here for the latest update on Coronavirus from the Department of Health.”

5) Uncovering the Opportunities

Opportunity planning is very specific to industry and is all about the legacy you want to leave as an employer and member of the business community. Using this crisis to gain employee trust is your first massive opportunity, but there will be others specific to your industry that could present other opportunities. 
Considerations in this phase might include: What can be done online? Can we move planned maintenance activities forward that were going to be done later? How can we supply the BCP team with really good information and good scenarios that they can work through?

You don’t know what you don’t know yet – but collectively we have a knowledge network

As you go through the planning process, you don’t know what you don’t know yet, but following these simple steps will help you overcome the gaps and provide certainty on where to focus your attention in a COVID-19 response.
Understand that we all feel vulnerable during times of uncertainty and that there will be positives that flow from this crisis.
BDO Ireland is here to support you and your business through these unprecedented times. To find out more about how we are connecting industry with valuable knowledge and COVID-19 remuneration and culture response planning, please contact us.