NOTE : As you know, this pandemic has been rapidly evolving, so please, refer to your government’s official sites above anything we write here.
This calendar year has been chaotic for many people all over the world. Most recently, the United States, along with other countries, is facing a crisis that has impacted every aspect of society. The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively shut down the entire economy, and people’s lives have been put on hold in an attempt to slow the spread of this serious virus.
The major change in lots of people’s lives is spending more time at home, including with children who are not in school. As employees, they may or may not be working remotely, or they may be classified as essential employees, which means their schedule may be changing very little.
Business owners, on the other hand, have a very different perspective of the coronavirus pandemic. Even essential businesses, like restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations, are being directly and seriously impacted by this pandemic. Non-essential businesses are closed, and there is no way to know when they will be able to re-open.
As a result, business owners are thinking about what that means for the continuation of their companies, both now and after the pandemic has passed. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t think about continuity until disasters have already happened. But you can use this time to start thinking about how your business will weather whatever disaster may come next.
Business Continuity Plan for A Pandemic
Business continuity is the ability for a business to continue (or restart) operations after a major interruption, such as due to a disaster. Much of the time, these interruptions come from natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, or fires. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is another example of a disaster that impacts business and requires a plan for business continuity.
The importance of business continuity
A business continuity plan is put in place to plan for the unplanned. You never know when a disaster will strike, whether it’s a minor fire that keeps your doors closed for a few days or a major pandemic with no end in sight. You don’t know when or how these disasters will occur, but you want to ensure that you can continue operations through them or be able to pick back up with your clients and customers after the disaster has passed.
Business continuity is a safeguard for your business. It prevents you from taking even more time to get things back up and running after an unplanned disaster or interruption. Without a plan for business continuity, you could extend your closure time, which just compounds the problem. The longer you stay closed, the harder it is to re-open. If you provide important products and/or services for customers, longer closures means they’re more likely to turn to another company for what they need, which means a loss of revenue for your business.
Policies to promote continuity
There are ways you can promote business continuity for any disaster, including the current pandemic. Some of these policies are easier to implement than others, but they can give you an idea of how to start thinking about business continuity for your own organization.
Implement work-from-home policies. Many businesses began requiring employees to work remotely at the start of this virus wave. Thanks to so much of business being done online in today’s society, it’s a lot easier for people to work from home than ever before. If you can implement work-from-home policies, even if it requires measures like teleconferencing or conference calls to stay in touch, you can keep things running smoothly even if your physical location is closed.
Communicate with your team. One of the biggest challenges to business continuity is keeping staff on the same page for re-opening. After time away, some team members may be at a loss about how to get back into their normal work routines or what needs to change before that can happen. Communicating clearly and honestly with your team will help ensure that you can all work together effectively to continue operations.
Communicate with your clients. Client satisfaction is essential for business success. If you face a disaster, especially one like the COVID-19 crisis that is affecting everyone, communicating with your clients can help ease frustrations about closures. If your clients know why things are different in operations, why they can’t get through to customer service, or why shipping is taking longer, they’re more likely to be understanding and patient.
Streamline operations. The more steps to complete a task, the harder it is to get back up and running after an interruption. When you streamline operations, cutting out unnecessary steps when possible, it’s easier for your business to get back into the swing of things after a disaster.
These are the kinds of things you can implement outside of a business continuity plan, but they will make it easier to shift operations when an interruption or disaster occurs. These kinds of policies are also valuable for your operations because it shows employees you have their needs in mind, and you are communicating with customers so they are part of the success of your operations policies.
Creating a formal continuity plan
It’s a good idea for a business to have a formal continuity plan in place. This is a written policy that outlines what happens in the case of an unplanned disaster to either keep things running or return to operations after an interruption. Having a formal policy in place will help ensure that everyone is on the same page about how to proceed, and it will be easier to keep operating or re-open more effectively so you can keep your clients happy.
A continuity plan should be as detailed as possible. The more information you have in the plan, the easier it will be to implement when the time comes. That means you should plan for a wide variety of disasters or types of interruptions so you don’t have to cobble a plan together at the last minute because you didn’t think a certain type of disaster could possibly happen. It’s better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and you’ll be ready for whatever occurs in between.
As you work to develop your continuity plan, here are some questions to ask:
Who can help lead this effort? A business continuity team should be appointed to be in charge of implementing the plan when a disaster arises. This team will be responsible for knowing as much as possible about the plan, how different disasters could impact the business, and what to do in any scenario that arises. The team should be leaders in the company who can help get things done when it matters the most.
How will each disaster impact the business? Different types of interruptions or disasters impact your company differently. Take time to analyze each scenario carefully so you have an idea of the potential impact of each disaster or interruption before it occurs. This can help your company brace for the impact and, hopefully, get through it more easily.
Can we stay open during this disaster? How? Some disasters will require you to be closed for a time. But you may be able to stay open during others. This will depend a lot on the type of business you operate. For example, restaurants that go through a fire will have to close to repair. However, restaurants are considered essential businesses during the current pandemic, staying open for takeaway and delivery orders. Knowing whether or not you can stay open during a disaster will give a food foundation for your continuity plan. If you can stay open, think about what that needs to look like in order to be successful. If not, you’ll need to develop a plan for re-opening once the disaster has passed.
How will this disaster impact our team? Whether you stay open or have to close, any disaster will impact your staff. In the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing has been put in place, which affects how your employees can work and interact. In other disasters, such as a hurricane, employees may have to attend to their personal lives and family members rather than thinking about work. Taking your team into consideration in your business continuity plan will not only make it easier to manage how operations will go, but will show your team that you care about how the disaster affects them, as well.
How will this disaster impact our clients/customers? Knowing how a disaster impacts your clients or customers depends on the type of business you operate, as well. If you provide products, either purchased in person or shipped, will you still be able to provide them to customers? If you provide services, such as counseling, life coaching, or marketing services, will you still be able to provide them to your customers? If your delivery will be impacted at all, it’s important to develop a plan for communicating this to your clients or customers so they know what to expect. You should also include a strategy for returning to normal delivery once the disaster has passed.
How do finances play into all of this? At the end of the day, you run a business. That means your business continuity plan has to include the financial aspect of operations, as well. As you develop a plan for each type of disaster, think about how it will impact your income and expenses. What is your break-even analysis? Can you financially afford to remain in operations in a given disaster, or is it more financially practical to close and then re-open afterward?
A clear, detailed business continuity plan should be an important part of your business and operations. You may not face every disaster or interruption you plan for, but having a plan in place will make it easier to maintain operations or recover after an interruption. This kind of plan makes it easier to stay in business, even if you face interruptions.
Tips ►CREATING a Business Continuity Plan
A business continuity plan should be as detailed as a business plan you create before starting operations. The idea is that the business plan provides a guide for all employees in the event of an interruption or disaster. The continuity plan is laid over your normal operations policies so that you can do what’s necessary to manage a pandemic, disaster, or interruption to your business. The more detailed your continuity plan is, especially when it comes to what changes are being made, the easier it will be to manage whatever interruption or disaster comes up.
Think about what roles are essential for business operations. In a pandemic, absenteeism is likely. Along with those who may get sick, you may have absenteeism due to stay-at-home orders, social distancing protocols, or the need for employees to care for family members. When you create a business continuity plan, outline what positions and tasks are essential for your business to stay open (or to re-open after an interruption). This will help you understand how you can reduce the workforce and still remain in operation, and how employees may need to be shifted to different positions if those key roles are not filled. Having a back-up leadership structure in place can ensure that you don’t have to scramble to fill essential roles when the continuity plan is implemented.
Think about the financial health of business operations. For your business to stay open, there is a minimum amount of revenue that must be brought in. This is the “break even” point of your organization. As you build your continuity plan, your break-even point can be a good place to start to decide how to manage interruptions. If a pandemic or other disaster means a reduction in revenue, how can you reduce your expenses to accommodate? Will you need to furlough employees? Balancing the financial components of business along with the operational aspects of business will help you remain successful in the midst of an interruption.
Think about communication. When employees are working from home and normal operations are disrupted due to pandemic or other disaster, communication is essential. You will need to communicate with customers about interruptions, vendors and suppliers about maintaining supply chains, and employees about how business is being handled during the interruption. An effective business continuity plan should provide details about how communication should be maintained during this time. Will your company use online meetings? Do you have a communication network set up for employees to use remotely?
Think about legal obligations. As you develop your business continuity plan, be sure that your plan matches employee contracts and other legal obligations you have for operations. Do you have employees who are guaranteed a minimum number of hours? Along with this, review legal and human resources policies for absenteeism, worker’s compensation, and other resources that employees may ask about during a pandemic or other disaster. Make sure your business continuity plan takes these things into consideration and that your plan for business continuity doesn’t open the door for employees taking legal action if they have to be furloughed or work from home.
Think about technology support. When everyone is working in an office, it’s easy to make sure that people have the tech they need to do their jobs. If you have people working from home, it can get more complicated. If your business continuity plan includes remote workers, it should also include a plan to make sure they have the technology they need (computers, telecommunications, etc.) to do their jobs and keep in communication with other employees, customers, and vendors.
Think about documentation. When you’re working on a business continuity plan, take the opportunity to check other documentation and policies, as well. Quite often, policies, operations, or information gets changed or updated and implemented, but the documentation that goes with it doesn’t change. After all, everyone knows the new information, so there’s no need to update documentation. When your employees are working remotely, they may need to refer to documentation more frequently to get answers to questions instead of asking a coworker at the next desk or down the hall. Make sure that the information they’re working from is updated so their answers are accurate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made an enormous impact on business and society. Experts continue to make recommendations to slow the spread of the virus so we can return to some semblance of normalcy and recover from all that has happened. In the meantime, businesses are doing what they can to maintain operations and be able to re-open once this pandemic has passed.
A business continuity plan can go a long way to helping you maintain operations during a disaster or re-opening after an interruption. A clear, detailed policy means that your team will know what’s expected of them to continue operations or re-open once the disaster has passed. No matter what happens during this pandemic, you can use this experience to build your plan for the next disaster or interruption.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember to take things one step at a time. All of society has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and will continue to be impacted for a long, long time. And, because of the uncertainty of these times, things can change from day to day. Even if you have a business continuity plan, you need to be able to adapt as things change. Everything will be okay, and you can learn from this experience to ensure that your next obstacle is just a bump in the road of business success.
Facts : COVID-19 Pandemic
Many people have compared this pandemic to the Spanish flu pandemic that occurred in the early twentieth century. While there are similarities, especially from the perspective of the spread of the illness and behavior of the public, there are differences that make the coronavirus pandemic unlike anything ever seen.
Most notably, science and technology has advanced a lot in the last hundred years. That means people interact differently than they did in the early twentieth century, and even business is done very differently than it once was. In order to understand just how COVID-19 is impacting business (and what to do about it), it’s valuable to know exactly what it is and how it’s being handled.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19, also called the coronavirus, is an illness that can be spread from person to person. The most common symptoms of this virus are a high fever, dry cough, and body aches. However, some people have additional symptoms, as well. How severe the illness depends on the person. While some people may have very severe symptoms and need to be hospitalized, others may experience no symptoms at all.
COVID-19 is a new strain of a virus that has been around for a long time, which is why it has become a problem. There are no treatments or vaccines for this strain of the virus, but it is highly contagious. In addition, most people are asymptomatic (exhibit no symptoms) for approximately two weeks after getting the virus, but they are still contagious to others. This means it can be spread really easily among people.
That’s a big reason COVID-19 has become such a problem across the globe. People were spreading the virus without even realizing they had it, and they couldn’t be tested for it or vaccinated for it to prevent further spread. Basically, COVID-19 has been able to spread as it wanted, and there was no way to stop it until it had already spread to pandemic levels.
While many people may equate coronavirus to the flu, there are many others who have far worse experiences. Those who are elderly, immunocompromised, or have certain underlying health problems are at higher risk for not only getting COVID-19, but experiencing severe symptoms.
Now that medical and scientific experts are aware that COVID-19 is a problem, they are working to find a solution. This includes developing a vaccine and treatment, and recommending protocols to reduce the spread of the virus in the meantime.
Social distancing is the primary way that people are working to slow the spread of coronavirus. The virus is spread through person-to-person contact, but the virus itself can live on surfaces that have been touched by someone infected. In addition, anyone in close contact with someone who is infected (approximately three feet or closer) is at high risk for contracting COVID-19.
Social distancing recommends that you stay away from people who are outside of your household by approximately six feet or more. In any public setting, you should keep distance from others and limit all interactions so your time in public is only necessary actions (grocery shopping, medical appointments, etc.). By staying away from others, you can help protect yourself and them from spreading coronavirus.
It’s important to remember that social distancing is not just about protecting yourself. Since people are contagious before they exhibit symptoms, you may be contagious without realizing it. By practicing social distancing, you prevent yourself from spreading the virus to others who may be vulnerable and may not survive the virus.
Along with social distancing, the CDC recommends that people wear cloth masks in public to further protect themselves and others from contracting COVID-19. The CDC also recommends frequent hand-washing and avoiding touching your face.
In an effort to reduce the number of people in public at any given time, states are implementing their own policies during the pandemic. Some states have stay-at-home orders or shelter-in-place policies that restrict people’s movements outside of essential trips. Schools are closed or implementing distance learning to protect children from exposure. And some areas are utilizing the police to help enforce curfews and stay-at-home orders. These orders are an extension of social distancing that can be more easily enforced and has structure for businesses and other organizations to turn to for their operations.
How is all of this Impacting Business?
Because of the precautions put in place by governors and the federal government, businesses have been greatly impacted. Restaurants are closed to dine-in customers, and most (if not all) non-essential businesses are closed completely until the pandemic is under control.
That means that lots of businesses are not bringing in the money they need to continue operations, and everything is being put on hold until things can start returning to normal. Some businesses have laid off or furloughed employees to reduce payroll expenses, and they may be contacting debt holders to keep from being in default until they have revenue that can be directed for payments again.
Many businesses are worried that they won’t be able to re-open when the economy re-opens because of the time that’s been spent with the business closed. Other businesses may know they can re-open, but they may be worried about how to return to operations, especially if their employees have gotten jobs elsewhere to pay bills during this time. Overall, it’s a very uncertain time for businesses and for the economy.
Tips for Managing the Current Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic faced by the world is unlike anything most people have seen in their lifetimes. It has impacted every aspect of society, and there’s no way to know when it will be over so that life can return to some level of normalcy. Whether you have a plan for how to handle the crisis or not, there are some things you can do that will help make it a little more bearable both for your personal life and your business.
Remember: you’re not alone. Even though social distancing makes life difficult, people all over the world are going through the same thing you are. You’re not alone in this experience or how you feel about it. Sometimes just knowing that can help.
Remember: your business is not alone. Since everyone is going through the same thing, every business is going through the same thing, too. That means there are supports, resources, and organizations in place to provide assistance and advice for businesses to help companies manage this difficult time.
The internet makes life easier. With the internet and phones and everything else we have at our fingertips, it’s a lot easier to stay connected, even if you’re self-isolating. You can reach out to friends and family for support, even if you can’t spend time with them in person.
The internet makes business easier. It’s becoming easier and easier to do business online. If you have ecommerce, you can use this time to build your digital presence, foster customer relationships online, and keep doing business online. If you do business online, you can stay in business a lot easier.
Be patient. This is a chaotic time for everyone, including your employees and customers. It’s even more important to be patient as everyone works through this pandemic together. Afterward, your employees and customers will remember that you worked with them (instead of against them) to keep them safe and keep your business in operations, and that can go a long way.
This will pass. A lot of people are drawing parallels between what’s happening now and what happened all over the world between 1918 and 1919. The Spanish flu became a pandemic devastated the United States, along with other countries. Despite the seriousness of the illness, it passed, and life returned to normal. It will happen again. Sometimes remembering that this will pass can help you stay focused on taking the steps necessary to get to that point.
Learn from this experience. If you don’t have a business continuity plan in place, now is the perfect time to develop one. Think about how this pandemic is impacting your organization, and use that as a starting place for protecting the future.
Tips | Protecting Against Future Pandemics
Society is greatly looking forward to the end of the coronavirus pandemic. While no one knows when things will return to normal, and it may be some time still before that happens, it will end. However, it’s also important to remember that this could very well happen again. A recurrence of COVID-19 may occur, or a new virus may spread into another pandemic. That’s why it’s a good idea to do what you can to protect your business from future experiences.
Put a business continuity plan in place. Even if you get through this pandemic without a formal business continuity plan, having a formal plan in place will make it easier to get through everything next time. Formalizing a plan provides a clear policy that your team can follow, step-by-step, to maintain or restart operations in the aftermath of a pandemic.
Consider keeping pandemic measures in place. One of the biggest changes that has occurred during this pandemic is the flexibility of allowing employees to work from home. Keeping these kinds of policies in place will make it easier for employees to transition in the event of another pandemic. That way, you don’t have to create new policies for the next time a disaster requires remote working for your employees.
Keep up with the latest information. Turning to reliable sources of information, such as the CDC, will help keep you accurately informed about what’s going on. If another pandemic is starting or seems to be occurring, reliable sources of information will be essential for the correct information. If you want to stay in business, it’s essential that you have truthful, accurate information so you can make the best decisions. Some media outlets may focus on the type of information that gets readers and viewers. Using scientifically-based sources will keep you in the loop.
Keep up with the latest technology. Many businesses who have invested in technology for operations, including e-commerce, have found it easier to adapt during this pandemic. They already had the technology in place to allow employees to work remotely and to continue providing goods and services digitally for their customers. By keeping up with these kinds of technologies, it will be easier for your business to adapt in the event of another pandemic.
- Adapt and respond to risks with a business continuity plan (BCP) : IBM
- How to create an effective business continuity plan : CIO
- Pandemic Influenza Business Planning Toolkit : Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services
- Understanding Pandemic Phases For Better Emergency Planning : Business Continuity Institute