The events of 2020 have dramatically shone a light on the importance of business continuity planning. And, with a crisis as significant and unprecedented as this, specifically looking at pandemic contingency planning is a must.
The swift arrival of COVID-19 meant many businesses scrambled just to keep operating. They may have had business continuity plans in place for a hypothetical crisis – however, the reality of enacting those plans in true crisis management mode, while addressing ever shifting workplace and societal requirements and planning for future changes, has been a challenge.
If you’re still in this position right now, we hope this article can make a difference.
What is a business continuity plan?
Put simply, a business continuity plan is an actionable plan to help your business prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from a crisis – pandemic or otherwise.
Why do you need a business continuity plan?
It’s important your business plans for crises at any time – effective planning could be the difference between your business failing, remaining stable, or potentially even thriving in these adverse conditions.
An effective business continuity plan should minimise your risk to:
- cash flow
Your actions and preparedness should focus on ensuring everyone knows what’s expected of them and what to actually do. An effective plan could help save the livelihoods of many people. And during a pandemic, it may also save lives.
Should our business have a pandemic-specific continuity plan?
Yes – it’s the smart thing to do. Preparedness for a range of crises is important, but given the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest issue many of us have faced in our lifetimes; companies who have been able to quickly activate a pandemic-specific contingency plan have enjoyed a distinct advantage – even if that’s just the benefit of their teams feeling more confident about what’s going on by knowing they’re able to work from home and/or understanding what’s expected of them as things change.
If your business isn’t in that position – we’ll show you how to put a business contingency plan in place for the pandemic from here on in.
What you need to consider when developing a pandemic plan
Firstly, any workplace pandemic preparedness plan that’s implemented needs to have allowances for constant testing and revision. The process should ideally be a collaborative cycle with all the relevant parties (across public and private sectors – such as governments and councils, building management and waste providers) informing the planning.
Your pandemic planning checklist should address:
- risk management
- business impact analysis
- incident response planning
- disruption minimisation
- recovery planning
Here are some specific pandemic contingency plan considerations.
Employee and customer safety
The priority in any workplace needs to be employee and customer safety. Social distancing and isolating are the most effective measures. So, your pandemic contingency plan must incorporate the ability for the whole team to work remotely if required. Additionally, you must consider how the team may be able to work on reduced schedules, stagger start times and postpone non-essential travel and meetings.
If a completely remote workplace isn’t a possibility, there are necessary precautions that will help you provide a safer environment.
- Seek advice from the Australian Government Department of Health
Follow the recommendations on health.gov.au for up-to-date pandemic advice.
- Keep up to date with your state government’s current restrictions
Each state has different restrictions, and they are continually changing. Make sure the guidelines you are following are current. Google your state’s healthy authority (such as NSW Health) and ‘COVID-19 restrictions’ to find the most current guidelines.
- Assign a planning coordinator (or team)
A clear directive as to who within the company is responsible for creating a COVID-safe workplace is imperative. The role(s) should cover policy creation, review and implementation. Assign adequate resources to ensure your team can achieve their goals effectively.
- Create a hygiene policy
Effectively create, educate on and facilitate a COVID safe hygiene policy. Increasing cleaning practices and providing preventative supplies such as hand sanitiser and PPE are just the first steps. Safe Work Australia has all of the relevant information available.
- Minimise exposure
Providing adequate space for social distancing, avoiding unnecessary gatherings and staggering team start times should all be considered. Consider implementing an ‘a’ team, ‘b’ team model to minimise disruption in the case of possible exposure and the necessary self-isolation which follows.
- Identify cultural, environmental and disability implications
When implementing a changed workplace, consider the implications for immune-compromised, disabled, or at-risk staff members. Unfortunately, not everyone is ‘safer at home’. Additionally, there may be discrepancies in areas such as home internet access. So be prepared to make additional options available for staff who need them.
- Implement a contact tracing framework
Introduce a procedure to facilitate active contact tracing for anyone who enters your workplace. You can find guidance for collecting personal information for contact tracing here.
- Identify and address supply chain issues
Many companies are currently experiencing major supply chain issues (both globally and locally), so identifying supply chain improvement initiatives – with a focus on back-up options should be a priority.
- Plan for worker absenteeism
The increased restrictions and focus on personal vigilance means that even if your employees remain COVID free, the necessity to isolate for any flu-like symptom or contact tracing can impact their ability to work. This is why any business continuity plan for a pandemic should always consider increased worker absenteeism.
For employees with children, the (necessarily) strict precautions schools and daycare providers are taking means there will be disruptions that will most definitely affect their absentee rate.
- Increase your cash flow to plan for disruptions in revenue
Of the 8,000+ companies that declared insolvency in 2018/19, more than half reported inadequate cash flow as the reason. Factoring solutions could be a good way to have a backup finance plan in place when planning for business continuity. You may also want to consider Trade Finance or Debtor Finance as part of your overall pandemic contingency plan to ensure cash flow blips with both procurement and receivables can be ridden out. Find out more about how Trade Finance works here.
- Increase communication
Keep staff, partners, customers and stakeholders updated on your corporate pandemic plan via email, press and social media if appropriate. Make sure the tone of those communications is confident, honest and sensitive to the current climate. Celebrating certain business wins should be either avoided altogether or approached with heightened sensitivity.
Plan ahead. Be prepared. Stay well.
We hope these tips can help your business negotiate the unique position that 2020 has thrust us all into. Keep positive, stay vigilant – and most of all, keep yourselves, your employees and customers safe.
Disclaimer: The following comments are only our views and should not be construed as advice. You should act using your own information and judgment. Although information has been obtained from and is based upon multiple sources the author believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy and it may be incomplete or condensed. All opinions and estimates constitute the author’s own judgment as at the date of publication and are subject to change without notice.