In the face of the increasing concerns over coronavirus (COVID-19), many travel-exposed businesses (whether concerning customers, suppliers or staff) are urgently reviewing their Business Continuity Planning. We don’t want to be alarmist, but we thought we would provide some basic tips for those of you who do not necessarily think it may affect you – because the examples coming out of China are already showing that in the event of a pandemic, entire business ecosystems could be under threat given the levels of modern business interdependence and connectivity. Your business could therefore be unexpectedly swept up in it.
Below are some key points you should consider.
- Can you operate with your people sitting remotely? Consider tech solutions, particularly the ability to work from home and still have access to teaming/collaboration which you would ordinarily have every day by being in the same location. Many people may say ‘absolutely we have people working from home all the time’ – but is that ALL of your workforce at one time? A great idea is to consider doing a drill now to test it.
- Is it safe for people to work remotely? Ergonomic setups, time management and workplace safety obligations all exist wherever work is performed. Again, you may not be able to send independent people around to check this if a pandemic has hit – you need to do the preparation now.
- Is your tech secure and has the necessary capacity? Just like the recent Toll hack or indeed if your IT supplier is affected, you need to know you can keep your systems up against cyber attack, and also with the vastly increased volumes of traffic that tech-reliant remote working will entail (eg. speeds, bandwidth, business-capable applications, ability to procure from alternate sources etc).
- What support are you providing for your people? The two main scenarios here are if they get sick, or if their work falls off a cliff because others are sick. Consider support services, provision of leave, alternate productive projects and clear direction for people to be doing frequent risk assessments of their work environments to avoid or manage changing and potentially unsafe situations.
- What if your supplier network is affected and plant and equipment do not get fixed, maintained or repaired, and transportation of product/goods stops or is limited? Faulty or damaged equipment could lead to personal safety risks and resultant overloading/overheating of equipment could result in a fire. Food producers may experience spoiled product arising from delays in transportation which can cause health issues and reputational damage. There is likely to be a significant impact on removing equipment from use in day to day operations. As part of business risk mitigation a backup plan of hiring/leasing additional equipment/vehicles or on standby may be worthwhile considering.
- What if the worst case eventuates and you cannot afford to operate? Hard decisions need to be made about proactive discussions with the bank, reviews of force majeure clauses in your contracts need to be conducted and you should consider potentially even unpaid stand down provisions for your people. None of this is desirable or wished for, but if you hit the red line, you may have little choice and it is better to be ready for it and able to manage it than be out of time and ideas. To that end, proactive discussions with your customers, staff and supply chains right now could be critical in getting considered win-win solutions in place and avoiding fights later when people are stressed and under financial pressure.
As we say, we hope this all never happens, but even basic Business Continuity Planning seems to be an important step right now in case this crisis deepens.