Disruptions from cyber-attack, natural disasters and pandemics present significant business risks, with many companies relying on complex networks of supply chains, co-located workforces and digital platforms. Ensuring that the organization is able to continue to operate while combating a disruptive incident is vital to the survival of any business. A Business Continuity Plan is a document that defines how a business will continue to operate during a significant disruption; it goes beyond a disaster recovery plan and addresses contingencies for every aspect of the business that could be affected.
When faced with an incident, a first step and key component of the plan is containment and stabilization. Incident stabilization is the action taken to prevent an incident from growing and to mitigate the potential impact to life, property, operations and the environment. It includes many different functions depending upon:
- The nature and location of the threat or hazard
- The magnitude of the incident
- The actual and potential impacts of the incident
- The applicable regulations dictating minimum response requirements
- The organization’s goals
- The resources available to the organization for incident response
For example, the first step in a pandemic might be asking employees to work remotely—to ensure their safety and the safety of others. For this to be managed effectively, a communication plan needs to be in place, including employee contact information and policies for virtual work. Key aspects of managing remote work include not only communications but also issues such as data access, sharing and data interoperability. Other considerations include:
Typically, those individuals required to report to the physical office regardless of the situation, such as healthcare and public safety workers.
Alternative work schedules
In the event of staff limitations or to provide flexibility, the business should consider alternative work schedules, including part-time, job-sharing or new schedules that will permit nontraditional work hours to ensure continuity.
Arrangements or virtual office arrangements through telecommuting should be defined in advance, in the event that worksites are unavailable. Additionally, some thought should be given to the type of equipment that employees will need to execute their critical functions remotely.
Define plans for recruiting and onboarding to accommodate flex shifts and/or roles. Organizations should also consider how other critical HR functions will be executed virtually. These include benefits processing, workforce relation issues as well as any other commitments that may be expected by employees or required by virtue of work agreements.
Ensure payroll, invoicing, payments and other critical finance functions can be executed if the physical office locations are unavailable. This may require adjustments to IT policies and firewalls to make certain that these systems are accessible.
Customer support and management
Establish protocols and infrastructure to ensure that the daily support activities can be maintained in the event that the physical office is closed. This may entail transitioning support traffic to an alternative location or identifying flex vendors.
Workforce learning and development
In the event that in-person boot camps or workshops are scheduled, virtual or self-study alternatives should be explored and defined.
If there is a disruption or loss of an operating facility, consider contingency strategies such as activating backup sites and relocation of staff to an alternative site that has additional capacity and is at a lower risk. Prioritize critical customer commitments and reserve critical equipment and inventory in advance to be available at the time of a disruption.
Finally, the impact on employee engagement and focus during a pandemic or other disruption has the potential to spiral and feed itself if not appropriately managed. To minimize this impact, businesses and other organizations should begin to embrace and pilot virtual work, distributed collaboration, alternative sites and other contingency models now, so they are not forced into a sudden or disruptive transition.
Adopt best practices for leading virtual work include:
- Establish a virtual cadence
Stand-ups, huddles, meetings and other planning sessions should follow a predictable cadence (weekly, fortnightly, etc.). Expectations should be set around how to participate virtually. Ensure that you have a collaboration tool in place that works for everyone and is accommodated by your IT infrastructure.
- “Cameras on”
One of the simplest, yet most profound, policies that an organization can implement is to ensure that people turn on their cameras when participating in a virtual meeting. This creates a level of collaboration and human interaction that is otherwise lost in the traditional “conference call.”
- Asynchronous collaboration
It goes without saying, collaboration is not limited to synchronous discussions or virtual meetings. There are thousands of cloud platforms and tools that allow people to chat/message, share ideas and generate IP around a given topic asynchronously. Ensure that you’ve settled on a standard for your organization and that your teams are using it.
- Real-time interaction
Similar to the point above, the team should be expected to be available in real-time during standard operating hours. Set a policy and expectations around this.
While uncertainty is the only “certainty,” with some forethought and advance planning, organizations can minimize disruptions should events occur, and by doing so, they may also uncover more agile ways of operating which provide longer-term rewards.
Want to learn more? Here are a few course clips related to the impact of infectious diseases, contingency response strategies and how to effectively lead remotely:
Infectious Disease Impact: An Overview of Infectious Diseases
Contingency Response Strategies
Leading More Effectively Remotely
Read course descriptions of some of the most popular courses on Business Continuity:
- NFPA 1600 Business Continuity Programs
- NFPA 1600 Disaster/Emergency Management
- Emergency and Disaster Preparedness
- Infectious Diseases
- Pandemic Flu Awareness
- Infectious Disease Impact: An Overview of Infectious Diseases
A corporate crisis is impossible to predict, and the best line of defense is a good offense of planning, preparation and training for your workforce. Learn more about Skillsoft’s business continuity, crisis and emergency management training by requesting a demo today.
For further reading about corporate crisis preparedness, please click here.
For a playlist of videos surrounding the topic of business continuity, please click here.
Norm Ford is VP of Operations for Compliance Solutions at Skillsoft
Donna McEntee is the Workplace Safety and Health Solution Manager at Skillsoft