What Does COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Mean for Business Continuity?

COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, has a lot of people, governments, organizations, and countries on their toes. While the coronavirus is still being researched, we do know it has frightening potential, as it has similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Everyone wants to do what they can to not only stay healthy, but also limit the infectability of COVID-19. At the individual level, practicing good hygiene and heeding the advice of health officials and professionals will contribute to keeping everyone safe and healthy.

We should also ask what organizations and businesses can do in the wake of COVID-19. What could a case of COVID-19 mean for business continuity? How should your business respond, and what’s the best way to do so?

The Impact of COVID-19

COVID-19’s impact has had much more reach than one might expect. The economic toll the virus has placed on our world is starting to show.

Continued quarantine efforts has led to a manufacturing and general business slow-down in impacted areas, namely certain provinces of China. Forcing workers to stay home cuts opportunities for the virus to not only spread to healthy people, but also to where companies ship goods to. Doing so also comes with a dip in production and revenue, albeit necessary ones.

Stricter travel policies by governments also help keep the virus from infecting more people. Unlike some other coronaviruses (namely the two listed earlier), the symptoms of COVID-19 can take multiple days to present, which makes it more difficult to contain.

Still, (at the time of writing) 85 countries, territories, and/or areas have seen confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the WHO. It’s fair to assume more will, and the number of cases around the world will continue to increase for at least the next few weeks.

COVID-19 and Business Continuity

At this time, there’s no saying if, when, or where COVID-19 will make an appearance. The coronavirus is a wild variable for your organization, and it can immediately disrupt your operations.

The natural course of action for businesses in this situation, then, is to plan. If a case were confirmed in a place where your business operates, or an employee were to contract COVID-19, what policies, practices, and actions can your business take to keep its employees and those around them from getting sick, and keep business going as usually as it can?

First, your organization should activate it’s business continuity plan (BCP) as soon as possible. This will set a lot of critical early-stage pieces in motion, like notifications and alerts to employees and other parties affiliated in some way with your organization.

A business continuity plan for responding to COVID-19 won’t be simple, however. The effect of COVID-19 isn’t one dimensional. It’s presence could shut down an office. If someone critical to particular processes of your organization is incapacitated by COVID-19, you’ll have to activate other plans or change your approach entirely.

Ask these questions of your organization:

  • Can employees in affected areas work from home?
  • Can any operational holes created by the incident be filled?
  • How can the supply chain be affected?
  • Is your organization prepared for a disruption of operations?

These are core questions to ask of your organization, especially when an incident like a COVID-19 infection could happen at anytime.

Optimizing Your BCP

If you have answers to the questions above, it’s time to tackle the actual planning piece of your response to COVID-19.

You’ll need tools to facilitate your employees’ work in the event that they stay home, and a place to build, store, activate, and make your BCP(s) actionable.

One of the great benefits of today is the power of tech and the options it grants us. Digital platforms are designed for scenarios just like this, facilitating workers and businesses even in light of an event like the emergency of COVID-19.

While employees could continue to communicate via email, texts, or phone calls, a digital platform would allow them to replicate the collaborative and open environment they have in the office, most likely resulting in similar levels of productivity. A platform would also allow response leaders and executives to push critical updates as they happen, ensuring that everyone is up-to-date on current events and information.

And, in the event of a COVID-19 infection, you will need dependencies mapped and a general understanding of what your business is capable of despite being down.

Paper plans and binders can catalog this information, but if a forced WFH situation was to be implemented, those who need to reference the plans wouldn’t be able to access them. There are a number of disadvantages to using paper plans and binders in this age, and this specific scenario adds to that list.

A digital platform will put each of your plans within reach for your now-remote employees. A platform will also allow your plans to be flexible, so employees can edit and update them as part of regular maintenance.

Information is a critical component of responding to something like COVID-19. During an incident like this, you’ll want multiple ways to present information for different teams and operational reasons. Paper is limiting and static, greatly reducing your ability to give different people updates on the situation.

Responding Digitally to Disruptions

Ideally, you’ll have a plan ready to activate as soon as your organization needs to. If your organization has already been affected by COVID-19, hopefully its plan is active right now.

The real benefit of digital platforms in situations like the one COVID-19 has forced many people and organizations into is the immediacy of information and action they provide.

Digital platforms come with a multitude of ways to present information. Dashboards condense large data sets into digestible numbers, and provide an entire operational overview on one screen. These can also be pushed to various teams and executives, allowing you to keep organizational situational awareness through just a few clicks.

Other features of a digital platform round out the informational cycle for your organization. By implementing processes, data like short-term employee travel histories and current/upcoming trips can be tracked. The same dashboards mentioned before would also serve as a one-stop-shop for all employees looking for historical and current information regarding the emergency (which, currently, would most likely be related to COVID-19).

Responding to Crises

COVID-19 is a certifiable crisis for populations, countries, and organizations.

For business and organizations, the best thing to do is prepare a response and understand how to maintain business continuity through the presence of the coronavirus. A thorough BCP and BCMP can do this well, and are two items all businesses and organizations should have for COVID-19 and future disruptions.

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