The coronavirus of 2020, the H1N1 (bird flu) of 2009, the Zika virus of 2016, seasonal flu, and other inevitable illness threats, have something in common: They are reminders to businesses of the importance of an epidemic/pandemic business continuity plan.
Regardless of how serious, or benign, coronavirus might be for the population as a whole, the fact is that it’s infecting and affecting the business supply chain and everything connected to it. Whether or not disease fears are justified, they’re real when they affect your business.
It’s better to have an emergency plan and not need it than to need an emergency plan and not have it. Assign a senior executive or team, or engage a consultant, to compile your business’s strengths and weaknesses, assess the threats and positives, and prepare a plan to respond to disease-related conditions. Planning and risk management should start early and contain the following four elements:
Work force management
As your organization’s work force is your most valuable asset, their individual health and safety are of paramount importance to you. One needlessly sick employee has the potential to affect an entire office. In this regard:
- Internal infection security is easy to overlook when concentration is focused on exterior threats. Infection control measures are wide-ranging. Among them are hand-sanitizing stations, simple reminders to (carefully) wash hands, employee education of how to avoid becoming infected or infecting others.
- What contacts or information sources does your organization have with public health organizations? Information provided by public health authorities can explain to employees the specific steps to take (in addition to staying home) if they suspect they might be infected. Include training on the importance of flu shots, types of treatment, and what not to do if they think they’re sick. (A suggestion: Give the OK to not shake hands; if hand washing is the best way to fight a pandemic, not grabbing hold of someone else’s potentially germ-ridden hand won’t be interpreted as a lack of respect; in fact, and could be welcomed. Fist bumps are fine.)
- Consideration should be given to modifying, liberalizing, or extending, existing sick leave and vacation policies to take into account the extraordinary circumstances resulting from an epidemic or pandemic.
- If employees report as sick, but not so sick they can’t perform their responsibilities, working remotely is an option for them to avoid having to take leave (some sort of verification might eventually be necessary), which is, in effect, an employee benefit. During a pandemic or epidemic, if in doubt, stay home.
- Consideration should be given to the reduction, delay, or elimination of all nonessential business travel.
- Identify the employees and staffing levels essential to operations. If replacement staffing were to become necessary, explore options and availabilities to find and train potentially temporary employees or bring back into service former or retired employees.
- Research outsourcing critical functions, and cross-train employees whenever possible, particularly in essential functions.
During an epidemic/pandemic, telecommuting can be a very effective way to enhance workforce health and safety while maintain critical services to your customers. Among the considerations:
- Do you have the equipment, technology and technical support in place to support increased technological demands of telecommuting?
- Do you have the technology in place to support increased usage of videoconferencing and teleconferencing?
- Should you increase your cell phone plans?
- Is your information security plan sufficient to handle increased remote usage?
Navigation through an outbreak will most certainly require a coordinated response between your organization, its work force, suppliers and customers. An effective communication plan is essential during such an event. Communications should be:
- Early, and should include expectations of operational capabilities, particularly if your services or products are to be impacted.
- Ongoing, regular and include updates on your current status, future plans, and how to obtain additional information.
- Be inclusive on contingency plans; people are counting on you to share facts about your status.
Other business considerations
Financial planning must also be a part of the plan. Bills won’t stop arriving. Employees will expect, or hope, to be paid. Do you have sufficient cash reserves or lines of credit to weather the storm?
Are your business and personal health insurance coverages sufficient to protect your business operations and provide sufficient aid to your work force?
Customers will be under similar pressures. Should you revisit your credit policies and terms with certain or all of your customers? Will there be a temporary decrease in the need for your products or services? How can you creatively continue to serve your customers if certain resources become limited?
Vendors will be under similar pressures. Do you have a supply chain management risk? The coronavirus is forcing governments and businesses to recognize the problems inherent in relying on a single dominant source of manufacturing or supply. There are vendors on which a business relies so that the business itself can function.
This is an opportunity for businesses to go to school on such supply chain situations, and to have in place an expanded vendor inventory that either diversifies their existing vendors or puts in place alternative sources if the need arises.
Depending on various scenarios, what are the financial benchmarks that exist within each, and what actions must occur, in order, depending on the severity of the epidemic/pandemic’s impact, to ensure business survival?
When a plan is readied, test it. Ensure the remote equipment works. Practice contact with health authorities. To the extent possible, work with alternate vendors. Measure compliance with internal anti-infection measures and employee training. Re-work financials to cover that essential base.
Developing a plan isn’t simple of quick process, but if you have a crisis plan in place for natural disasters or other emergencies, you’ll probably learn that much of it dovetails with a plan for disease response.
Putting a person or group in charge of preparing your business’s emergency plan is a crucial act, but it doesn’t relieve the business CEO or owner of ultimate responsibility for the life of the business. Planning doesn’t assure success; planning gives you a leg up on maintaining your operations – or avoiding your business being hit with a fatal illness.
This article first appeared in KnoxNews.Share