Coronavirus Crisis Highlights Importance of Business Continuity Planning

Pandemic Compels Companies, Schools and Organizations to Put Contingency Plans into Action and Anticipate Longer-Term Challenges                

3/13/20 – – This is not a drill. The continuing advance and serious health threats of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have forced businesses of all sizes to change the way they conduct business. Like the virus itself, companies, schools and organizations are adapting — hour by hour — to a dynamic environment.

So far, things are going pretty well, thanks in large measure to a discipline known as “business continuity planning.” For decades, well-run companies have been preparing for emergencies that disrupt supply chains, depress consumer markets and render centralized workplaces unusable.

The only reason corporate leaders can even consider instructing their employees to “work from home for the next 30 days” or a university can require its students and faculty to “complete the semester from home” is that institutions have been diligently conducting continuity planning. I’ve participated in dozens of planning exercises with clients anticipating the challenges of anthrax attacks, hurricanes, fires, terrorism, explosions, and yes, infectious diseases. These sessions have identified and tested the best technological and operational responses, equipping companies  with highly effective web-based communications platforms (unavailable 10 years ago) that allow employees to do their work without coming to work. And because academic institutions have been aggressively experimenting with remote learning formats, they are particularly well positioned to keep the learning going when physical classrooms are unavailable.

That’s the good news. But how long can these adaptive responses remain effective? My experience is that most companies do not consider emergency workarounds to be viable long-term solutions.

While employees may have the necessary laptops and software to facilitate Zoom department meetings and access sensitive files from home, they may not have been trained in how to make the work environment in their homes productive. Managers may not be proficient in managing without in-person contact. Linked below are a Forbes article and a free webinar offering home office best practices (including advice that you change out of your pajamas and ignore your dog’s attempts to ensnare you in a game of catch). There are also excellent web tutorials available for professors who suddenly are being asked to teach without the use of their classrooms and traditional blackboards. Remembering the human element of change is very important.

Long-term, unpredictable crises like the one we are experiencing with the coronavirus require sustained, flexible crisis response. That’s the planning that should be taking place right now. Adjust your management approach to maximize the capabilities and minimize the disadvantages of a telecommuting workforce. Anticipate the security challenges as well. In a recent Forbes article, cybersecurity expert Sam Curry offered this warning: “Realize that attackers may use the crisis for phishing attacks, to find gaps in security operations, to target your employee homes and systems and may even create deep fakes in very targeted ways. Above all, communicate early and often with your employees.”

As I point out in the conclusion to The Crisis Preparedness Quotient, “Maintaining a high level of preparedness is a lot like the task of keeping a fresh coat of paint on the George Washington Bridge. Once the paint crew is done at one end, the time has come to start again from the other.” So change out of those PJs, walk the dog and continue your continuity planning. Staying one step ahead of COVID-19 will help you weather this storm.

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