In less than two months, Canada has gone from recording its first presumptive case of COVID-19 to declaring states of emergencies across the country. The global pandemic is all-encompassing and affects every facet of society and industry.

As organizations plan, respond, adapt and ultimately recover from the crisis and challenges of COVID-19, the multiple stakeholder and community needs and views should be incorporated in the analysis, strategy, and decision-making processes. From protecting workers, maintaining operations, ensuring core business function continuity, obtaining relief from unachievable regulatory requirements, to anticipating the next turn of this pandemic, a multi-faceted response is required.

Below, with a focus on agile leadership and business continuity, we outline some of the key considerations for organizations relating to stakeholders and communities in responding to COVID-19.

1. Plan, Refine, Adapt, Plan Some More, Recover

  • COVID-19 is unlike other disasters and crises typically experienced by organizations. This creates uncertainty on how to achieve a steady state. Agility combined with strong leadership is required.
  • Organizations typically have existing management plans to maintain business continuity in the event of a crisis, disaster, and business disruption.
  • These plans will have to be refined, adapted, and incrementally implemented to address the evolving government, community and industry responses to COVID-19 and as new data becomes available.
  • The refinement and adaptation of these plans should be informed by a best and worst case analysis of potential impacts to operations, projects, stakeholders, and emerging or transformed risks.
  • Establishing a core team of the right people to lead the business response and to solicit input from the key internal corporate and operational representatives is an important step. Representatives could include members from human resources, finance, procurement, government, community, and external relations, operations, and legal. In turn these representatives should also share the responsibility for monitoring the changing environment, maintaining lines of communications with assigned stakeholders and communities, and keeping the core team updated on any refinements required to adapt to the changing circumstances.

2. Transparent, Timely, Empathetic and Practical Communications

  • Organizations have a responsibility to communicate internally and externally in a timely and transparent manner.
  • Communicating on measures to protect the safety, security and well-being of employees, contractors, and the public is the current primary focus for many (see Bennett Jones' update on An Employer's Guide to Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic).
  • Beyond safety and security, based on the impact analysis conducted and associated plan established, organizations should consider how and what else to communicate to its key stakeholders, including shareholders, governments, suppliers, industry associations, customers, and relevant Indigenous communities.
  • For example:
    • Communicating with regulators: Organizations may realise that they cannot meet certain regulatory requirements due to COVID-19 impacts. For some industries the hurdles could include meeting exploration spend, conducting monitoring, sampling and or meeting any operational compliance requirements, self-isolation of a fly-in-fly-out workforce, inability to secure personal protective equipment (including masks, sanitizers etc.) that are required for many operations, and the issues posed by a disrupted supply chain. Communications with regulators are key to enable the government to respond with the appropriate relief measures. Harnessing the power of the industry and business associations, where available, gives support to individual voices.
    • Communicating with customers: Communications with customers helps provide the assurance that you are thinking of the impact on them. Communications can include the measures the organization is taking to ensure the customer's interests are protected, and if the customer's interests are impacted, what the organization is doing to mitigate such impacts. This is an opportunity to demonstrate creativity and to the extent possible, maintain your customer base. The move by many retailers to have a senior only shopping hour is a practical example.
  • Communications should be cognizant of the fact that the recipient is also dealing, both personally and professionally, with the impacts of COVID-19 and may face pressures relating to employment status and/or business survival.
  • Social distancing is not an excuse to limit communications and the use of technology facilitates maintaining communications, for example virtual town halls.

3. Prepare for the Transition Back to the New Reality

  • As the famous adage goes, This too shall pass. As part of their continuity and disruption planning (described in section 1 above), organizations should start implementing the measures to enable their transition to the new status quo.
  • The transition plan should consider the multiple scenarios of what the new reality may look like and the related steps the organization will have to take. From potential corporate restructuring, to addressing the loss of operational, project (e.g. missing construction, studies or other time-specific activities), or construction timelines, the range of issues to consider as part of the post emergency state is vast and will be informed by the impact analysis conducted earlier.
  • While the plan is developed, adapted and implemented, organization's legal obligations continue, and barring legislative amendment, organizations should be mindful of new supply chains development, continuous market disclosure (financial and operational), and changes to circumstances having an impact on their legal positions, for example those that may have led to triggering force majeure (see Bennett Jones' update on Force Majeure Clauses and Risk Management in the Face of COVID-19).
  • With new legislation and orders being introduced to address COVID-19, organizations should be mindful of how these emergency measures apply to them and whether any liabilities or limitations will transition beyond the state of emergency.

4. Strengthening Partnerships

  • For organizations, including many resource-based companies that often work in remote communities, leveraging their resources to support the community's needs will assist in the long-term objective of many companies to build sustainable partnerships based upon mutual respect, partnership and transparency.
  • Decisions made by organizations as part of business continuity may also have unintended consequences, or consequences that may provide short-term relief but result in long-term harm.
  • During the global financial crisis, many companies implemented cash preservation policies. While many of these measures assisted organizations in absorbing the impact, some of the policies negatively impacted the entire supply chain and the relevant industries' eco-system.
  • Crises can either breed loyalty or damage relationships.
  • COVID-19 presents an opportunity to build new or strengthen existing partnerships. The pandemic presents an opportunity to supplement or supplant those measures that the organization cannot sustain independently by entering into partnership with others (e.g. banks, lenders, suppliers, similar organizations). Leveraging the organization's core strengths assists with business continuity and assists to mitigate the extensive reach of COVID-19.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.