There is no rule book for situations like the coronavirus crisis and even the best-prepared firms must think on their feet. However, there are measures businesses can take to help plan for, and navigate, these types of unexpected disruption.

Fail to plan, plan to fail. The old adage is certainly sage advice, but not even the best-laid Business Continuity Plans (BCP) are likely to be found lacking in the face of the huge disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even the worst anticipated scenarios – such as war, cybercrimes or natural disasters – have historically been more localised, without the global impact on people, processes and systems that this crisis has caused. 

As a result, businesses across the globe are having to rethink their strategies fast. The question therefore is how can businesses ensure effective, efficient and agile responses during this crisis? 

People first

Employees must be the priority for every business. Measures to protect and support them must be put in place if they are not already in the plan. The crisis will likely affect large numbers of staff in a variety of ways, so consider the mitigating actions that can be taken now to carry the company through to the longer term.

Tracking local legislation, and COVID-19 advice, is key to ensuring your business is operating within the agreed HR rules and regulations. Things are evolving by the day so it's important to keep on top of, and be responsive to, the changing landscape. With so many people working from home, managers need to consider different techniques to keep their teams and support staff through difficult personal situations, with social distancing and potential sickness in their families.

Communication with employees is vital. Creating a transparent atmosphere in which staff feel comfortable giving leaders an honest picture of their individual situations, professional and personal, will be key to navigating the best course forward. Equally, leaders must be clear, upfront and reassuring with employees— keeping teams connected and pulling the same direction.

Find the new normal

It's crucial to take stock and identify problem areas if a BCP is not working. In crisis mode, blind spots can appear, and it can be easy to focus on problems that are simple to fix but less pressing. Creating a cross-functional committee with people from different parts of the business, will help curate a variety of input and ideas when looking for solutions to problems.

In a global context, head offices need to collect information from the localities to understand and track what is happening on the ground. Central policy making can help inform standards and create a single, company approach avoiding duplication or cross working. However, local differences need to be considered and regional innovations fed back in a process of continuous improvement and knowledge sharing.

Flexibility will create resilience. This is true for staffing plans. Ensuring there is a wide base of knowledge and no information silos is imperative since there could be problems if people must take time off for sickness. Additional HR considerations around paid leave, furlough or scaling back on labour forces is inevitable for many businesses. Flexibility with technological access is also essential, e.g. scaling up infrastructure to accommodate a higher proportion of staff remotely logging into servers. 

Companies may be particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks at this time since there will be those seeking to take advantage of the chaos of the situation. Reports already indicate that phishing attempts and social engineering scams are on the rise. 

Ahead of the curve

Once firms have ensured that their essential processes can function normally, it's important to think ahead of the curve. 

Identify the minimum viable service level and make sure back-up is available to keep these critical operations running amid any further turbulence. As of yet, the crisis has not really affected the free movement of goods, but plans must be made in case service and supply chains do experience disruption.

The work environment must be considered too. Where and how people do their jobs has changed, at least for several months and managers may need additional training in how to lead their reports remotely. Think ahead about the ways people will be able to keep in touch – how can sales teams generate leads with conferences cancelled and face to face visits off the table?

From an economic perspective the impact of this crisis is likely to drag on long after the health crisis comes to an end. Companies must retain additional liquidity and have a keen eye on cashflow maintenance. Where necessary, have early conversations with creditors and ensure that negotiating breaks from debt is done from a position of transparency, before payments start being missed.

Governments are increasingly announcing emergency measures to support businesses, including allowing delayed filings, a hiatus on corporate tax, and possibly bailouts for some industries, such as the airline sector. As an employer, it is vital to keep on top of your obligations against this moving backdrop. A list of government support schemes can be found here

Some industries will undoubtedly be worse affected, and the degree to which individual companies suffer will depend on multiple factors, including how much cash they have in the bank and how agile their working processes are. 

The businesses that will best endure the crisis are those that adapt and pivot their plans as the pandemic evolves. If you need help in understanding what support is available for your business, get in touch with our experts.

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.