The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has had an unprecedented impact on global communities and businesses. From the cancellation of major events like SXSW, E3, and Collision Conference, to disrupted supply chains, not a corner of the world has been untouched by the mysterious disease. So it’s no surprise that organizations are working to create contingency plans in the event a serious disruption to their operations takes place.
The best time to prepare a business crisis plan is before you need it. Even when there isn’t a virus spreading, other emergencies may necessitate the need for your employees to change the way they work. If your organization is one of the 51% that don’t have procedures in place, there are steps you can take to keep your business activities as uninterrupted as possible.
When putting together any crisis plan, it’s important to form a task force to determine everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Depending on your business, it may include representatives from key areas like human resources, communications, sales, supply chain, health, safety, operations, and legal. Decide which person on your team is the ultimate decision-making authority and who is responsible for communicating pertinent information about the company’s situation with employees and external audiences like media and customers.
Assess Your Risk
The first component of any effective business crisis plan is risk assessment, which identifies potential hazards that could disrupt your business functions and processes. While pandemic is certainly top-of-mind right now, other vulnerabilities may include public relations blunders, social media missteps, cyberattacks, data breaches, natural disasters, or product recalls.
Determine the Impact on Your Business
Newton’s third law of physics states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”, which is something all companies should keep in mind when developing a business crisis plan. In order to think clearly and make timely, well-informed decisions during the chaos, you should pre-emptively perform a business impact analysis (BIA). This will help your team consider every angle of a threat, revealing a litany of potential effects, such as:
- Customer dissatisfaction
- Lost or delayed sales
- Increased expenses
- Reputation damage
- Regulatory fines
- Legal ramifications
Put Contingencies In Place
Once you’ve identified the risks that could impact your business, it’s time to put actions in place that will help your company respond effectively to each scenario. Think about what steps and safeguards should be in place to resolve each crisis, what resources would be required, and how your team can help.
For example, a social media misfire might result in your digital team issuing a statement across your online channels while customer teams are briefed on any official statements to relay. On the flip side, a product recall would require coordination across IT, customer service, sales, and public relations to minimize any impact on the company’s reputation.
Create a Communications Plan
During times of crisis, it’s essential that critical information is communicated quickly and consistently across your various audiences. Your task force will need to agree on what information should be available publicly and what should be kept internal. We recommend putting messaging protocols in place ahead of time in order to expedite the approval of any company statements and prevent everyone from getting suffocated by endless editing. Be sure to consider if legal input will be needed.
Review the audiences you will need to reach out to and assess what kind of communication they will need, as well as how you will deliver it. Will you send an email or a text? Do some audiences respond better to certain forms of communication over another? No matter which methods you use, it’s important to test your systems and tools ahead of time and make certain the tone in your messaging comes across as calm, collected and reasoned.
You’ll also want to think about how any relevant correspondence will be distributed and how workers can get the most timely information possible. Some businesses will utilize email or a company intranet, but a platform like CircleHD is especially helpful in this instance because it securely delivers information only to the people or teams you grant access to, cutting down on the chance that sensitive information could be leaked. CircleHD can also act as a central “hub” that gives your workforce access to the most up-to-date information available, at any time, even if there’s no internet connection available.
Put Together an HR Plan
Perhaps one of the most striking effects of the COVID-19 outbreak has been the restriction on travel and working. Telecommuting (aka “remote work”), or the practice of working outside of the formal office, has been steadily gaining popularity over the last few years, buoyed by a host of digital productivity and collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack.
According to FlexJobs, “Between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work. In 2015, 3.9 million U.S. workers were working remotely. Today that number is at 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population.”
Despite the transformative possibilities of remote work, many companies have yet to put any formal procedures in place. The recent wave of coronavirus-related shutdowns should remind organizations why it’s imperative to implement and/or review their telecommuting policies.
Equally as important, made prominent by the United States’ recently announced travel suspensions, your business crisis plan should include guidance about what happens in the event employees are prevented from leaving or returning home.
Effective Communication is Key
In times of crisis, the way you communicate with your workforce and customers can make or break your reputation. It’s important to be direct, to the point, and as transparent as possible. Whether the incident is minor or, as in the case of COVID-19, a source of ongoing concern, providing frequent updates and outlining what precautions you are taking will reassure everyone involved.
Make Your Plan Future-Proof
There’s a good chance that activating your crisis management plan won’t just be a “one and done” situation so it’s vital the plan remains updated and frequently updated to reflect the incorporation of new technologies, personnel turnover, and other variable changes.
Recommendations for an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan
With a seemingly endless stream of coronavirus developments unfolding hour to hour, it’s imperative that businesses have their infectious disease outbreak plan ready to go at any time. According to the CDC, employers should:
- Ensure the plan is flexible and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan.
- Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected.
- Share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
- Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.
What You Should Include in a Coronavirus Response Plan:
- Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees
- Review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing state and federal workplace laws
- Explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees
- For employees who are able to work remotely, managers should encourage employees to do so until symptoms are completely resolved.
- Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.
- Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations.
- Plan for how your business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or these supply chains are interrupted.
- Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company’s infectious disease outbreak response plan, altering business operations (e.g., possibly changing or closing operations in affected areas), and transferring business knowledge to key employees. Work closely with your local health officials to identify these triggers.
- Plan to minimize exposure between employees and also between employees and the public, if public health officials call for social distancing.
- Establish a process to communicate information to employees and business partners on your infectious disease outbreak response plans and latest COVID-19 information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.
- In some communities, early childhood programs and K-12 schools may be dismissed, particularly if COVID-19 worsens. Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes from increases in sick employees, those who stay home to care for sick family members, and those who must stay home to watch their children if dismissed from school. Businesses and other employers should prepare to institute flexible workplace and leave policies for these employees.
- Local conditions will influence the decisions that public health officials make regarding community-level strategies; employers should take the time now to learn about plans in place in each community where they have a business.
- If there is evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in the US, consider canceling non-essential business travel to additional countries per travel guidance on the CDC website.
- Travel restrictions may be enacted by other countries which may limit the ability of employees to return home if they become sick while on travel status.
- Consider canceling large work-related meetings or events.
At the end of the day, any business crisis is a test of resilience, agility and cross-departmental communication. By having an adequate business crisis plan in place, your organization will be better prepared to face the unexpected and recover more quickly.
If you’d like to learn more about business crisis plans and how CircleHD can enhance your plan of action, please reach out.