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Creating a COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan

Before COVID-19, your business continuity plan likely included processes for known emergencies or business disruptions, such as unexpected server downtime, tornados, fires, floods, and possibly even earthquakes. If your business is like most, however, you had not considered stay-at-home orders, contactless service, social distancing requirements, and employees quarantined for exposure to a highly contagious disease.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began this spring, your business quickly dealt with new situations that you had never considered or planned for. While you and your employees made decisions and developed strategies on the fly, you probably experienced high levels of stress and even more disruption to your business due to the time spent planning new processes.

What is a Continuity Plan?

The short answer is a document that gives you a road map on what to do in specific situations, such as disasters and emergencies. Because you create the business continuity plan when not under stress or a time crunch, the processes and decisions are likely much more strategic than simply reacting to an unexpected event. The goal of the plan is to reduce the disruption and impact of the event on the business, such as downtime, loss of revenue and closures.

Because COVID-19 required you to dramatically transform some operational methods and product offerings, it’s also likely that sections of your business continuity plan are now inaccurate and out of date. As the pandemic continues and is apt to be part of our reality for at least the near-term future, updates to your existing business continuity plan need to include COVID-19 related disruptions.

In addition to updating your current plan with your new processes, your business needs to create a continuity plan for the many possible COVID-19 related disruptions that you may face. In the days ahead, instead of experiencing the stress and feelings of helplessness felt in the pandemic’s early stages, you and your employees can quickly move into action. There are likely unexpected twists ahead that we can’t predict, and a pandemic-specific plan will provide you with the building blocks for a response instead of starting from scratch.

Five key areas to include in your plan

While the specific plan and details of tasks vary based on industry and business size, businesses should address the following key areas. Use this list as a guide, and customize the steps based on your specific needs. The bullets guide you through areas to address and consider when developing your plan.

Exposure occurring at the office, site, or retail location

With infections increasing in many localities, the likelihood of an exposure incident at your place of business is high. This means a person informs your business that they received a positive COVID-19 test and was at your location while they were possibly contagious.

  • Determine all key contacts to be notified in the event of an exposure, and create a notification chart with their contact details.
  • Determine cleaning requirements after an exposure incident occurs at your site. Research cleaning services and purchase supplies so they are on hand.
  • Develop and document detailed processes for cleaning, and distribute to appropriate contacts.
  • Determine the likely length of shutdown following exposure, and develop procedures for closing while cleaning procedures are carried out.
  • Develop inspection processes for post-cleaning, and distribute to appropriate contacts.
  • Create a list of nearby testing sites that can be provided to people who may have been exposed.
  • Create a template of communications to send to anyone involved in the potential exposure, and have appropriate departments, including human resources and legal, review the letter.
  • Develop reopening procedures to be followed after a shutdown due to an exposure incident.
  • Communicate processes to all employees and vendors to follow in the event of exposure.

 

Lower revenue due to lower sales or social distancing requirements

As the pandemic continues, many businesses face the reality of extended revenue loss and deficits. Businesses in this situation should begin long-term strategic planning to address the biggest issues and create long-term plans. A business continuity plan can help address short-term deficits.

  • Create a list of creditors and vendors to contact for potential extensions.
  • Research loan and relief packages available to your business.
  • Create a list of short-term cash options, such as equity, credit, and loan options.
  • Brainstorm short-term revenue options, like selling items typically used by your customers, such as groceries or materials.

 

Shutdown of operations

  • Having a plan for a complete shutdown of operations for an extended period of time, either due to a government or an industry regulation mandate or at the discretion of your business, will greatly improve the process and reduce stress.
  • Review the events and processes used during a previous shutdown and determine areas for improvement (if applicable).
  • Create a detailed process for shutting down operations, including a notification chain, equipment, and marketing activities.
  • Create templates of communications for notifying employees and customers.
  • Develop procedures for reopening after a shutdown.

 

Continued remote work

As the pandemic continues, many companies are extending remote work mandates for employees.

  • Determine a decision chain for making the decision for extending remote work.
  • Consider key data and metrics to evaluate when making the decision, and establish benchmarks to help guide the decision, such as “remote work continues until X metric is met.”
  • Review current remote work procedures and determine areas for improvement.
  • Evaluate current equipment used by employees for technology needing upgrades.
  • Create communications to employees notifying them of remote work extensions and any changes to current processes.

 

Supply chain disruption

In the early days of the pandemic, many businesses experienced supply chain issues. As the pandemic continues, businesses may encounter similar or new supply chain disruptions.

  • Review past supply chain issues during the pandemic.
  • Determine items at high risk for future issues or critical items that will cause significant disruption.
  • Research and distribute alternate vendors or potential substitutes for each high-risk supply chain issue.
  • Determine key benchmarks to help predict an increased risk of supply chain issues.

 

As the pandemic continues, you can increase your business’s odds of not only surviving, but continuing to thrive, by approaching obstacles as proactively as possible. With a concrete plan, your business can more easily react to any predicted challenges that COVID-19 puts in your path.

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