What Does the Coronavirus Mean for Your Business Continuity Plan?

Author(s): Frank Trovato

If you are responsible for your organization’s business continuity plan (BCP), expect to get a call from senior leadership soon about your readiness for a potential pandemic. If you don’t have a BCP, start writing one — unless you are comfortable owning the risk of not being prepared.

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic at the time of writing, it has declared it a global health emergency. Further, as more cases of the coronavirus are found outside of China, people are naturally becoming concerned. No matter which label the WHO hangs on this, organizations need to take notice.

Health and safety must always be every organization’s top priority, so expect at the very least for employees to start asking questions about travel and other potential risks. Refer to the WHO and your local health officials for guidance on that front.

In the meantime, senior leadership also needs to be practical about managing risk – in this case, that means ensuring critical business operations can continue as concern over the coronavirus grows.

When there is a pandemic threat, or even the more common flu outbreak across your organization, you can support continuity by taking a few common-sense actions that would be part of developing a BCP:

Enable staff to work from home.

This is a common tactic to mitigate the risk of a facility incident, but it also applies to a pandemic situation where coming into the office might not be an ideal choice. Don’t wait until one of your staff gets the virus to start figuring out how to enable your other staff to work remotely, because they won’t be coming in until their safety can be assured.

Many organizations have moved from desktop PCs to laptops, partly to support mobility. However, you can’t count on staff remembering to take their laptops home, so also consider tactics such as Citrix solutions that enable staff to access an image of their workspace from their home computer if necessary.

It is important to note, however, that not all roles can or should be executed from a home office due to issues such as security concerns and logistical challenges (e.g. where physical documents must be accessed or shared).

  1. Start by identifying candidate roles for working from home.
  2. Ensure that relevant staff have the appropriate resources to work from home – e.g. a laptop or access to a virtual desktop, VPN access and other appropriate security measures, and a suitable internet service. If they are in a location with poor internet service, that can be a deal breaker.
  3. Don’t assume that staff who already work from home one or two days per week already have the necessary setup. They might be scheduling their work accordingly and have key tasks that they currently can do only in the office.

Identify alternate staff for key roles – i.e. staff who execute critical business processes.

While this is an obvious tactic, many organizations have several key roles with no backup because identifying alternatives is not a priority. Until, of course, it is. Follow these steps to narrow your scope and identify alternate staff:

  1. Execute a business impact analysis to objectively identify the critical business processes you need to focus on first. Download Info-Tech’s BCP Business Impact Analysis Tool to get started.
  2. For a pandemic, your main focus must be your people – specifically, what roles do you need available to execute your critical processes?
  3. For each of those key roles, identify potential alternative staff. That can include someone currently in a different role, staff who have moved to a different department but are still familiar with those critical processes, or outsourcing services.
  4. Work with business leaders to validate and communicate the alternate staff list for key roles.
  5. Update your recovery plans to include clear instructions of who to pull in if needed. This will help with both the common flu outbreak and the threat of a more serious pandemic. For an example of recovery plans, see Info-Tech’s BCP case study.

Work with your crisis management team (CMT) to ensure a quick response to any changes in the status of the coronavirus outbreak or if one of your own staff is affected.

Traditionally CMTs are focused on evacuation, shelter-in-place, lockdown scenarios, and crisis communication. But they also need to be equipped to quickly escalate any issues that threaten employee safety and business continuity.

Ensure your CMT remains current on the coronavirus status. The WHO website provides a good starting point.

Our Take

Those responsible for business continuity will need to enlist help from the management team to expedite the tasks above, as you can’t just flip a switch and have a BCP in place. Also use this as a driver to ensure your organization is better prepared in the future so that you aren’t scrambling the next time there’s a major threat to business continuity, whether it’s another potential pandemic, a forecasted major weather event, or unexpected incidents that come with no warning at all.

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