Commentary

Business Continuity Planning for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

19, March 2020

As businesses around the world prepare for the potential effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), they’re looking for effective measures they can take to minimize its impact on the business and protect the health of their staff.

Governments and health officials are monitoring the situation carefully as it progresses and adjusting their strategies accordingly to contain and slow the spread as much as possible. In most cases, they are restricting non-essential travel and large-scale meetings, and encouraging those with a cough, fever, or other flu-like symptoms to self-isolate; precautions that high-profile businesses have also taken.

As a result, conferences are being cancelled or made virtual, and meetings that are usually held in-person are increasingly being conducted online or through video conferencing. In fact, Microsoft has seen customer adoption of their collaboration platform, Teams, double in Taiwan over February, and Zoom video conferencing software has added more active monthly users in the first 2 months of 2020 than it did in the whole of 2019.

Remote working has presented organizations with a realistic solution that can help them balance business continuity with health considerations – and central to its success, is its potential for enabling users to communicate and collaborate effectively. Although many businesses have already invested in the required tool-set, few have fully enabled home working capabilities across their entire organization.

So, what can businesses do to minimize the impact of situations which prevent employees from coming into the office?

Business continuity in the digital age is increasingly reliant on robust remote-working policies and systems, so that employees can continue working with minimal disruption when they can’t come to the office. To check whether your technology, culture, and processes are ready to handle an increase in remote workers with minimal impact to productivity, consider whether:

Company and user technology

  • Users have reliable internet connections at home
  • They are equipped with laptops and the webcams and headsets required to facilitate a good user experience during calls and meetings
  • Your set-up and networks are resilient enough to support remote working at scale
  • Employees can reach company networks, systems, applications, and documents readily and securely from home
  • Your collaboration tools, telephony, and/or video conferencing solutions allow for meetings to go ahead as scheduled
  • It is feasible for your business to allow employees to reach company networks using their own personal devices without security issues

Empowering users and effecting cultural change

  • Users have access to training and guides for how to work remotely, so they can get up and running quickly and independently
  • Users can set everything up themselves from home, or whether they need to do the initial set-up at the office beforehand
  • Your employees are new to remote working, and whether they might need some guidance on how to keep communications going both ways
  • Users can ‘chat’ using your collaboration tools, to help replicate the office environment and encourage informal catch-ups

Processes and procedures

  • Your existing processes support or restrict remote working, and whether they need to be reviewed
  • You have instated strong security procedures, such as two factor authentication, to provide your IT team with tighter control outside of the office
  • You have outlined the acceptable use policies of company networks and devices for your users
  • Your organization has clearly defined, readily available policies such as:
    • Disaster recovery and business continuity plan
    • Remote working policy
    • Accessing company networks and systems using personal devices
    • Using company devices outside the office
    • Accessing the company VPN

Effective remote working relies on multiple factors but the important thing is that organizations facilitate and encourage ongoing communication and collaboration. Although the disruption to supply chains, travel, and staffing inevitably present challenges, a comprehensive assessment of your business processes at an early stage can help mitigate the risks later on if the situation becomes more severe.

It is always worth noting that engaging in transparent, clear, regular internal communications updating your workforce about the evolving situation can help safe-guard both your business and the wider public. To combat misinformation, any news and guidance regarding Coronavirus should come directly from reputable health officials, such as the World Health Organization.

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