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June 19, 2020

How COVID-19 affects business continuity plans and future business operations

There’s much debate and discussion surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on business operations. But what about the longer-term impact? And how will it affect the way business operations and business continuity plans are formed when lockdown is over?

Here’s what we’re likely to see and how a post-COVID-19 pandemic working world could look.

Two-thirds of businesses had no pandemic business continuity plans in place before now

The pandemic has forced companies across every sector to reflect on their business continuity plans. At the beginning of 2020, the idea that a pandemic completely shutting down entire economies around the world was unthinkable. But it happened. And it’s pushed continuity and operational planning to the forefront of every business leaders’ mind.

A recent Databarracks Data Health Check survey shows that 66% of businesses in the survey had no pandemic related continuity plans in place before COVID-19. However, almost the same number (61%) considered the plans they did have in place as ‘up to date’. Despite the UK Government clearly stating on its National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies that one of the biggest risks to business continuity was a pandemic, there appears to have been a severe mental block for organisations.

Pandemics have consistently been one of the biggest hazards facing global businesses for years. The threat of a pandemic has been at the top of Community and National Risk Registers as having a high likelihood of happening and hugely affecting businesses of all sizes. But even though this information has been available for a long time, the survey shows that COVID-19 still managed to catch most UK businesses out. This is a fundamental – and highly significant – failure across business resilience and continuity planning.

Now we all have experience of living through a global pandemic, this will change.

What can UK businesses learn from the pandemic?

There are lessons UK businesses can learn from COVID-19 and apply to business continuity planning and operational changes. It’s important not to get overwhelmed by too many details when planning ahead – appropriate business operation and continuity planning should never be too complex. Look at it as applying common sense to a scenario and scaling it up to ensure the company is covered.

Organisations often ignore huge threats like global pandemics in favour of smaller, more ‘likely’ scenarios. This is due to cognitive bias towards focusing on incidents that have either happened more recently or appear more likely to actually occur. This is why regularly checking national and community Risk Registers should always be part of continuity planning.

The information on the registers won’t always specifically address every business, but they will ensure that nothing is missed. Before COVID-19, the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies said that a pandemic was at a ‘medium to high’ risk of happening “in the next five years”. It also made it clear that the threat was higher due to the Zika and Ebola epidemics since 2015. If more businesses had included this information into their planning, there would have been a stronger response for business continuity plans when COVID-19 hit.

Business continuity plans are essential in a post-lockdown world

Business continuity planning is now essential for every organisation, and should include contingency plans for operational resiliency in case of the following:

  • International threats.
  • Natural disaster.
  • Human-made disaster.
  • Global pandemic.
  • Cyberattacks.
  • Password and data breaches.
  • Power outage.

Businesses that didn’t have a plan before COVID-19 must now formulate one. And fast. We’re shifting into the recovery phase of dealing with the pandemic, and for business leaders this means displaying resilience and flexibility. Whether you head up a business or a team, the focus is now on adapting business operations while facing uncertainty.

COVID-19 has caused major societal and market shifts that continue to cast uncertainty over just about everything. These need to be managed, navigated and used as an opportunity for business growth and operational change. Start by looking to the long-term and how the business will thrive and develop a plan to get there.

Business leaders are under an enormous amount of pressure to rebuild an operational future while dealing with an ongoing crisis. It’s not about returning to exactly where you were before the pandemic but transforming and creating new structures to move forward quickly.

Shifting mindset from responding to managing the ongoing crisis

The early days of the pandemic were about responding to the immediate operational needs of the business. For many leaders this meant either furloughing employees or adapting work practices so that people could work from home. It was an extremely unpredictable and fast-moving time. Now that lockdown is lifting in parts, the country is moving into a period of settled uncertainty – a new kind of normal.

This means business leaders can now shift from almost entirely inward-looking operational moves to ensure continuity and employee safety to including an outward-facing plan. From concentrating on just keeping the business functioning, business leaders are now planning the transition back into a working marketplace and restored future. Different skill sets are needed to ensure this happens smoothly.

Planning should now move from short-term emergency reactions to mid to long term scenario planning. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on financing, operations and employees is critical to re-starting operations in an altered but still functioning world.

Read more blogposts by Jack Mason:

Will working from home be the new normal after COVID-19?

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