If running an organisation wasn’t hard enough already! Now the microscopic world has launched a new attack which every organisational leader needs to address. Long term planning for a potential pandemic is the best place to be. However, as many believed this would never happen what can a business do to prepare for COVID-19 now it’s here?
In case you didn’t know, the start of 2020 has seen the alarming spread of a ‘novel‘ (new) virus whose full name is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Coronavirus is a large family of viruses but this version was unknown before the outbreak in China in December 2019.
As the full virus name suggests, it is related to the virus at the centre of the SARS outbreak in 2002-04. The disease this coronavirus causes is called COVID-19 and although infection is less deadly than its predecessor, it is far more infectious. So, what should an organisation do to prepare for COVID-19?
Consider the threat to your business
Many businesses shy away from identifying and considering how to deal with uncertainty, or risk, in their business. It can be perceived as an overhead and pessimistic, but it is key to your survival when things go wrong.
The idea of risk management is to identify things which could affect your business, collect and understand the facts and, finally, consider what you can do if the worst happens. There is lots of ‘information’ floating around on the subject. You need to find more facts and fewer opinions. In this case, the primary sources of unbiased and up-to-date data are the recognised disease control, health and governmental bodies.
This is a worldwide issue and you may need to look at sources of information outside your own region. Consider your supply chain and where your customers are. Have a look at the Useful Information, below, for the sites we used to build this article.
Think specifically - how could COVID-19 impact your business?
This bit could be seen as scaremongering – that is not the intention. Not all of these scenarios will affect you. They are provided to get you thinking “could this happen to us?”:
Customers and Suppliers
Premises, Equipment and Stock
Brand and Reputation
Practical ways to prepare for COVID-19
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Above all else, tell everyone concerned about what you are doing to address the COVID-19 threat. Specifically:
- Talk to your workers about what they think needs to be done. Do this often. They have significant rights and abilities they can invoke if they don’t think you’re doing enough.
- Find out what your suppliers are doing. Set up ways of identifying if they are going to fail to deliver to you.
- Tell your customers what you are up to. Signage in your premises, clear information on your website and through direct communications might be appropriate.
- When you change how you work, provide clear training and instruction. Don’t just rely on people reading emails.
- Propagate only reputable sources. Don’t rely on the news or social media for information. Also, avoid sharing, even light-hearted, misinformation.
- Avoid being glib, dismissive or overly-humourous. Stress affects different people in different ways. So it’s best to be factual, clear and kind.
Plan for reduced cash flow
Lack of cash flow kills businesses. Usually when a tax bill comes in. We can already see that the stock markets are falling as the expectation rises that businesses will suffer at the hands of this coronavirus. Check if there is anything you can cut or limit to ensure that you can pay the essentials. Then put a plan together and review it regularly as the true impact of the crisis emerges.
Change working practices
This is a very broad area, very much based on what you do, where you do it and what systems and equipment are used. For example, here are some actions that could be considered:
- Allow more working from home or flexibility in attending your premises.
- Provide enhanced cleaning facilities and materials.
- Promote a cleaner work environment. Perhaps everyone could be involved in a deep clean to enforce the importance.
- Reduce unnecessary personal gatherings, like training courses, meetings and conferences.
- Use video and audio conferencing to hold events and meetings.
- Make sure current health guidance is well known, understood and applied.
- Temporarily amend your processes and procedures to reflect new legislation and guidance (e.g. absence and sickness reporting).
Check your supply chain
You may be part of another organisation’s supply chain. They are likely to be as worried about your ability to deliver as much as you are concerned about your suppliers’ capabilities.
Contact your key suppliers, at least, and ask what they are doing to prepare for COVID-19. A sensible organisation will have a pre-prepared response, possibly posted to its website.
The outcome of any enquiries will raise yet more questions as you may find out that they are suffering from supply difficulties from affected areas. For example, China is a huge producer of component materials, the seat of the infection and suffering a downturn in manufacturing.
Watch for scams
Unfortunately, with every crisis comes those people who see an opportunity to take advantage of those affected or worried about the situation. The World Health Organisation has warned of a scam and provided guidance on how to work out what is a genuine WHO communication. They won’t be the first so, check the validity of requests thoroughly before providing any access to your information, premises or systems.
Well, that was all a bit grim!
It has been said, “Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised“.
It’s easy to focus on the fear and gloom of this crisis. There is a lot of work going on and it may well be controlled and eliminated just as SARS was in 2004. However, having a plan to cope if the worst happens is no bad thing. Finally, if you are prepared for surprises you will avoid shock and knee-jerk reactions.
Perhaps this is a great opportunity to prove that risk management is a worthwhile business process.