A guide to business continuity amid COVID-19 for SMEs

When it comes to disruption, we’ve seen it all. Over the decades, businesses have had to combat a growing number of threats – whether they take the form of natural disasters, terrorism, global cyber attacks, and just about any unexpected scenario you can imagine. But, as the spread of COVID-19 has shown, it’s clear that new and unprecedented threats of disruption will continue to emerge that will challenge the agility of all businesses globally.

Many SMEs will have already implemented working from home policies in order to fulfil the imperative to maintain social distancing, believing existing current business continuity strategies will be adequate to continue operations as normal. But a constantly developing, wide-scale outbreak like the one we’re witnessing right now requires more than a business continuity plan or an on-the-fly decision to have everyone work remotely.

Prepare for a step change

SMEs should be aware of how viral outbreaks will impact customer behaviour and demand for certain products and services. Banking customers might switch to using drive-up windows or online transactions to reduce person-to-person interaction, while increased online transactions in particular can lead to a dramatic escalation of calls to customer services in lieu of people seeking in-store interactions.

Anticipating these disruptions, SMEs should consider what can be done in the present to continue meeting customer commitments in the future. Service disruptions can be very damaging to the experience of both consumers and businesses alike, therefore potential gaps in services need to be identified and addressed.

Focus on being agile

Whether there’s an illness within the ranks, general concern over social interaction, school closures, or another event, businesses must assess the impact of employee absence or staff working from home. How will customer demand be met? How will surges in IT help desk call-ins from remote workers be handled? Are employees adequately trained on remote working or set policies temporarily authorising overtime or accelerated schedules? Having the answers to these questions ahead of disruption will pay dividends when an actual crisis arises.

When it comes to working from home, SMEs need to be aware that a laptop is not enough equipment to fully replicate the level of productivity achieved in the production office. Moreover, there are also distractions and limiting factors at home, such as multiple people working remotely, college age children completing their studies online, and small children streaming video. As a result, bandwidth is now another challenge to remote working which SMEs will need to take into account.

Communication is key

Businesses must also communicate clearly. Communications protocols should be set with personnel to make clear how an organisation will share advisories and actions, ie. when and how employees will be kept in the loop about facility closings and other changes. Organisations also need to be clear about what time-recurring updates will be available and how employees can access them, whether it’s through a website, a hotline number or other preferred channel.

While it’s important to spread awareness of the strategies in place to ensure business continuity, assigning an individual with the role of communicating critical messages during a viral outbreak can help lead others quickly to safety and resolution. Look to the head of human resources for the workforce and workplace elements. The operational aspect to pandemic preparation and response should fall under the COO.
Combatting disruption in 2020

Ultimately, SMEs should view the current outbreak as an example of the unexpected nature of business disruption. However, by employing the right combination of the right BC tools, continuously adapting to changes in the situation, and sharing the burden of knowledge relating to best practices for limiting the spread of infection, SMEs can take the first steps toward ensuring overall resilience and availability of their products, services and operations.

Agility is the key to doing this successfully. SMEs should review their existing business continuity strategy on a daily basis, proactively monitoring the news for recent developments, checking government advice regularly, and reacting appropriately in a timely manner.

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