indicatorAdvice for Alberta businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic

Making your business continuity plan work during emergencies

By ATB Financial 29 April 2020 5 min read

In today’s chaotic climate of COVID-19 upending the world economy, most business owners have likely already activated their business continuity plans (BCPs) and are now working at shifting and reshaping them to reflect both the current state of business environments, and future-facing strategies that address some of the long-term effects created by the spread of COVID-19. Failing to address the changing business climate could lead to incorrect deployment of the right financial and human resources to address emergencies.

First, let’s outline some of the critical components of an impactful BCP:

  • Details on addressing staff absences due to the emergency. In some cases employees may benefit or prefer to work from home. Information should be specific on what remote work looks like from both the employee and manager perspectives.
  • Outline what occurs when there is a sudden disruption to services such as information, telecommunications, financial services, energy supply and logistics.
  • Details on back-up plans related to the supply of necessary materials or contractors.
  • Details on how to manage a major increase or decrease in demand for products and services.
  • Tasks related to the cancellation or disruption of travel and cross-border movement of staff and goods.
  • Prioritize the essential services required to drive the business forward as other roles and functions get suspended.
  • Identify the number of staff and skills needed to perform and maintain the essential services or functions.
  • Develop action plans to reduce or modify essential services and ensure responsibilities for individual roles are laid out clearly.
  • Establish action plans to contact key customers and partners with reliable information on the company’s next steps, with details on which functions have been reduced or shifted.
  • Build out a checklist of how often the BCP should be tested and revised.

Essentially, your BCP is an anchor in understanding how decisions today will impact the business in the future.

The COVID business continuity wake-up call

Each BCP will vary depending on the company and even the emergency, says Bryan Rabik, managing director, Alberta North Real Estate at ATB. “It should be scaled to reflect the crisis at hand, so a BCP for a branch of a company will look different than one that focuses on the impact of an emergency affecting that firm enterprise-wide.”

After leading community initiatives to evacuate, re-populate and kick start the regional economy after the 2016 wildfires that engulfed Fort McMurray, Rabik is no stranger to the substantial impact a crisis can have on business continuity and risk exposure. His experience guiding business owners and leaders through the catastrophe only solidified for Rabik the importance of a comprehensive continuity plan and strategy.

Still, the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any threat the modern business market has faced, so it’s essential for business owners to take stock of the global shutdown’s impact on essential services. Also important is to identify which areas of the business are most threatened by a prolonged lockdown.

For many companies, COVID-19 is waking up business owners to a necessary plan that has to be outlined thoroughly.

“I call it the COVID canary. This situation has highlighted that business continuity plans were fond aspirations as opposed to concrete plans, which is always the case. It is always ignored. People are very much realizing it now,” says Frank Brown, practice lead at Bovill in London, according to a report in Regulatory Intelligence.

A vital step in activating a BCP during a monumental crisis with far-reaching implications is ensuring everyone is on the same page.

“Communications with all parties involved have to be clear and flexible,” says Rabik. “BCPs can’t account for everything so you have to duck and weave with your communications. You want your staff to feel like the managers have a handle on the situation.”

The fiscally smart BCP and empowering remote employees

While Canada has granted small business financial assistance, the shifting BCP shouldn’t rely on those funds to execute various action plans, which is why there should be procedures in place to address emergency situations with extremely lean solutions, both financially and via boots on the ground.

Informed decisions on the BCP going forward can be cushioned by having a steady cash flow, which is often easier said than done. Larger businesses may be more likely to have enough liquidity to weather the harshest of storms, but even if a business isn’t a scaling multinational, it can still plan to hold a reserve of funds available for major emergencies.

One area that should be prioritized is relations with staff. Business leaders can help their employees cope with the crisis by giving them sufficient resources to work remotely, which countless businesses have accomplished as COVID-19 spread from country to country. Employees should be given access to all of their resources as usual from any office and must be set up under a secure virtual private network (VPN) with multi-factor authentication. Everyday operations such as antivirus updates, system monitoring, endpoint detection and response capabilities need to be active and functioning.

Otherwise, IT directors will be spending vital hours troubleshooting issues related to connectivity when they could be buttressing the company fortress more effectively.

Also, HR managers should ensure they make resources available to any staff who come up against mental health challenges due to the crisis at hand, especially if vulnerable employees have already been identified pre-emergency.

Can businesses benefit from the shutdown?

Rabik relates a conversation he had with a client who told him the COVID-19 crisis actually boosted his sales. Why? Rabik offers one word to sum it up: “Technology.” He goes on to say, “As their competitors were shutting down, this company had the technology to service their customers. They had the technical ability to continue a process their competitors didn’t have.”

To stay relevant and avoid a downturn in revenue during emergencies, companies must be able to adopt technology ideal for online ordering and services, especially if bricks-and-mortar businesses haven’t strengthened their digital presence significantly.

Second COVID wave concerns

As much as government and health care officials are preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19 to circle the globe, business leaders should also face the reality of reacting to another quarantine period.

Rabik suggests, “A BCP has to be an evolving document that lives and breathes and has a cadence to it because it’s always being reviewed and adapted.”

He notes this shifting BCP should always “create confidence, and the person bringing it to employees should be a real leader, someone who can inspire employees during moments such as these.”

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