When crisis strikes maintain business continuity

By Michal Jozwik - March 11, 2020

The rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to significant impacts to economies and communities, globally.

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As numbers climb beyond 100,000 confirmed cases and impacts escalate, it’s important to consider the direct and indirect effects on your continuing business operations.

Organisations develop emergency response and business continuity plans with the hope they never need to use them. Unfortunately, when things are going well, we sometimes neglect to consider the importance of these plans, forget to update them as the needs of our organisations change or simply don’t formulate them at all.

With the escalating impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) locally and abroad, it is critical to consider your plans and whether they are sufficient to deal with the current issue.

Assessing your readiness

The emerging issue is having a range of impacts on organisations and their employees. Below, we outline the considerations regarding your business’s emergency response and business continuity plans to minimise the impact to your people, customers and operations as the situation unfolds.

Broadly, this article covers the following key areas:

  • Emergency response planning
  • Impact to people
  • Maintaining operations
  • Managing supply chains
  • Customer management and retention
  • Managing cash flow
  • Your response strategy
  • Using technology to adapt

Emergency response planning

An emergency response plan outlines how your organisation will respond when an emergency occurs. Consider the following questions to ensure your plan is sufficiently robust:

  • Have we established a crisis response team to manage the issue?
  • Do we have an emergency response plan and is it sufficient to deal with the current issue or crisis?
  • Is the plan current and has it been tested?
  • Have key roles been allocated to emergency response staff, and are they trained and capable of managing an emergency event?
  • Have we prepared communications to management, staff, customers/clients, industry partners, media, suppliers and other stakeholders?
  • Do we have a register and protocol for tracking and monitoring current and emerging risks?

People management

In the first instance, an epidemic or pandemic scenario impacts people. As such, the first actions outlined in an organisation’s emergency response plan primarily relate to human resource management. Considerations relating to the current issue may include:

  • Determining the ways to reduce the risk of panic and to ensure your people feel safe
  • Assessing the impact to your people from the closure of services like transportation, schools, kindergartens and childcare
  • Assessing the short-term impact to personnel from alternate working arrangements such as remote working and split shifts to proactively minimise the risk of infection
  • Ensuring you have the technology and systems including hardware, software and security to enable remote working
  • Evaluating minimum personnel requirements and key dependencies to maintain operations, while also ensuring adequate cross-training and upskilling in the event of major impact
  • Adjusting policies to deal with domestic and international travel for business and personal reasons
  • Catering to alternative modes of transport such as car parking for vehicles and racks for bicycles if public transport is discouraged, and catering to employees who are experiencing anxiety from exposure on public transport
  • Encouraging the practice of good hygiene in the workplace
  • Assessing if specific personnel are more vulnerable than others and, if so, taking steps to minimise risk and impact to them
  • Designing measures for managing indirect and non-physical impacts to employees such as anxiety, direct impact to close relatives etc
  • Defining safe protocols if continuing to physically interact with customers, clients and suppliers
  • Drafting policies to limit instances of employees attending events such as seminars and conferences
  • Assessing the effectiveness of existing workplace policies in supporting both short and long-term absences resulting from indirect and direct exposure to the virus.

Business continuity planning

While dealing with immediate threats, businesses may also need to consider how to continue with business as usual. A structured, simple and effective business continuity plan (BCP) can help.  

Key business functions

  • One of the fundamental steps in a BCP is documenting what your organisation does and its key risk areas to determine how critical each business function is to the continuity of the business. Considerations may include:
  • Determining the most critical business functions, and how long you can operate without them or with alternative solutions
  • Assessing interdependencies between business functions and how to adapt if a critical function fails
  • Documenting the systems and/or processes that support critical functions
  • Evaluating the personnel dependencies required to keep critical functions operating
  • Cross-training and up-skilling requirements to enable back-up or reallocation of personnel, in need.

Supply chain

Organisations may be reliant on domestic and/or offshore suppliers as part of their supply chain. To ensure your operation can withstand the impact of supply chain disruptions, it’s critical to identify and manage your supply chain risks as part of your business continuity plan. Considerations may include:

  • Ensuring you understand the supply chain and associated risks
  • Whether just-in-time supply systems (if in use) are sustainable during crisis
  • Creating open communication channels with suppliers to identify problems before they happen
  • Having contingency plans including alternate supply options
  • Reviewing single-source supply chains to spread risk across multiple suppliers
  • Forecasting impact to demand and how operations can be adjusted to cater to both increases and decreases in demand.

Customers and clients

Communication with customers and clients is a critical in times of crisis. Considerations may include:

  • Understanding how your customers and clients may be impacted and communicating the impact effectively and thoughtfully
  • Providing alternative solutions for customers to access your products and/or services if traditional channels are impacted.

Financial reserves

An issue or crisis can have several impacts on your business, including your cash flow. To minimise impact, consider:

  • The impact of a slowdown on your cash position and how long you can operate under various scenarios (e.g. minor, moderate, catastrophic scenario)
  • Measures to shore up your core business to ride out the impact.
  • Whether your insurance covers you in in the event of a range of scenarios.

Response strategy and resourcing

Having assessed the risk and importance of key business functions, it’s important to consider how these will continue or be recovered. Considerations may include:

  • Having a tried and tested response plans for critical functions
  • Identifying workarounds or alternatives for key operational functions
  • Identifying critical milestones at which changes may be required to act quickly
  • Clearly allocating roles, and having backups if key people are not available
  • Assessing when and how to activate the response plan
  • Determining who to contact and when

Technology considerations

  • Organisations may be able to leverage technology to minimise risk to employees and help business operations to continue as close as possible to business as usual. Considerations may include:
  • Assessing whether current practices, policies and technologies allow staff to work remotely. If so, is the technology reliable and will it cope in a scenario where a large proportion of staff are working offsite?
  • Ensuring technology is secure and not vulnerable to cyberattack
  • Ensuring staff have access to the necessary tools and equipment including things as simple as laptop chargers, phone chargers, wireless internet devices and more.
  • Assessing whether services and/or products can be offered remotely.

To summarise

While issues and crises are typically few and far between, being prepared can be the lifeline you require in order to make it through an event. Going through the process ahead of time may also encourage outside-the-box thinking that leads to new-found offerings and solutions.

To discuss your specific business risks, business continuity planning and emergency response management, contact your Pitcher Partners specialist below.

How is Pitcher Partners responding?

Pitcher Partners is guided by the Department of Health’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The Department’s guidelines cover how businesses can respond in a range of scenarios including international business travel, domestic business travel, private international travel, and contact with other people who may have been exposed to the virus and those returning from travel.

Pitcher Partners is acutely aware of the potential impacts of a further escalation in the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and is exercising appropriate cautions, in line with the Department’s guidelines, to protect the safety of the firm’s personnel, clients and suppliers.


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