Business Continuity – Navigating the COVID-19 Uncertainty

As COVID-19 gathers momentum, we have seen the Australian landscape impacted significantly. There’s been a lot of media chatter around the impact the virus will have on big business (think of the airlines, the banks), but the hard hits will also be on sporting organisations – and we don’t just mean the NRL, the AFL and the Olympics – as well as small business, not-for-profits and charities.

Today’s blog article provides some guidance as to how you might be able to navigate these challenging times. We also acknowledge the Australian Institute of Company Directors who have some outstanding resources on their website. Some of those have been reproduced here.

There is no doubt that there is rapidly changing data. Advice is coming from multiple sources and confusion is increasing with some mixed messaging from government and experts. We would suggest that the advice provided by the Commonwealth Government and your state Department of Health is as good as it gets.

Personal Behaviour will slow the spread

The health advice is pretty simple:

  • Practice social distancing (1.5 metres).
  • Stop shaking hands.
  • Practice good hand hygiene.
  • Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Avoid large gatherings.
  • Avoid contact with vulnerable groups, e.g. the elderly.
  • Consider seeking support to minimise anxiety.
  • Follow and act on formal alerts and advice.
  • Do not undertake any non-essential travel, even locally.

Employee Well-Being is paramount

The main focus of preventative measures is to reduce the spread of infection. Management teams have a responsibility to apply local health authority guidelines. There is some really good support material online. Safework Australia and SafeWork NSW were two good resources we found.

Stay in control of your communications. Make sure your comms are frequent, clear and easy for staff to access and understand.

Provide support mechanisms for those team members who might be anxious, particularly about the security of their jobs.  There will be team members that might find working remotely a challenge.

Define roles and responsibilities for Board and Management

During any crisis it is important that there is a clear understanding between the board and management of their respective functions. The board’s role in setting risk appetite and management’s role is implementing and monitoring risk mitigation frameworks, needs to be reinforced. A crisis – such as what we are experiencing right now – needs collaborative leadership to maintain productive dynamics and efficient decision making.

This extends to reporting expectations. The Board will be requiring robust and effective communication coming to directors from management, particularly in regard to the impact of COVID-19 to the organisation. The challenge for the Board will be accepting that the management team is likely to be working in overdrive to ensure the best possible future of the organisation and its people in a very dynamic environment.

Further Board and Management collaboration should consider:

  • A review of all elements of your business model – are there opportunities to adapt, diversify, consolidate, partner?
  • Understand likely impacts if there are COVID-19 outbreaks internally or across your networks or supply chains.
  • Force Majeure clauses in contracts that could come into effect. Identify and plan for any potential legal impacts and commit resources to mitigate adverse consequences.
  • The organisation’s media spokesperson (if it comes to that).
  • Begin planning for long term disruption.
  • Down the track, what is the new “Business-as-Usual?

Business Continuity Planning

A Business Continuity Plan (BCP) involves making a plan for how your business can prepare for and continue to operate during and after an incident or crisis. A BCP will help you to identify and reduce risks where possible, prepare your business for risks that you can’t control, and respond and recover when an incident or crisis occurs.

Many organisations will have BCPs. These are generally for short term events, e.g. power failure, telecommunications / internet failure, fire, disruption to your supply chain, staff shortages, industrial relations issues, workplace accidents, etc. They rarely consider a longer-term crisis, an event that may affect an organisation for a much longer period of time and where there is such a great deal of uncertainty as we are facing with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, the need to review your BCP is crucial. Many organisations may not have anything in place, especially for such a critical, long-term event. In that case, do some scenario planning:

  • Bring the right people in your networks together – remotely, of course!
  • Work through all the different aspects of your business or organisation.
  • Determine how COVID-19 will affect your organisation’s operations.
  • Whilst keeping your people safe, how can you maintain operations or conduct your event?
  • You’ll need to understand your supply chains – the other people, teams, organisations, suppliers that are instrumental in your final product or the delivery of your event.
  • Develop new procedures to deliver services to an acceptable level.
  • Identify changing or new risks and consider mitigation strategies.
  • Designate a Continuity Team to oversee implementation (including risk management).
  • Prepare for long term disruption.
  • As part of the ongoing process, start considering recovery, i.e. what does a return to the new Business-as-Usual look like?

Here to help

We understand that it’s a challenging time. We’re here to support you. You can find us on our Contact Us page.

References and some further support material:

Some links to assist you:

Australian Government COVID-19 Advice
NSW Department of Health
Victorian Department of Health
Queensland Department of Health
SafeWork NSW COVID-19 Advice and Guidance for NSW Workplaces
SafeWork Australia COVID-19 Advice for Employers
World Health Organisation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA site)