Digital Transformation

A guide to creating business continuity plans to address COVID-19

April 15, 2020

Reading time: 5 min

Estimates as to when the coronavirus outbreak will subside are unclear, and a vaccine is likely months away. Meanwhile, the economic toll continues to mount. Whether it's canceled travel plans, disrupted supply chains, or social distancing, the situation is forcing organizations of all sizes to dust off their emergency response and business continuity plans. As business leaders, here are some immediate steps your company can take to make sure the transformation success for your business and prepare for recovery once the COVID-19 threat diminishes.

Take the appropriate steps to business transform

In response to COVID-19, companies are rapidly developing their business continuity plans. Some are adapting existing handbooks to handle the outbreak, while others are starting from square one. Here are several areas to consider as you put your plans in place:

1. The first step is to create a dedicated crisis team. A pandemic like COVID-19 can have an impact on every part of the business. Each member of the team, from executive leadership down, should know who is doing what. Prepare an emergency contact list of business leaders and key staff and train the people involved in executing the business continuity plan, to make sure they’re ready at a moment’s notice.

2. Establish strong external and internal collaboration. This includes communications, public relations, legal, and business process response teams.

3. Craft a stakeholder communications strategy that includes employees, investors, consumers, suppliers, and regulators. Employees, in particular, will be looking to you for a response, guidance, and regular communications.

4. Show your employees that you care and support them during this difficult time. For example, just like Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, he recently gave his employees this message in an all-staff memo on Twitter, “I want to repeat with a little more emphasis something I already said: don’t stress about work.”

5. Part of any business continuity plan is to review your travel rules, HR policies, and first-aid plans. Prepare to implement a remote workforce and reinforce your IT infrastructure to support those arrangements.

6. Review your company's policy regarding data protection of laptops and mobile devices. Many firms don't provide backup and recovery for mobile devices in such a digital age. Now is a good time to do so. A common substitute for mobile device backup is a centralized collaboration system, like G-Suite or Office 365. Train employees in the ways to best use them so intellectual property is stored there versus solely on the laptop.

7. If your digital-savvy (IT staff) is unable to physically manage your data center, your firm might have trouble responding to the current crisis. That is where cloud-based, fully automated disaster recovery services come in. All of your data and services can be automatically migrated and run from the cloud, which can free you up to handle other issues like keeping your employees safe.

Prepare for a remote workforce

Time calls the coronavirus outbreak “the world’s largest work from home experiment.” Last week, as COVID-19 cases continued to spread across the globe, millions of people transitioned to working from home. Here are some practical ways you can prepare for a fully remote workforce as you establish your business continuity plan:

Infrastructure security

The uncommon large scale of remote collaboration during the current crisis may put existing infrastructure security to the test. Proactively assess your IT systems, primarily focusing on the non-standard hardware (bring your own devices) and public network scenarios. Access to business applications, data, and other technology assets should also be evaluated to remove potential security risks. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is one secure way for employees to access all of your corporate data. It is also very easy to implement. When a user connects remotely to your domain using their work credentials on a device that you manage, MFA is almost transparent.

Meetings and collaboration

Prepare to use online collaboration tools like Zoom, WebEx, Skype, or Slack for daily meetings, calls, and collaboration. Project management tools like Trello and Basecamp can keep everyone aligned on what is needed for their projects. When video conferencing, encourage employees to use features like background blur to block out potential distractions like children and barking dogs. Most of all, set goals and establish guidelines to help remote workers know what’s expected of them so they can successfully meet their deadlines.

Culture and change management

Remote work can create challenges in maintaining a healthy work culture. Modern social platforms can help make sure messages are heard, leadership is visible, and best practices are shared. Communicate with the organization using online collaboration tools and webcasting for large scale meetings. Microsoft, for example, uses live events and Yammer. They educate employees to use Yammer to build communities that connect people across teams.

Address business disruption

Given the fact that the COVID-19 crisis has caused global supply chain challenges, many companies are experiencing operational disruption. In response, a company’s CFO (or even CPA in some cases) can take steps to mitigate the risks including:

Evaluating liquidity risk

During this time, companies should create a short-term cash flow monitoring system to predict cash flow issues. This where a cloud-based accounting software platform like Xero can help. You will also want to keep a strict eye on working capital, especially as it relates to collecting receivables and managing inventory build-up. Reach out to your financial institution to ensure you have access to emergency cash during this difficult time with the help of artificial intelligence. Throughout the crisis, maintain regular contact with suppliers to identify potential risks as well as clients to ensure they are staying safe.

Adapting sales approaches

The first step to preparing for an uncertain market is to acknowledge what your losses are likely to be. For example, if you have had to cancel live events that were forecasted to generate leads and revenue, what is the pipeline gap you will have without these activities? The second step is to come up with a plan to fill that void. Depending on your business model, you may want to switch your focus to digital business activities and outbound prospecting via phone, email, or social media. Consider using an integrated customer relationship management platform like Salesforce that can help you attract more buyers using personalized marketing and enhancing better customer experiences.

Monitoring costs

Your company will need to monitor direct cost escalations and its impact on overall product margins. In some cases, it will be necessary to act quickly and renegotiate new terms. You will also want to monitor your suppliers to determine how they may be impacted. If you are sourcing materials from suppliers significantly affected by the coronavirus, you will need to find alternatives. This will provide the temporary capacity to meet customer orders. Digital transformation is another option to consider to help cut costs or speed up production.

Evaluating business strategy again and again

Companies should stress-test financial plans for the next one to three years, considering multiple scenarios. If necessary, revise your budgets and business strategies to remain agile. This may also be the point at which you consider raising near-term capital, refinancing debt, or acquiring additional credit support from banks, investors, or the government. At the same time, review operating costs and try to curtail any non-essential expenses.

Consider what happens not just today, but tomorrow and beyond. The resulting longer-term perspective can help make your company’s emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic even healthier and more sustainable. Typically, the response window for a crisis is measured in months, while recovery is measured in years. By taking prompt action today, you will transform your business to thrive tomorrow.

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