Businesses will be judged on how they came out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of your success during the coronavirus crisis likely depends on two factors: your industry and your business continuity plan. Unfortunately, for those businesses in hard-hit industries like hospitality, tourism, and retail, even the most robust continuity plan may not be enough to keep you or your employees afloat. That’s a tragedy no one saw coming.
Companies who are weathering this crisis well are leaning heavily on their Continuity of Operations Plan, or COOP. These plans provide guidance on implementing and managing business operations so services can be performed in an emergency event. At its core, a COOP examines the risks to your business caused by specific events – catastrophic damage to your headquarters, a data security breach, a meteorological disaster – and assesses how to maintain business operations if one of them should occur. The global spread of COVID-19 has given companies a sobering reminder they should now include a pandemic response in their COOP.
Here are six considerations to include in your business operations plan that can significantly improve your response to a similar catastrophe (we hope you never need to deploy it).
EBI has remained 100% fully operational with virtually no interruption to our normal services, in part, because of our business continuity plan. During this pandemic, though, we recognized an immediate need to amend our plan to include pandemic response. We’re pretty sure you might be thinking you need to do the same thing.
“We added an entire pandemic plan. At the outset of COVID-19, I didn’t even know how to approach it,” says Bob Capwell, Chief Knowledge Officer at EBI, who helps develop, write, and oversee our COOP. “But so many businesses were also experiencing the same thing and have been open about sharing their research and plans that resources were in abundance for EBI to quickly respond to this need and add a pandemic amendment to our COOP.”
Here are some guidelines to follow if you’re thinking of adding a pandemic amendment.
As we’ve seen throughout the coronavirus response, guidelines change quickly so it’s your responsibility to remain in compliance as these changes occur. Your management team should monitor requirements and recommendations under OSHA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), American Disabilities Act (ADA), and other federal, state, and local agencies to determine the precautions needed to protect your employees, partners and customers.
Frequent, transparent communication is essential to manage a pandemic’s rapidly changing environment. Your leadership may want to meet more frequently, if not daily, for status meetings to assess the current state of operations, staff, and the outbreak. Encourage department managers and process owners to deliver succinct reports to keep your leadership team in full knowledge of everything from business volume and financial status to infrastructure and employee morale. Opening communication with employees is a key step to boosting morale.
“Transparency is essential at a time when employees need compassion and to trust their leaders,” says Julie Mulhern, Director of Human Resources at EBI.
Leadership should discuss what information is appropriate to filter to employees and then follow through with a dependable course of action. EBI developed weekly All Staff Huddles to help keep employees informed of the current business environment and what decisions leadership is making.
One of the most important goals of any COOP is to protect the health and safety of your employees. During a pandemic, where there are so many medical unknowns, you have an acute responsibility to take immediate, proactive, and measurable steps to ensure your employees’ safety.
Communication should be swift, concise, and accurate. Staff members should be instructed to take appropriate steps to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases in the workplace related to the pandemic and be reminded of your company’s logistical response to maintain all essential business functions and services.
Following the trend and abundance of stay-at-home orders during COVID-19, it is safe to assume similar orders will follow if we experience another pandemic. An environmental assessment should be considered using federal, state, and local resources to identify the risk level within your company’s geographic area. You should also have a portion of your COOP dedicated to deploying a remote workforce, including a robust IT transition plan and a compliance plan.
Federal, state, and local governments may issue guidelines that regulate social and physical distancing. You may need to take precautions that could affect your operational facilities, employee gatherings, travel, and other business-related events. As these guidelines are released, your leadership team should continue to meet to evaluate your options, update your responses, and communicate to employees any changes you’re making to help mitigate the spread and infection of the virus causing the pandemic.
Informing your clients, partners, and stakeholders about your company’s response to the pandemic is essential to maintaining those relationships. They need to know your operating capacity, staff considerations, and risk mitigation efforts. Although this will be a crowded field – every business will be releasing similar information – it’s important to take the time to keep communication open and transparent with the clients and partners who helped make you a success in the first place.
You don’t have to have a pandemic plan to have a solid business continuity plan. But it is something your company leadership should discuss in the wake of COVID-19.
“It depends on how robust of a COOP you want to have,” says EBI’s Capwell. “You need to take into account the size, complexity, industry of your business.”
There’s no doubt this new coronavirus environment is challenging for all of us. We are all learning as we go. EBI will continue to support businesses of all sizes with useful information about maintaining operations and background screening.
Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.