The COVID-19 shutdown taught many business owners that being ready for anything is crucial for a company's survival. Even as some businesses across the nation begin to find their footing in the new normal, it may prove wise for business owners to prepare for another potential round of restrictions or closures in the fall.
“In the short-term, preparations for another COVID outbreak is mission-critical,” believes Christopher Prasad, vice president of marketing for JookSMS, a text messaging marketing company. “We’ve decided that having a solid plan for another outbreak or any pandemic-like event is a part of our company’s comprehensive risk-management strategy.”
Beyond COVID, contingency and continuity planning can be a fruitful exercise in helping business owners understand what is absolutely critical in times of distress. Going through the process of putting a plan in place can put business functions in perspective and help leadership understand how to pivot if disaster or disruption strikes.
Contingency Planning Steps
Contingency planning begins with a series of steps that takes stock of an organization’s mission-critical tasks and assumes key parts of them may be disrupted.
Those who plan for a resurgence in COVID in fall may see some positive benefits in the near-term, believes Todd Bavol, president and CEO of Integrity Staffing Solutions, a staffing agency. “We’ve found that considering various potentialities and developing game plans for each possible scenario has strengthened our company.”
Preparedness requires examining what occurred for your company during the initial phase tending to various aspects of your business.
1. Let the past guide future actions.
The first step should include reviewing what worked and what didn’t during your company’s shutdown to inform future contingency planning. Try to learn from what worked — and what didn’t — in the first half of the year.
“Companies have real-world experience to guide their planning for another COVID outbreak,” says Dean Chester, co-founder of VPN Review, a company that reviews and tests VPNs. “We found it helpful to conduct a thorough postmortem to determine what actions we took during the closure that worked and where there were weaknesses.”
2. Ramp up safety measures.
Another outbreak will likely require that you step up safety measures even more.
“In addition to enforcing social distancing, mask wearing and recommending frequent handwashing, it’s a good idea to employ point of care testing,” advises Richard Arriviello, MD, chief medical officer at InHouse Physicians, a company that provides medical and wellbeing services to corporate meeting attendees. “With testing equipment, employees and visitors to your offices can be screened for COVID-19 and influenza.”
To ensure that employees abide by safety protocols, consider using an independent third party to serve as compliance officers, advises Greg Pearson, CEO of FocusPoint, a company providing business continuity services in the wake of the pandemic.
“Your staff is more likely to comply with an autonomous third party,” he says. “No one wants to be the ‘mask police.’”
Prasad also suggests stockpiling protective gear, sanitization supplies and other necessary items.
“It’s impossible to tell when product shortages will strike and how long they'll last,” he says. “Not having what you need can force your business to remain closed longer than necessary.”
3. Make plans to quickly return to remote work, if necessary.
Another across-the-board shutdown isn’t out of the realm of possibility. If your company hasn’t already migrated completely, have a plan in place that allows for a quick and seamless pivot to remote work.
“Preserve productivity by maintaining the ability to return to a remote working status at a moment’s notice,” says Jesse Wood, CEO of document management system company eFileCabinet.
4. Be transparent with your management team and employees.
It’s important when communicating in a crisis to be authentic and honest with your teams.
“Clearly outline your plans for navigating another [shutdown],” suggests Bavol. “Ensure that your leadership team is aligned on the messaging. In unprecedented times like these we need to help our teams be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Prasad suggests that messaging should including what will be expected of employees should another outbreak occur. You can also share how the company will try to support them through the uncertainty.
“Everyone has their own responsibilities to deal with, such as family and financial obligations,” he says. “Giving employees a clear picture of what they can expect will help the company’s emergency plans run smoothly, should they take effect.”
5. Communicate clearly with customers.
Inform your customers of your company’s game plan in the case of another COVID outbreak.
“Establish a clear communication channel with customers to let them know exactly how your company will respond to another outbreak,” says Prasad. “Clearly outline how you'll continue to serve them. This should prevent some of the confusion that ensued during the initial shutdowns as businesses scrambled to find alternate means of working, selling products and servicing their clients.”
6. Review your insurance policy carefully.
Some business owners who depended on business interruption insurance during the COVID closure had a rude awakening.
“Check your business insurance policy and have a candid conversation with your insurance policy provider to learn what scenarios are covered,” suggests Bradford Patt, founder of Houston Center for Facial Plastic Surgery.
“I would have liked to have known that there is an exclusion in our business interruption insurance for ‘pandemics caused by a virus.’ We were covered when a hurricane interrupted our operations but not a pandemic. That really caught us by surprise and stung," Patt explains.
"Had we been aware of that detail," he continues, "we could have sought different coverage options or better prepared for the availability of government loans and grants. We eventually did receive a PPP loan, but it certainly was not without some consternation and uneasiness about cash flow.”
7. Prepare to offset losses.
To plan for a potential downturn, consider what in-demand services or products you could offer now to compensate for losses. Bavol’s business has aligned with companies that do COVID-19 testing and have thermal temperature scanners.
“Forming new service offerings and alliances now can help your company better weather another outbreak,” he says.
8. Review organizational policies.
Now is the time to review organizational policies with employees, so they know what to expect should disruption strike again.
“Review the company’s policies and benefits with employees, including paid and unpaid leave and steps to developing flexible working arrangements regarding work from home,” says William Wilder, chief business development officer at Footprints to Recovery, an addiction treatment provider.
Ensure that your leadership team is aligned on the messaging. In unprecedented times like these we need to help our teams be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
—Todd Bavol, president and CEO, Integrity Staffing Solutions
Knowing what they can expect will help employees make their own contingency plans and remain productive at work.
9. Resolve cash flow issues.
If there is another outbreak and shutdown, or the contingency plan is put into place after another kind of disruption, don’t assume there will be similar government resources to help bail your company out financially.
“It's far more likely that a second outbreak would see small businesses fending for themselves to survive,” believes Chester. “Do whatever you can to ensure continued cash flow and create an escalating response plan. That might mean planning for aggressive last resort measures, such as layoffs, but it’s far better to consider the pros and cons of every available option before they become necessary.”
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