We are dealing with a threat to business operations or disruption of business. Since 2012 the ISO 22301 Business Continuity Management System standard, now in its revised version of 2019, describes requirements for implementing a management system to reduce the impact of disruptive events. This sleek requirements document is accompanied by a rich guidance document ISO 22313, which offers practical information on how to prepare for, respond to and recover from disruptions. The COVID-19 developments are unfolding at an accelerated pace and organisations may have a lot of gaps to cover in their Business Continuity Plan(s). Factors such as operational agility and employee morale are just some of the main points at play.
Organisations of all sizes have a very significant role to play during a virus outbreak, especially when it comes to implementing good practices and communicating hygiene protocol advice, personal protective equipment, as well as behavioural changes (i.e., properly washing hands, social distancing and avoiding handshaking in meetings).
Within organisations, the team responsible for the business continuity plan can use a variety of proactive strategies in order to try and take control of the virus outbreak within their organization.
First and foremost, an organisation has to ensure that its management team, as well as the team leaders, are clear about the organisations prioritised activities, key products and services, people, skills, and the minimum staff arrangements. These and similar information should be available in key documentation such as the business continuity policy, the business impact analysis, the business continuity strategies and the business continuity plans.
While business continuity, at first glance, appears to primarily deal with breakdowns or loss of physical resources (with staff being available), in this context we deal with an inverse scenario: the physical resources are available and are working, but the human “operators” are missing.
Staff might be unavailable due to several reasons. People might actually be sick, or are afraid of being infected, or just need to stay away from work due to responsibilities towards other family members (such as minors, next of kin, and elderly). These people might well be motivated to show up for work but feel an obligation that they have other priorities.
Another problem factor is commuting: if gas stations cannot supply their customers, or if public transportation has been affected or curtailed, showing up for work might be difficult.
The bottom line: organisations need to provide their key products and services with only a fraction of their normal staff, and there needs to be a business continuity plan for this scenario, possibly containing, but not limited to:
1. Employee absence preparation – Prepare for employee absences by knowing which employees are trained and can provide back-up for others who are infected. This necessitates prior cross skill training and an up-to-date list of “who can do what”.
2. Work policy modification – In such an instance, modifying work policies is recommended in order to have more flexibility in normal working conditions. Some of the modifications include:
Besides the above mentioned guidelines, there other administrative and occupational Health & Safety requirements and procedures that organisations call to follow as well:
1. Establish welfare policies – Establish welfare policies for your employees who display virus symptoms, have a relation with someone who is infected, or who have recently returned from travel or have been in contact with someone from the infected zone. Such policies may include the following:
2. Internal-support reinforcement – Reinforce internal support and welfare mechanisms in order to assist employees with health concerns.
3. Access to hygiene products – Make sure that your workplace has all the necessary supplies of hygiene products (disinfectant sprays, disinfectant wipes, etc.) in accessible and visible locations, and encourage the use of these products
4. Continuity strategy awareness – Confirm whether your team, customers, and suppliers are in line with the organisational pandemic plan, including alternate working arrangements, and make sure that each and every one of them knows their role.
Organisations ought to consider planning for an extended and uncertain period of time in which they will have to run on contingency measures due to a pandemic crisis. For the current outbreak, whose roots haven’t been properly researched, health agencies are in the midst of containment efforts, however, it is not clear how much time these initiatives will take to contain the virus outbreak or if these initiatives will be successful in preventing the virus spread at all.
Taking that into consideration, organisations must systematically examine how they will function under various scenarios with different percentages of operational capacity, expecting disruptions of the supply chain.
It is highly recommended to follow best practices as laid down in the documents, in order to minimise to the impact of the current crisis on your organisation.
Ardian Berisha is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for ISR at PECB.
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