Business owners currently face unprecedented challenges in the wake of the Covid-19 restrictions, challenges that impact staff, business property and the ability to trade.
Those companies that already had a business continuity plan in place are likely to weather this storm more effectively than those that were taken by surprise. A business continuity plan sets out procedures and actions that a business can follow in case of an emergency. This can be a flood, fire, cyber attack or, in this case, a global pandemic.
It is rare to get advance notice of a disaster, so a robust and actionable business continuity plan to maintain business functions or resume them quickly is essential. These plans usually cover staff, business partners, assets and business processes.
A slight variation, a disaster recovery plan focuses on restoring IT infrastructure and business operations after a crisis, especially if they have been badly hit.
No matter the issue, to remain competitive your business will need to maximise its capability of operating in the event of a disaster. Now is the time to put your business continuity plan in place to thrive after lockdown and in case of the next crisis – this is what to consider:
The structure of a business continuity plan
Every business has different processes, assets and goals but every business needs to identify some key areas to build a successful continuity plan. Start by accessing your business processes, including which will be the most vulnerable in a crisis, and what assets, staff and infrastructure you need to make the operate.
Then identify the following factors:
- Key business areas
- Inter department/business function dependencies
- Critical functions
- Acceptable downtime of functions
- Scope of the plan
From this, you can create a full plan. A useful process is to create a checklist that includes all equipment and supplies, data backups, where the plan is and who can access it and all key information for who to call in an emotion. Expanding this basic information to relate directly to the above factors will create a robust plan.
What to consider for your business continuity plan
Consider these things to make your business continuity plan a success.
Prioritise your people and their engagement
Even if all your assets and procedures are secure, without engaged and functioning staff they mean nothing. The safety and well being of your employees are essential and in every eventuality comes first, even before ensuring they can do their job.
Address all their concerns openly and transparently, allowing them to feedback on aspects of the plan that will impact them – they know and understand their day to day roles better than anyone. In any continuity plan, work in processes and structures that establish and focus on employee well being, while supporting a safe working environment.
Establish protocols that align with current government and health authority guidelines on disasters, making regular communications on this part of the plan.
This is essential no matter how your business will have to reimagine business-as-usual – if your workers will be on-site with an increased risk or adapting to working remotely for long periods. Your plan needs to actively plan for creating an engaged environment during the changes.
Can you reshape to survive?
This current situation is making many businesses reconsider their business as a whole. Has your supply chain closed down? Has your business functioned just as well with remote workers? Can operational disruption be prevented by changing how you work or business focus?
A new set of challenges have been presented that a future business continuity plan should take into account. To meet these challenges you should:
- Look at operational and financial risks, accessing how well you can respond to them - How well can you react to rising costs, issues with supply and renegotiate new terms. Financial stress on the business could have long-term implications.
As important as accessing in-house vulnerabilities, you should also take a wide look at external factors and how you can protect your business and balance sheet from them.
- Consider different supply chain options – if your suppliers are based in areas hit badly by Covid-19 you will be needing to look for alternatives. Can you source from other areas, even more locally, to fulfil your needs?
- Examine short-term cashflow – You should put in place regular short-term cash flow monitoring so you can actively predict any problems and deal with them quickly. Be strict with working capital and have a good idea of what financial decisions (such as business expansion or taking cashflow finance) might have should a crisis hit.
- Determine crisis budgets and business plans – Create finance plans and budgets for many different scenarios depending on the impact and the time frame it will affect financial performance. Each business plan scenario should map out the minimum operating requirements including necessary workforce, suppliers, customers, premises and technology, allowing you to effectively make the right decisions.
Factor in government support policies
Covid-19 has also seen a range of unprecedented levels of support for business to survive. Work the regular monitoring and understanding of nationwide government support opportunities into your plan. That way you can identify and consider which support options are best for your business.
The importance of testing your business continuity plan
Testing your business continuity plan is the only way to make sure it works in practice and not just theory. Testing will help identify any weak links and how it might not function in a real crisis. These are some ways to test your plan:
A meeting – A round table discussion with key people poring over and discussing the plan at length, looking for gaps and finding solutions.
A structured walk-through – Each team member walks through the plan and the components relating to their job role. This level of detail from every aspect of your team will help determine how each part of the plan works in correspondence to another. Some companies use actual drills and role-playing in this but it is not necessary.
It is important to regularly review and improve your business continuity plan depending on changes in the business, the economy and society. When it comes to protecting your business the saying "failing to plan is planning to fail" couldn't be more true.
Situations change rapidly and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to continuity planning, but you must be aware of how things can challenge your operations. Looking at various business and commercial finance and business insurance will also offer you an additional level of security and options in the face of a crisis.