If global organizations didn’t acknowledge the importance of strategic business resilience planning before 2020, they certainly do now. From food manufacturing to financial services, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every industry and worker. Since the pandemic began, many companies have gone back to the drawing board when it comes to risk management, aiming to develop a robust business continuity plan which fully enables their business to operate even during times of great duress.
One of the biggest lessons learned from the pandemic is the necessity for enterprise resilience. We have all heard CEOs discussing their ability to respond to disruptions in supply, service, information, and value chains. Many of these discussions focus on keeping the business operational: what if systems go down, physical offices must close, or we fall victim to a security breach? Although these are all vital components of a business continuity plan, there’s one key element that planning must center around – its people. Employees are the core of every business and keep the wheels turning at times of crisis.
I always advise clients to ensure they first think about their employees when creating an appropriate continuity plan. In a crisis, all organizations have a fundamental duty to protect and care for employees. If employee well-being must be a leader’s first focus, how does a business minimize and manage the risk of workforce reduction during times of crisis? How can it incorporate a culture of resilience among employees to prepare for when things suddenly take a bad turn? Beyond this, we must also remember an organization’s employees are crucial because they put business continuity plans into action, ensuring successful implementation. Especially in a crisis, CEOs must ensure their people understand the business cares about them and what’s going on in their personal lives. In turn, employees will be more motivated to help the business weather the storm and remain loyal to the firm for years beyond the disruption.
Mitigating the risk of workforce reduction
An organization’s viability is predicated on a healthy and available workforce. Leaders must protect their most precious asset – employees. When creating a robust continuity plan, the industry standard is to assume your workforce is reduced by at least 40% during a crisis. As evidenced by the current pandemic, this reduction has been proven feasible. The percentage accounts for workers who haven’t been able to work because they’re sick, self-isolating, or taking care of someone else. It also includes employees who are high risk and conscious of resuming work in usual office spaces.
The challenge is you cannot predict which 40% of the workforce you may lose. It is also difficult to predict the length of time the business will have to operate with 60% of the employees. Your business continuity plan must include a scenario map for all possible outcomes and ensure the business can operate if, for example, the entire management team was sick or frontline workers were out of action. Organizations should determine priorities, organize around small group pods or cohorts to lessen interactions, and understand minimum staffing requirements to be able to continue operating with a significantly reduced workforce. Organizations must also identify key employees and ensure relevant staff members have received appropriate training to comprehensively cover their potentially extended absence.
Leading with empathy and fostering resilience
In the current crisis, organizations experienced a shift to remote working almost overnight. All work obligations now took place within the comfort of someone’s home. Out went meetings in the board room, downtime in the breakout areas, and lively and creative sessions across departments. Video technology replaced face-to-face interaction and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) changed to Work From Home Device (WFHD). Simply put, remote mass working became the new normal.
A strong business continuity plan will not only ensure employees can effectively work from home but also consider the human side of this process. For instance, workers should be given greater flexibility than their normal working arrangements and hours, especially if they have to quarantine or assume teaching or daycare responsibilities. An overlooked, critical component of continuity planning is ensuring employees are motivated. Leaders must recognize that surviving during a crisis is not just about business growth and profitability. It’s about the people at the heart of the business and how leaders can best support them, so the employees can keep the business running.
By creating a resilient workforce, especially when the business is at its weakest, employees are motivated to follow continuity plans and put in their best effort to keep the business running as close to “business as usual” as possible. Ultimately, leaders must build resilience from the inside out – starting with the culture of people within the business. Focus on taking care of your people to ensure the people care for your business and its future.
It pays huge dividends when people feel their company cares about them as individuals. The more employees feel they’re supported and understood, the more driven they’ll be to be effective and productive during a crisis and beyond. I’ve seen this in action and it’s not to be underestimated.
After 9/11, I worked for a company headquartered across the street from the World Trade Center. It was in a heavily damaged financial center with employees at the World Trade Center and other nearby locations. The company managed several call center operations. The first decision made in the aftermath of 9/11 was to switch from dealing with clients to calling every single employee who worked in affected locations to see if they were safe and ask how they could support them. For those employees forced out of their homes, the company paid for their temporary accommodation. I remember one employee at the time of the incident who was a senior figure and was actively seeking a new role. Her family lived in the affected zone and had to stay in a hotel for quite a while. No questions were asked by the company; they paid the hotel bill and she received calls from HR to check in on her wellbeing and ask if there was anything else she and her family needed. After this show of care, she stayed at the company and became a loyal, committed, and highly motivated employee. Although it’s an extreme situation, the business continuity response was excellent and, in the long run, had a positive impact on business success.
Putting people first always wins
Right now, working conditions across the globe are unprecedented and uncertain. This is why a robust and relevant business continuity program is the single most important tool to ensure organizations survive these turbulent times.
With any contingency planning, all business leaders must have their employees at the front of their minds. Are my people safe? What do they need me to do to help that’s within my power to do for them? People drive the success of any organization, so it is vital CEOs and managing directors do not overlook them when implementing a business continuity plan. They must prioritize employee safety, ensuring they remain resilient and empowering workers to participate in business continuity plan activation.
With any crisis, all organizations should be prepared for the long haul. Companies should support their employees by providing home offices with the necessary equipment to remain productive and secure. They should create long-term employee wellbeing plans which cover all aspects of health: financial, physical, and mental. Those businesses that assumed the coronavirus pandemic might be a long-lasting crisis are best positioned to thrive in the current market.
Ultimately, businesses benefit from implementing a continuity program which demonstrates they prioritize taking care of employees as individuals before expecting them to give 100% to the job. Providing flexibility during times that challenge performance creates a resilient, motivated workforce. Employees are inspired to do their best for a company which “has their back.” This reaps huge rewards for the organization in the long run. If leaders safeguard their employees, they simultaneously protect and futureproof their business. This is why the most successful business continuity plans are centered around the lifeforce of an organization – its people.