Coronavirus: How to establish business continuity during the pandemic
Business continuity planning is just as important for smaller companies as it is for large ones. How quickly – and painlessly – a business can find some version of “normal” in the event of major disruption depends on how effective your business continuity management is.
Having a plan to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will help your business keep going and employees continue working. In normal circumstances, a business leader or management team will have time to consider their business continuity plan in advance of any emergency, rather than as it develops.
However, time is a luxury that very few businesses can afford right now. Despite that, there are steps business owners can take to ensure their company continues to operate.
Got 2 minutes? Use our business continuity checklist to get back on track
Got 10 minutes? Follow our step-by-step guide below to make sure you have everything covered
What is a business continuity plan?
A business continuity plan is your blueprint for maintaining business operations or quickly resuming them in the event of a major disruption, such as flood, cyber-attack or indeed a global pandemic. A good guide to the basic elements of a plan has been produced by DR Logic.
Without business continuity, a natural or man-made disaster could result in:
- Loss of work to competitors
- Failures within your supply chain
- Loss of reputation
- Staffing and HR issues
- Health and safety liabilities
- Higher insurance premiums
- Business failure
Things to consider: what should my plan cover?
Step 1: What are the practical and financial challenges to your business?
One of the first things you should do is write a list of the problems you are currently facing and prioritise the business-critical ones. For example, one of the most significant impacts coronavirus may be having is that unless your employees are classed as key workers, your staff are most likely already working from home.
Getting your remote working system in place as quickly as possible is vital to minimising disruption. If your employees can’t work, your business will stall pretty quickly. You can read our guide about setting up remote working here. You can also watch our videos of how different small businesses have reacted to the crisis.
After that, you need to consider the immediate impact the pandemic is having on your cash flow. The challenges of paying creditors and overheads and keeping cash flow under control is going to increase. You need to consider what steps you need to take to protect revenue.
Read our guide here about managing your cash flow.
- Check what access to laptops or computers your employees have and provide laptops to those who need them
- Have a virtual private network (VPN) installed on employee’s laptops and make sure they know how to use it
- List what overheads you have due and contact your creditors to negotiate payment terms
- Find out what government support is available to your business and how you can take advantage of it
Step 2: Do you need to streamline your operations?
No business leader wants to think about mothballing operations but in these uncertain times, you may need to protect core aspects of your business by redirecting resources from elsewhere.
If your business offers different services to customers, are you able to continue all of them with the resources you have available? You might feel like you can’t afford to lose customers by temporarily halting certain services, but people will be more forgiving if you explain honestly what you are realistically able to provide. This is going to be better in many cases than poor customer service because your operations aren’t performing at 100 percent.
If you’re experiencing a significant drop in demand and need to think up new sources of revenue, look at sectors of the economy that are still doing well during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s possible that your business already has something of value to one of those sectors that you’ve not previously considered.
Read our guide on pivoting your business.
One of the most difficult decisions for business owners is deciding whether you need to furlough employees or make redundancies. The government has announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will help pay the wages of furloughed workers, will be extended until March 2021. There will be a further review in January to ascertain whether employers will be required contribute, but at the moment, there is no required employer contribution to the scheme other than National Insurance and pension payments, with the scheme covering 80% of furloughed workers’ wages, up to a cap of £2,500/ month.
Read our guide on reducing your workforce.
- Consider redirecting resources to cover core operations, or those which bring in most revenue
- Explore whether you can pivot your business to provide new services which will maintain cash flow
- Look at ways you can reduce your employee costs without having to necessarily make staff redundant
Step 3: Do you need to adapt a generic business continuity plan or amend one that isn’t working?
Few businesses haven’t experienced challenges which have to be overcome in order for the business to continue operating.
You may have coped with crises before and even have a business continuity plan already in place, which you’ve put into action. However, the coronavirus is “unique in so many different ways because of the global scale of it” according to Brian Finch, a partner at law firm Pillsbury.
A generic plan will need adapting to cope with the unforeseeable twists and turns that coronavirus is presenting. As a starting point, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has developed some useful business continuity tools.
Don’t think that you can’t amend your business continuity plan in real time. As Mike Tyson said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
If you’ve put your plan into action, make sure you are reviewing how effective it’s been and iron out any wrinkles. And if it’s not working, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board and seek out expert help. The best leaders know they don’t have all the answers.
- Hold regular sessions with your management team to assess whether your plan is performing as you need it to or whether there are challenges you hadn’t anticipated
- Ask for regular feedback from employees – this is often the litmus test of whether plans you have put in place are working or could be improved
- Give people time to get used to their new ways of working but if it’s still not working after a while, be prepared to change it quickly or introduce additional support.
Staying on course through a crisis
When you have so many things to consider and cope with simultaneously, it can be easy to feel like you’re being pulled from pillar to post.
Creating a plan will reassure that you’ve thought through the various aspects you need to address. It also helps to prioritise your needs, whether that’s keeping your workforce healthy, managing production of goods or services or customer relations. That way, you’ll be able to assess where you need to spend your time and focus and ignore the distractions.
There are going to be a lot of difficult decisions to make, but keep in mind the end goal of protecting your business so you can return to normal working life as quickly as possible.
Don’t forget about our useful checklist, designed to help you establish business continuity as quickly as possible.