Key steps businesses can take to ease COVID-19 stress

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Analysts have identified the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses as a major concern, even after the worst is over, advising businesses to put an eye on clear strategies to survive during and after the unfortunate crisis.

According to McTimothy Associates, no crisis is an isolated, neatly contained incident, and the COVID-19 outbreak is exceptional by any standards.  “It comes with extreme scope and levels of uncertainty. It’s a situation that is well beyond the experience of most business leaders. The last epidemic that approached anything near this scale was the SARS outbreak in 2003. SARS infected more than 8,000 people and lasted nine months. In much less time than that, COVID-19 has already infected more than 10 times as many people and is spreading fast,” the analysts said.

To them, business leaders see managing a crisis as an inevitable part of their role. Quoting PwC’s most recent Global Crisis Survey, the analysts said nearly seven in 10 leaders (69 per cent) have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the last five years in their companies, and the average number of crises experienced in these firms is greater than three. COVID-19, according to them, will test many business leaders to the limit.

To withstand the current challenges, McTimothy Associates outlines key actions that leaders can take to ensure their organisations are in the best shape possible.

1.Review workforce locations and travel.

The first priority is to establish exactly where staff are and how many workers are in affected or vulnerable territories. Do any need to be repatriated? Or have they asked to work from home? Upcoming travel plans will need to be reviewed, rescheduled, or canceled.

Clear policies should be in place to address absence due to sickness or caring for relatives, the protocol for visitors to company sites, the procedure for reporting illness, and travel restrictions. You also should plan for policies in the event of lengthy school closures — what will the policy be for working parents? There’s also the issue of tax: If workers are forced to stay in foreign countries longer than expected and then become subject to taxation, what policies do you have in place to address this? Lastly, be prepared to continuously refresh and update these policies as circumstances evolve.

2.Revisit your crisis and continuity plans.

Every well-run business has a crisis or continuity plan, and many will have a specific pandemic plan. But nothing tests theory quite like reality. One Asia-based organization’s pandemic plan, for example, designated a European city as the evacuation site for employees and their families but flights from China to the city were suspended soon after the outbreak.

Generic plans need to be adapted and tailored to cope with the specific challenges of an epidemic. If large numbers of your employees have to work remotely for a time, for example, is there enough technology bandwidth to cope? Will your operations be impacted if outsourced, offshore workforce are unable to come to work? What is the procedure for updating travel advice and policy? How will communication with employees be managed? During any crisis, the biggest worry for CEOs is gathering accurate information quickly. How will data flow during this crisis?

3.Evaluate the Supply Chains.

A clear understanding of your supply chain will help to expose any potential vulnerabilities of your business. This means beginning with the most critical products and looking well beyond first- and second-tier suppliers, right down to the raw materials, if possible. For example, if your products contain a component from a country/region that becomes isolated, is there a secondary supply? Contingency plans can run into difficulty quickly if the virus spreads; we’ve already seen suppliers in China that turned to South Korea as a Plan B, only to see that country quickly become infected.

4.Re-examine Your Business Assumptions.

You need to identify potential points of failure. Who are the teams and individuals on whom critical processes or services depend? Are there workers with the right skills who could step into critical roles if needed? Call centers and shared service centers are potentially vulnerable if the virus continues to spread — can steps be taken to reduce the level of human interaction, such as staggered shifts or remote working?