As businesses grasp the new realities within which they operate, some are realizing that they are less than prepared to maintain sustainable operations during a pandemic. This should come as no surprise given that COVID-19 has created unprecedented circumstances which have challenged companies’ emergency preparedness efforts.
Assume that all businesses have their continuity and emergency preparedness plans. These companies, more or less, have strategies and mechanisms in place to eliminate and mitigate exposure to risks and have conducted simulation exercises. Why then are they so ill-equipped and poorly skilled to mitigate the risks posed by a pandemic?
Well, amongst other reasons, one is that continuity plans have principally focused on traditional threats. When we think of traditional threats, these include localized threats like bombs, fires, strikes and natural disasters. https://hbr.org/2006/05/preparing-for-a-pandemic The frequency with which these threats occur has made businesses more competent in mitigation and prevention strategies, as well as recovery efforts. On the contrary, a pandemic is far and few between and typically requires new and innovative responses. Additionally, it is not as isolated as traditional threats. That is, unlike traditional threats where plans mainly address anticipated infrastructure failure, a pandemic affects all aspects of a business, simultaneously, with employees receiving the brunt of the effects.
COVID-19 has therefore shown that the lack of planning and preparedness with regards to the human element of a business is an innate weakness in continuity and preparedness plans. Since we have now uncovered the Hercules heel of the preparedness plan, how can we develop approaches to mitigate risks?
Included in the business continuity and emergency preparedness plan should be:
· The training and development of staff
· Easily accessible platforms to communicate information
· Best practices for health and safety, wellness and hygiene for onsite, remote and travelling workers, and
· Best practices on how to address absenteeism, work refusals, return to work orders, and associated policies, benefits, accommodations (sick leave, vacation leave)
People are the most valuable asset to a business. It is therefore counterproductive to not have strategies in place that protect and mitigate their exposure to risks. Remember, during a pandemic you are as strong as your weakest link. So be sure to develop a culture where your staff can rapidly and appropriately respond to changes and support collaborative yet disciplined problem-solving.
— Tenesia Benjamin