Business Continuity Management in COVID

Romana Bizjak

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8 Jul 2020
  • Business Risk and Resilience
This article is a part of Risk Update 3. 

Business Continuity Management assumes that an organisation will resume to a known state of operations within a set period of time. COVID-19 has challenged how we respond to disruptions.


The importance of business continuity planning has been demonstrated over the last year within Australia and globally. Global political, economical and environmental events have caused significant disruptions to organisations and their day to day operations. Events such as Brexit, natural disasters like seasonal floods or Australia’s largest bushfires and the global COVID-19 health crisis have caused long-term changes to the global economy.

Traditional business continuity planning assumes that a business will resume to a known state of operations. This logic has been challenged by COVID-19, with a large number of organisations being forced to develop new business and operating models, without necessarily having time for proper due-diligence and analysis. Few organisations have faced situations like these before, and so few know what the new normal may look like once business resumes. Under typical business continuity scenarios, corporations would have expected to return to their normal business operations within a matter of days or weeks. In many cases, this choice was removed when businesses responded to the global pandemic and government restrictions were imposed. Organisations are now entering into a situation where the positive learnings can be harnessed into creating a major shift of mindset and working models as we know them.

By now, organisations should have started to think about what the ‘new normal’ will look like for them.

Below are a few questions that every organisation should consider during the Business Continuity planning process, given these recent developments.

1. Is the organisation’s strategy still relevant?

With the future still ambiguous, it is advisable for organisations to re-visit their business strategies and assess the impacts of recent events against it. This should take into consideration internal and external factors that might have changed and their associated risks, such as the loss of offshore suppliers or closures of borders impacting trade arrangements. Others may find new opportunities in the current environment, such as the continued investment and improvement in networks and telecommunications.

Not only is it important to revise the strategy but also to assess the operating model against it, to ensure that an organisation has the right capabilities and capacity to execute against it.

Key Considerations:

  • Understand the impacts that COVID-19 has had on the industry and re-evaluate organisational strategy against these changes.
  • Assess the current operating model and determine whether a tactical shift in business operations is required.
  • Evaluate capacity and capability requirements against the revised business strategy and operational model.

2. Are key risks post COVID-19 understood?

Organisations should assess their business continuity plans against this new strategy. Where changes are expected, organisations should confirm key processes and prioritise critical activities and resources to run these processes.

It is important to keep a close eye on the market, and allow for flexibility with responding to re-strategising offshore processes. This includes vendor or sourcing requirements, as well as re-assessing political or  regional  risks  where  satellite offices, data centres and other offshore distribution or development centres are located. Organisations should establish governance mechanisms and processes to manage COVID-19 related risks with forward looking Key Risk Indicators for monitoring purposes. When linking back to the organisation’s strategy and business objectives, an organisation should identify and assess the key risks that could impact the business during the transition and into the future.

Key Considerations:

  • As global supply chain challenges accelerate, prepare for further disruptions by re-thinking how to manage short term supply chain risks and how to develop long term supply chain resilience.
  • Identify the main sources of disruption impacting your business, then review and update the business impact assessment.
  • Ensure that the organisations risk management system supports visibility of risks both during and post COVID-19.

3. Can the organisation support flexible working arrangements?

Having a significant proportion of the workforce working from home five days a week has set a precedent for workforce preferences of the future. Employees have demonstrated that they can collaborate virtually and deliver outcomes, all from the comfort of their homes. It is up to employers to develop strategies and plans that facilitate flexible working arrangements in the future, allowing employees to have greater autonomy over how they choose to calibrate their work-life balance. Organisations should consider these factors and plan for scenarios involving employees working from the office or remotely. This may involve considering owned and leased office spaces and associated expenses,  and determining whether there are more effective ways to operate, such as through re-investment of these savings into technologies that enable virtual collaboration. Continued work from home capabilities could reduce the need for larger office spaces and reduce operating costs.

Key Considerations:

  • Evaluate the changes to the workforce model against the new operating model and plan for scenarios to support a flexible work arrangement.
  • Plan to enable a connected culture in a remote work environment supporting organisational values and overall business strategy

4. Is the work environment safe enough to create trust?

As a consequence of ongoing health risks associated with COVID-19 and a shift in mindset towards more flexible working arrangements, Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) has become more complex for organisations to manage. The health and safety of employees, contractors suppliers and visitors is paramount as organisations start to go back to their office or work site, requiring organisations to assess the related risks and logistical control challenges.

Organisations should develop and implement appropriate WHS measures, programs and guidance for employees to create awareness and ensure WHS requirements are understood and maintained. This includes updating WHS policies and procedures, and ensuring that they are still relevant and reflective of the current environment and WHS requirements.

Supporting the mental wellbeing of people is more important than ever. Organisations should therefore also seek to implement mental wellbeing and support programs for employees during and after the transition, including equipping managers with appropriate training and tools to help employees during these times.

In times of ambiguity, it is especially important that mechanisms and channels are in place to enable timely, accurate and insightful information. Planning of communication to management, employees and other impacted stakeholders is indispensable, as well as allowing for opportunities for stakeholders to ask questions. A popular way to obtain feedback is through conducting regular pulse surveys offering an anonymous channel where individuals may feel more comfortable to speak up about their experience during the transition.

Key Considerations:

  • Ensure WHS policies and procedures are updated, relevant and reflective of the current environment. Refer to Safe Work Australia for additional guidance:
  • Develop communications structures that enable frequent and empathetic communication.
  • Evaluate employee mental and physical wellbeing programs to support flexible and remote work arrangements.

Closing Thoughts

Recent events have been testimonies of the criticality of an organisation’s business continuity planning and preparations. Continued health threats and ongoing economic uncertainty highlight the importance of continuing to respond to the ongoing ambiguity. This requires organisations to look for opportunities in the current environment and challenge current business strategies in face of expected risks and logistical challenges, without compromising the safety of their most important assets, their people.

Amstelveen Risk Update: Edition 3, July 2020
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