Pandemic Planning and Business Continuity Response Planning for Coronavirus / COVID-19
This is PlanB Consulting information on coronavirus. This site will be updated regularly as the incident develops
(last updated 10th May 2020)
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Preparing for the relaxing of lockdown measures
As many countries around the world start to ease their lockdowns we as business continuity professional should start preparing how our organisation should respond to the easing of lockdown measures. As all organisations are different you need to help in the development of measures which meet your organisational needs. Some measures will take some time to prepare, rehearse and develop so it is important to use the time now to have them ready. Screens may need to be installed, social distancing procedures for interface with customers may need to be developed and rehearsed to check they are workable and staff attendance time at work may have to be staggered.
5 key areas for you to consider are:
1. Decide on the precautions which need to be in place before or relaxing lockdown measures and reactivating key activities
Decisions over the next months could be challenging and complex, it is vital to set criteria and think through the precautions that need to be in place and the decisions which need to be made before carrying out the following:
- Re-opening your office buildings
- Reintroducing interfacing with your customers if your organisation has been closed down
- Allowing your staff to travel for meetings
- Allowing external contractors to travel to your site
These decisions should be based on an assessment of the risk to your people and your operations. The government will provide general information and guidance but you will have to interpret them for the practicalities for your organisation. Getting them wrong, or rushing them, may have a significant impact on your organisation and lose the trust of employees and customers.
2. People considerations.
Working with staff to enable a smooth return to work will be vital in "sticking the landing" making sure that the return to work is smooth. A recent BBC News article highlighted that 30% of people are nervous about returning to work – and this is likely to grow as we get closer to the day. With people we would suggest:
- Early engagement is vital to ensure that employees are updated on the organisation's plans
- Review the need for a wholescale return to a place of work, whether home working can continue, and can staff be rotated in coming into work
- Expect questions and challenges to your policy – the amount of information out there means everyone will form their own opinion of what you should be doing. Show how the measures you are taking are in line with government advice and guidance.
- Be clear on how social distancing will be managed in your workspace, what you are doing to protect staff and what you expect from them
- If possible – ask them if they want to return to work – but have a plan for if they say ‘no!’
- Discuss with staff how they will get to work and what precautions they should take.
3. Premises considerations.
Everyone is clear by now that we can’t simply re-open premises the way they were before the outbreak, this includes offices, warehouses, manufacturing premises and areas where your staff interface with customers. The UK Government is beginning to set out expectations for businesses as they re-open, and in line with this we would suggest:
- Conduct a thorough social distancing evaluation. Identify the areas of your premises that will be most difficult to enforce social distancing and consider either closing them or putting workarounds in place.
- Where customers are involved you may need to rehearse entrance to your premises such as reducing numbers in your premises at any one time or changes to queueing. Staff will need to be briefed on new procedures, additional staff may need to be in place to marshal customers and signage and barriers put in place.
- Plan early – it will take time to make your premises fit for purpose and this can’t be done the weekend before.
- Look at what additional cleaning may be needed on an ongoing basis.
- Where you are close by other organisations liaise with them to ensure that you have in place similar measures.
- Look at the closing down or implementing social distancing in areas where staff congregate such as canteens, rest areas, meeting rooms and toilets.
- Engage with landlords to understand where responsibility lies for shared spaces and if additional cleaning is needed in these areas. Discuss who has to pay for any increase in provision.
- Discuss plans with other building users – try to avoid the 9 o’clock crush by staggering arrival times between companies if possible.
4. Planning for the long-term.
No-one in Government wants to put a time limit on anything they are proposing, and this in itself suggests we are in this for the long run. This means that we should avoid seeing our solutions as ‘plasters’ or quick fixes – they need to be maintainable indefinitely. Within your planning we recommend:
- Keep your pandemic/incident team in place, and ensure they are meeting regularly to review progress and horizon scan against changing conditions.
- Assume that there will be ‘waves’ of more stringent measures over coming months and ensure you can escalate and de-escalate your response to match.
- Keep listening to your staff for suggestions, issues and areas for improvement.
- Communicating your solutions will be vital – both internally and externally.
- Review your supply chain and identify any potential weak links – work closely with critical suppliers to ensure your continued supply.
- Expect changes to ways of working – some staff will demand greater home working abilities during BAU after seeing how well it works, others are likely to be resistant if you ask them to keep working at home!
5. Debrief and Lessons Learned.
The end of the beginning marks an opportunity to reflect on the last 10 weeks and learn lessons. Across the country, unprecedented steps have been taken and organisations have put solutions in place that would have been considered implausible or even impossible 6 months ago. With that in mind we recommend the following:
- Conduct a survey of staff to understand; what has gone well, what have been the greatest challenges, and what are their concerns over the coming months.
- Review your performance against your BIAs and BCPs – did you meet the RTOs or if not, why not? Have the last couple of months identified new solutions that should be incorporated into your plans and procedures.
How can PlanB Consulting help?
PlanB Consulting has considerable experience in preparing organisations for managing incidents and developing response plans for many issues including pandemics.
1. Debrief your response. We can help you debrief the incident to date and help you capture the lessons identified to date from the incident. If you leave this any longer the early response lessons may be lost.
2. Assist you to prepare your recovery actions. As the relaxing of the lockdown measures is starting to be discussed then PlanB Consulting can help you develop your plans, procedures and communications for the recovery of your organisation.
3. Plan Ahead Workshop. Over the next days, weeks, months and years and 'new normal' will show itself. The pandemic has helped accelerate many trends such as working from home, meetings by video conference and new software and security for remote working. Will globalisation be restored or will onshoring change our suppliers and supply chain? All these trends will have an impact on the organisation's risks and its business continuity requirements. PlanB Consulting can help your organisation get 'ahead of the curve" and develop a framework for reviewing possible changes in the marketplace and then run a workshop or series of workshop to help your organisation scenario plan for the future.
4. Update your BCMS. We can help you update your BIAs and Plans to reflect the changed circumstances and ensure you are ready for the next crisis.
Working from Home, Staff Wellbeing & Recovering Back to BAU
The following actions have been put together by Georgie one of our Consultants on how to look after your staff during this pandemic:
- If constant news updates regarding coronavirus are triggering anxiety, try to limit listening to or checking the news once in the morning and once in the evening (to ensure you are aware of latest measures) to prevent worrying throughout the day when trying to work.
- Treat working from home the same you would treat working from the office, get up at a decent time, shower, get dressed and take regular breaks throughout the day.
- If you are in a household with others who are not working, set limits and boundaries so that you are not being disturbed during working hours.
- Ensure regular contact with colleagues through VC and phone, keep being social and check up on each other.
- Try and have something planned to look forward to during downtime whether it is a 20-minute walk, watching a TV programme or film or playing a game.
- Ensure to keep up a balanced lifestyle, keep active and try to eat healthily.
- If possible, set up workspace somewhere that you do not use out of working hours (e.g. living room, bedroom) this will help separate work and downtime.
- Set out a plan for each working day before you start, this will help you stay focussed and prioritise jobs.
Advice for those in Leadership Roles
- Be transparent and honest with employees, it is better to give them time to prepare and deal with upcoming issues rather than to tell them suddenly. It is an unpredictable time for everybody so you should inform them of anything that is certain.
- Look forward to the future, the world will be much different when the pandemic is over, it is important to prepare for whatever that future may look like.
- Communicate often and with clarity, do not withhold information and be concise in what you communicate.
- Be sure to demonstrate confidence, this will ensure your employees are confident in you and your abilities and hopefully lift the team’s morale.
Recovering to BAU after Pandemic/Ongoing Support
- Acknowledge that all staff may not be comfortable with returning to the office immediately, be flexible with the remote working policy.
- Reinforce processes and procedures when all staff return to the office, this will ensure work is being done effectively and will provide a level of discipline.
- Ensure that products such as wipes and hand sanitizer are readily available for use in every office space.
- Consider having the office deep cleaned and make staff aware of this, as any staff in the ‘vulnerable’ category or who lives with somebody vulnerable may be sceptical of returning to work.
- If schools have not reopened, make sure you are providing support to those with children at home, they may be unable to get access to childcare.
- Update pandemic plan (or develop a pandemic plan) with any lessons learned from the COVID-19 outbreak, ensure that these lessons are acted upon in case of a similar incident in the future.
- Provide support to anyone who may have been directly affected by the virus (relative contracted virus, partner or family member job loss etc.)
- Monitor staff morale, the world is likely to have changed in a number of different ways and staff safety and wellbeing should be paramount.
Previous actions which should be continued
Here are some ideas of actions I suggest you carry out in if not already doing so:
- I always teach, if in doubt of how to respond to an incident and where to start, carry out a dynamic risk assessment. For your organisation consider the following:
- What is the best case?
- What is the most likely case?
- What is the reasonable worst case?
- Once you have thought through each of these different cases then you should have a better idea of what could happen and if there are any actions you can take now to prevent the worst-case from happening.
- You also need to think about how a prolonged lockdown is going to affect your organisation. As suggested in Step 2 of my 7-Step process, I think you should focus on how your customers may react, how their buying habits may change and what the long term impact of the shutdown will be. Consider the following questions:
- Will there be a huge pent up demand for customers to go out and spend money enjoying themselves once they are able to do so?
- How badly will the economy be affected?
- Will potential customers want to spend money and make investments? Will they hoard what cash they have? Or will they use it to pay deferred payments which have become due?
- The impact may differ depending on the length of the lockdown, but you could carry out the dynamic risk assessment at step 1 to look at the impact across different lengths of lockdown.
- The lockdown is going to affect your suppliers and this impact may only become apparent after a period of time has passed. You should put processes in place to monitor your supply chain and ensure that any failures to deliver are identified early. If the lockdown is prolonged many businesses may fold, mothball production or their staff may be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Early identification of issues with suppliers or supplies will allow your organisation time to find alternates and continue operations.
- The longer I spend at home the less productive I become, for many others especially those not used to working from home this could also be the case. You need to ensure that your organisation keeps an eye on what is being delivered and what is not being done. There may be work that, if not carried out, could have a major impact on the organisation that is only noticed several weeks down the line. Your BIA can help you identify which are the most time-critical activities for your organisation and you can check that these are being delivered to their predetermined level.
- Keeping in touch with staff and ensuring morale is kept high is a key role of management during this situation, especially if employees are worried about their jobs, finances and future. This can be compounded by having their children at home or spending an unusual amount of time working in their home alongside their partner or spouse. Those who live on their own may also find it difficult, as they are used to the social interaction of going to work. We at PlanB have introduced a brief conference call every morning for all staff to talk through their plans for each day, we have also implemented a daily survey where staff can rate their level of morale. Early intervention, good communications and leadership are all important factors in looking after your staff and making sure that your organisation is ready to resume when this is over.
- Think through how you will sustain home working and keep in touch with your staff as is likely they will have to work from home for a number of weeks. Discuss how you will sustain morale.
- Review the impact of closing schools on your staff's ability to continue to deliver their role. Note that many schools will set work for children so there may need for parents to supervise and support their children. Will you stick with existing HR rules on time off for looking after children and others at home or will you change them.
- Review your RTOs and MTPDs and review them in light of current operations. Can some operations be suspended to concentrate on the ones with the shortest RTOs. Look at your MBCOs and check that you are not near reaching them.
- If the current situation is going to task for several weeks, review the impact on your business model. If required look at the government help to businesses and apply early if help is required.
- Make sure your Pandemic Team is meeting every morning, reviewing any changes to the situation and decided whether any new actions or communications need to be made.
- Conduct daily checks on the impact of the pandemic on your organisation, do this through regular communication of all parts of your organisation to the Pandemic Team.
- As government advice changes, you should communicate any of the new actions to be carried out to staff and stakeholders.
I like this diagram from The Healthy Work Group Company:
PlanB Consulting guidance and help on COVID-19?
PlanB Consulting has considerable experience in preparing organisations for managing incidents and developing response plans for many issues including pandemics. We are currently helping a number of organisations prepare their response to Coronavirus. We can help you in a number of ways?
Provide information to you: Through our blog and our 7 Steps approach to pandemic planning (below)
These are the latest blog posts on Coronavirus planning:
- Pandemic Planning: Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) - Should we panic?
- Pandemic Planning: What is a Pandemic Operating Regime, and do I need one?
- Coronavirus Public Reaction – ‘Keep calm and carry on’ or bystander effect?
- There are a number of pandemic updates and links on Charlie's Maclean-Bristol Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/cmaclean-bristol/
- Article on thinking about beyond coronavirus https://www.planbconsulting.co.uk/blog/after-coronavirus-what-next
- Business Continuity and Coronavirus - Marks out of 10
- Article on why rationing during incidents should be imposed as soon as panic buying starts. Panic buying toilet roll – lesson identified or learned?
We can help your organisation: By providing advice and support to prepare for and respond to, coronavirus as well as the impact of restrictions on normal business
- Help your organisation develop a framework for managing your response (Step 4 Decision making and incident management)
- Carry out a facilitated workshop to help your organisation develop the items within the 7 Steps
- Review your existing plans and make recommendations for improvements
- Help to develop contingency plans for particular aspects of the response
- Train your incident response teams in best practice at incident management
- Review your communications and help develop a communications strategy
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Planning - 7 Steps framework to develop your plans
PlanB Consulting, suggest organisations follow these 7 Steps process to prepare your organisation for Coronavirus and to manage which is now worldwide an "incident in progress".
Below are the 7 steps you should be taking or have taken to prepare your organisation:
Step 1 - Decide where you will get advice from and appoint someone whose role is to keep the Pandemic team up to date
- The web is full of misinformation, conspiracy theories and quack cures concerning coronavirus. As an organisation, you need to decide where you get your information from and which sites you will use for getting advice and guidance. Following official guidance is always preferable, but sometimes different government sites give different advice.
- Someone or a team of people should be designated to this role and monitor a number of websites for any updated information or advice. This should be done on a day-to-day basis.
- The information should then be given to the Pandemic Team and they should decide if future actions need to be taken or advice communicated throughout the organisation.
- You will also have to note that if you operate across a number of different regions or countries the advice may vary.
- The Pandemic Team could also look at scenario planning and risk assessment, so looking at what has happened in other countries looking how successful they have been and whether those measures are likely to be used in your country or region.
- With all incidents, logging information is extremely important, and with this incident, I think if you make a decision on government or any other guidance you should log where you got the information, what it was and how you actioned it. If it is on the web, you should record it as all iterations of the advice may not be kept.
Step 2 – Understand the impact of coronavirus on your organisation - if you haven't done this yet you should do it it will help you understand the impact on your organisation.
This step is to help you understand what the impact on your organisation will be and how it may change your demand. Once you understand this then in Step 3 you can take appropriate steps to mitigate the impact.
- Will the pandemic increase demand for your organisation, and will it increase the demand for your services? If you run a hospital or make medical equipment or clothing which is required for the response, then your demand will definitely go up. If you run a cleaning company, the demand for your services is also likely to go up.
- Will it decrease the demand for your service? This will likely apply to organisations such as airlines, holiday providers, hotels, venues, large events and entertainment, amongst others.
- If your supply chain comes from China, Italy or any other country under lockdown, or even one item crucial to manufacturing your product comes from China, will the slowdown or closing of Chinese factories cause items to be delayed or not to be produced?
- Key products in short supply will dramatically increase the price of these items, impact your products and possibly the ability to protect your staff. At this week's forum, one organisation said it had to secure a month’s worth of face masks for each of their Chinese employees, by law, for them to be allowed to go back to work. They managed to source a number of boxes from Brazil but had to pay 10x the price than they would have done six weeks earlier.
- Will how you deliver your product to your customers change? Will you have more calls to your call centre or online interactions, rather than face-to-face contact? If your service involves delivery to people’s homes, such as parcels requiring a signature from the receiver, meter reading or social services visits, you might have to change how these are delivered.
- If schools are to be closed, as have been in a number of countries, then how will this affect your organisation and the ability of your staff to continue to work?
- Speak to finance and think through how your finances and cash flow might be affected by and prolonged pandemic.
Once you have explored the possible impact to your organisation you can then go on to Step 3, looking at how you can mitigate these impacts.
Step 3 – Mitigate the impacts and improve your organisation's resilience
In this step you can look at how to mitigate the impacts of coronavirus, to make sure your staff are less likely to catch it, less staff are affected by a case within the company or so that staff can continue to work and deliver your services under a number of different scenarios. These could include ideas such as the points below:
- Make sure that staff can work from home. Buying laptops for those who don’t have them, making sure that they take them home every night, not forgetting their power cable, as the office could be closed at short notice. Checking people know how to VPN in and that your VPN can cope with the additional traffic. Noting that different groups of users have different data requirements and some staff, as developers, may download large amounts of data. I suggest that you get your staff to practice for a day working from home so that any issues are addressed now, not on the day when the office is closed. You may need to put on additional staff in the IT help-desk to cope with the increased number of calls if staff who are not used to working from home do so for the first time.
- Can you split teams across two different buildings, so that if one office has a case and all staff are told to go home, you don’t lose the whole team? Especially if the team are involved in an activity which can’t be delivered from home.
- Prevent visitors, contractors and suppliers from coming on site.
- If you deliver to people’s homes, then you may have to have an agreement that you will no longer need a signature for packages.
- Review the use of video conferencing to reduce the need for face to face meetings.
- Identify alternative staff (i.e. contractors, ex-employees, retirees) that could be drawn on if necessary.
- You may need to increase your numbers working in the call centre to cope with an increased volume of calls.
- Can you stockpile items which could be in short supply or look for alternative supplies if your supply chain from China could be lost?
- Looking at possibly closing or regularly cleaning social spaces such as the canteen, restrooms, meeting rooms and other communal areas.
- Consider if additional cleaning should be implemented and provide anti-bacterial hand wash.
- Cross-training staff and identifying if any retired staff might be able to come in and fill in for staff off sick
- Consider staggered working hours to lessen the mingling of staff arriving at work at the same time and reducing the number of people they encounter on their daily commute
Step 4 – Forming a Pandemic Team, decision-making and information management
- A Pandemic Team should be set up with day to day responsibility for managing your organisation's response to the pandemic: they should carry out the following:
- Review government guidance and make appropriate changes to the organisation's operations
- Communicate any changes in procedures or mitigation actions to staff and externally as appropriate
- Decide on which mitigation measures should be implemented
- Make operational decisions on how your organisation will respond and how any changes in how product and services might be delivered
- On a daily basis look at the impact on your operations and deal with any questions staff or customers will have.
- The team could be based on your existing crisis management or business continuity response teams. As a minimum, you need a team which could consist of representatives from the departments in the table below.
- For each of the roles, there should be a designated deputy.
- They should continue with this role until the pandemic is over.
- The authority and decision-making power of the Pandemic Team must be clear, pre-agreed, documented and known to all throughout the organisation.
- To do this, you need a team of people.
- The team may be a tactical rather than a strategic team, as they can deal with the day-to-day response to the incident, leaving the strategic/crisis team, consisting of top management, to take more of an overview of the situation and to make major decisions.
- Set up a reporting process for all departments to brief the Pandemic Team of any COVID-19 occurrence, increase in threat, changes in staff behaviour or number turning up by 10am each morning. Responsibility to gather this information should be formally assigned and, if useful, a pro forma for departments leads should be developed to ensure structured reporting.
- I suggest that the team meet every day at the same time to access the ongoing situation and see if any further mitigation actions are needed or communications internally and externally are needed. If not further actions are needed then the team can continue to go about their day to day business so only a 10 to 15-minute meeting is required. By having a daily scheduled meeting all the members of the team can talk together and it saves trying to get people together at short notice.
- For all internal staff and possibly customers, there should be a location where all information on the organisation’s response is published. This could be on the staff portal or website. It should also be clear to staff where they can go to get advice or to ask questions. This could be through their manager or a single point of contact, helpline or channel, such as Slack or Yammer, where staff questions can be answered in a timely manner.
Step 5 – Review your HR practices and check they could deal with the issues associated with a pandemic
Some of the most common questions can be thought through to see if your organisation's existing procedures meet the requirements of the incident. Some of the questions you should consider are:
- If I work from home, will I be paid?
- If I self-isolate myself, will I be expected to work from home and what if I can’t work from home?
- If I am told to self-isolate, is this taken as sick leave, time off or should I work?
- If I can’t work from home, do I have to come into work if others are working from home?
- What if I have to stay at home to look after my children as their school is closed, if I have a caring role, or if need to look after a sick partner?
- Do I have to meet visitors, especially if they are from another country?
- How does the organisation deal with staff quarantined on holiday?
The questions could be endless, but it is worth brainstorming the most obvious questions you are likely to be asked and thinking though your organisation's response. If you are not sure how to answer some of them and the answer is not obvious, always be guided by your existing policies, organisational norms, culture and your values.
You may want to also review your death-in-service procedures and to think through whether you are going to do anything different for your medically vulnerable staff.
Step 6 – Prepare your scenario responses
There are a number of additional steps the UK government could take in order to further limit the spread of coronavirus. These could include:
- Closing all school and universities
- Imposing a complete lockdown of the country and telling people to stay at home
- Banning of all gatherings
- Closure of borders
- Relaxation of some of the rules for distribution companies and retailers
You should also look at if 20% of your staff are off at any one time either through self-isolation or off sick would you run your organisation and deliver your products and services differently.
At Step-3 you have developed a list of possible mitigation measures in preparing your scenario responses you should discuss which measures you might implement in response to different government actions.
I think you need to have thought through a number of different options and decisions you can take and have them ready to be deployed or taken as required, depending on the circumstance and how the situation unfolds. You want to avoid making the situation worse by unnecessarily carrying out actions which will have a major impact on your organisation, without them needing to be taken. There is a fine balance to tread. The UK moved from the containment to the delay phase on the 12 March, due to this I think you need to start thinking about how your organisation will react if schools are closed, staff are not able to travel and there is a lockdown of your area.
Step 7 – Prepare your communications plan
Your organisation should be making regular communications on the coronavirus. If you have not done already the following should be thought through:
- Who will you need to communicate with internally, how often will you do it, what will they need to know and how will you do it?
- Who will sign off communications? What sources will you base your communications on, especially medical advice? How will you cope with different regions or countries advice?
- Who are your external stakeholders, how will they be contacted and what are their information requirements?
- Will you be running a helpline and where will pandemic advise be posted?
- Will you develop questions and answers on the incident, containing advice to staff - how will this be collated and distributed?
- Will you make use of government information and guidance including posters and which ones will you use. Is there a need to tailor posters and information for the requirements of your organisation?
- If staff are at home, how will you communicate with them?
Communications with staff will be critical in the success or failure of your response.
In each step, I have only included some thoughts. There is a lot more content which needs to be thought through. Now is the time to prepare before the government puts in place any further restrictions as if you start your response unprepared and on the ‘back foot’ you may lose the confidence of your staff and stakeholders and may struggle to regain the initiative.
List of sites for getting government updates
Pandemic planning case study
Charlie Maclean-Bristol, while working as Business Continuity Manager for a major utility organisation, carried out a 6-month project to prepare pandemic plans. This included identifying critical activities and ensuring that there was sufficient staff trained and available to carry them out. It also looked at the HR and management issues and ensured that the internal procedures were in place for minimising internal disruption and safeguarding staff. Charlie developed a programme of identifying key suppliers and checking that they also had pandemic plans in place. Charlie also managed a major project to carry out pandemic planning across the whole of NHS Tayside. This included managing a team of consultants developing the plans, and developing templates and the documentation used during the project.
If you need help with preparing your organisation for Pandemic / Coronavirus / Covid-19 get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org