Heightened concern over the spread of coronavirus is building worldwide consistent with the increase in number of confirmed cases. The virus has been reported in the Chicago area and proactively, like many other firms, we are taking steps to confirm that we are able to continue servicing our clients should we need to close our office. We already have a business continuity plan developed and this scenario presents real-life conditions to test against for overall business risk, and potential personal and business effects that a public health crisis could have.
Contingency planning is akin to saving for a rainy day. You never know when you may need to call upon your resources, but they exist if you need them. It is also necessary to periodically review and test the plan before it needs to be implemented and there is no time like the present. For us, as for many companies, preparing for potential business interruptions is focused around three key areas:
Our colleagues are our most precious resources and, therefore, they are the primary focus of our business continuity plan. Without them, we cannot succeed. We want our team to make prudent business and personal decisions to mitigate health risks that may affect our business. Travel is evaluated on a case by case basis, considering necessity, destination and mode of transportation. Personal or family illness is considered when determining whether to come into the office, work from home, or take sick time off. If it is necessary to quarantine, our staff should do so, in accordance with guidance given by public health agencies.
Some of our colleagues might be immuno-compromised. Some might have parents, spouses or children who are immuno-compromised. For everyone’s health, a conservative approach is often the wisest. Don’t catastrophize what you hear, but also don’t live life in a bubble thinking it won’t happen. It can happen and it is best to be prepared with a solid plan in case we are faced with an unfortunate situation.
Ensuring our ability to continually serve our clients during a business disruption is critical. First, because that is what they hired us to do and second, because it also affects our clients’ ability to work through their own potential business disruptions.
Some questions to ask about your business continuity processes and technology might include: Do the IT assets allow us to work remotely if necessary? Can our team access our network via VPN or other cloud-based systems? Test connections, hardware, software, and data security protocols to ensure that any disruption will be negligible. Report any issues and resolve them now, before an unforeseen issue affects the team, the clients, and the business.
Consider how a temporary work-place shutdown or quarantine could play into maintaining continuity in service delivery and company culture. Staying connected and operating as a team while working in remote locations can be challenging in the best of circumstances. Technology gives us great opportunities to communicate, hold face to face video meetings and continue to go about our daily work lives. This is another item to check during business continuity testing.
It is also worthwhile to assess responsibility backups. If one colleague is out sick for an extended period, who will step in and backfill those responsibilities? What if multiple people are unable to work – is there a backup plan to the backup plan? Contingency plans should be built to accommodate responsibilities at all levels – from entry level staff through senior leadership and even outside resources such as contractors, temporary resources and consultants. When it comes to illness, while the risk may be low, nobody is completely immune.
We are watching for developments and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and other governmental agencies here in the United States. In the meantime, as a firm we will continue to test our business continuity plan and make adjustments if needed, to ensure that we can continue to support our clients in times of business disruption. We have asked our staff to verify that they can access every IT resource that they need from home, including their business phone, our intranet and the cloud-based systems that we work in. There is plenty of hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and tissue in the office kitchen for everyone to use. People will be smart when it comes to their own personal health and the health of their colleagues.
The news on coronavirus continues to develop, and the long-term outlook is unclear. We are mindful of what potentially lies ahead of us and are prepared if we need to activate our business continuity plan. We are as ready as we can be considering the unknown. In the meantime, we will continue to educate and advise our colleagues, and work with our clients to maintain the high level of service that we are known for. If we need to adjust, we will, leading us to be better prepared the next time we are faced with potential business disruption.