Coronavirus – What Next For Business?

Getting Britain Back to Business

Twelve months ago, if I had sat in front of business clients and said that they would have to shut down their main operational hubs and make major changes to the way they do business and interact with their customer base, most would have looked at me with a rather bemused look on their face.

To expand on that then and say to them that they and some or all of their workforce would be working from home and that they may have to consider cutting wages or furloughing their employees, I would have received more strange looks.

Had I also taken a close look at their Business Continuity Plan (BCP), and in particular at their procedures for business crisis management, I may well have found a section dealing with “Pandemic”. It may well have covered areas such as reduced operations, lay-offs, staff absences, the prospect of home working, sanitation, decontamination and personal hygiene, but would this have been on a scale sufficient to have met the level of crisis we are experiencing now, and what we have been asked to do now?
I would venture that the answer, in many instances, would have been “No”.

Furthermore, would those plans have considered the impact on their supply chains? Would those clients have requested copies of supply chain BCP’s and Crisis Management processes as part of their pre-qualification questions?

Would BCP’s for businesses with a close customer interaction have addressed the need to purchase and stockpile Personal Protective Equipment, sanitiser and of all things, toilet roll prior to any possible event? As we have seen with the shortages in PPE and other such items now considered essential, the answer must be no, they would not.

“it has taken one unprecedented and hard impacting incident to change the way we do things”

Now, as countries look towards the end game in this fight against Covid 19, thoughts turn to how things will get back to “normal”, if indeed they can. As we are seeing across the world, it has taken one unprecedented and hard impacting incident to change the way we do things and the way we are set to do things for a long time to come – not just in business and commerce, but socially as well as in tourism, sport, leisure, and retail. 

We are seeing a heavy reliance on technology, which has put a huge burden on our global technical infrastructure; new laws have been passed, and not only in the UK. There have been changes made to the way our political and judicial systems operate.

All forms of travel have been impacted, of which air travel has been the most profoundly affected. Our skies once filled with engines of all forms are now eerily silent. Thus we are witnessing a positive impact on the environment at an unprecedented level. What we are experiencing now has changed the landscape in all areas of life.

How will governments across the world ease the lock-downs, restrictions and quarantines? When will this begin? What recovery plans are in place when lined up with what has happened to this point?

This may well be the crux of the matter: how to recover a business after an event of this scale and magnitude.

For most it may be a fairly simple recovery process of starting back to work on a given date and allowing time for things to return to normal, but as the restrictions are eased and Covid 19 is addressed we could see new questions being faced:

For instance, is there a need to “go back to work”? If your workforce is currently operating as efficiently at home as it had done in the general workplace then is there a need to have that additional “workplace” on the scale that it currently is? Should consideration therefore be given to scaling back the workplace thus cutting back on asset and facilities management costs?

And should a company continue operations with the same use of facilities as before the lockdown then how does it plan for the short, medium- and long-term phases of bringing a workforce back into work. Does it need to stagger work hours and set up shift patterns? Will there need to be separation of staff and forms of personal protection and/or sanitisation put into place? Such things as common areas, staff rest areas and meeting rooms will need to be rethought.

What are the operational and financial impacts of changing operations in this way? How can technology assist with this and what are the new dangers of working in this way? For some businesses lockdown has highlighted the need for to implement more robust business interruption insurance policies, or for others to have these added to their policies.

While savings may be made with a reduced workplace, would salaries or allowances need to be adjusted to allow workers working from home to meet their increased home finances – and how does home working affect the mental health and well being of employees?

“Our world has changed and with it the way business is done”

On a wider scale would local authorities need to reconsider how they charge households for their services for those working from home? Would there need to be a change to Business Rates and Council Tax legislation in order to cover such things as increased domestic waste? Would the rated system of water billing need to be addressed for home workers not on a meter?

There is a great deal that needs to be considered and put into place to ensure that a business is equipped for a future pandemic or a second wave of the current one. With such a huge reliance on home working and technology, new threats to a business’s operational survival have come to light. This means drastic changes in how a company formulates and operates its BCP and the management of the Business Continuity Lifecycle will be required.

Our world has changed and with it the way business is done. We just need to make sure we are equipped for the next big event by learning from the current one. Often an objective eye and, in my experience, expert guidance can be the key to survival.

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