- Creating a Pandemic Survival Plan

How did you envisage your first six months of 2020 to be? I suspect it is fair to say that in January  none of us could have envisioned that this is where we would be in June 2020, living and working in a vastly different world. 

The global shutdowns and localised lockdowns are affecting organisations in ways we never imagined and have emphasised the importance of being prepared for the unprecedented and the unimaginable.

Although the UK Government’s furlough scheme has been a lifeline for many businesses, it has highlighted the importance of having a ‘pandemic survival plan’ in place for such events in the future and of being prepared for the unprecedented and the unimaginable.

Now is a great time to reflect on what we have learned during the current global pandemic and understand what we could do better, should we ever experience a similar degree of turmoil. As organisations, we need to plan and prepare ourselves, as far as possible, to ensure that schemes, such as the Government’s Job Retention Scheme (furlough leave), in the future is a welcome benefit, not an essential necessity.

With this in mind we have compiled a short guide to creating a survival plan, in the event we experience a business emergency, public health crisis or global pandemic in the future.

Strategise in Downtime

If, like many organisations, you have time on your hands right now, take the opportunity to strategise on how you can improve your business.  Gather feedback from employees, advisors, and customers on what you could do better.  If you have a social media presence, now is the ideal time to connect with customers (and potential customers) who may currently be spending much more time on these platforms; equally if you do not currently have a social media presence, now is a good time to evaluate its worth for your business. 

Think about how you can improve your efficiency and those you employ, better manage your time, and develop greater communication skills to enable you to convey your vision clearly and concisely. Audit your processes – everything from recruitment and training, through to digital storage.

The Absolute Essentials

Identify which employees are absolutely essential; those without whom your business could not function.  These could be individuals who work weekends, nights and public holidays, or need to be on call for emergencies. 

While many executive roles and functions can be sidelined for a time or operated remotely, the ‘absolutely essential’ positions are generally those who cannot work from home, such as IT, security, warehouse employees, maintenance engineers, delivery drivers and cleaners – the often overlooked employees who quietly keep organisations running, and have achieved ‘front line hero’ status during this pandemic.

Make it Safe

The health and safety of all your employees should be paramount, e.g. for those working at home, do they have suitable equipment to prevent musculoskeletal injuries, and for those that cannot work from home, have you provided adequate in-house safety provisions?

For those that cannot work from home, considerations should be given to the potential for risk in travelling to and from the workplace, when at their workstations, and when working in close proximity to colleagues.

Employers should ensure that where physical interactions and sharing of workstations is unavoidable, employees are provided with the necessary protective equipment and hand washing/sanitising facilities.

You may need to consider either employing cleaners i(if you don’t already do so), increasing the number of visits from your contracted cleaners, or, if cleaning your premises yourself, setting aside additional periods to regularly sanitise work areas; this may be something you feel needs to be implemented outside of your survival plan to optimize your cross infection protection. 

If your business operates a shift system where an entire team departs as the next team arrives, where possible consider building in a time margin for cleaners to come in and sanitise the work area between shift handovers. 

Communicate with Employees

Working remotely will almost certainly be our ‘go to’ in the event of future public health crises.  In the absence of the usual camaraderie of the workplace, plan for maintaining morale and productivity.

Set clear work times and expectations for your employees to provide structure to their days, but do so in collaboration – give consideration to those who may be less flexible in these circumstances (i.e.: caring for children, elderly relatives or anyone unwell, homeschooling etc.).

Online platforms like Zoom and Google Teams are now massively popular; as meetings, conferences and training sessions shift to video calls.  Choose a platform and communicate to your employees about how they will be used to maintain a dialog while away from the workplace.

Keep employees updated on new company policies relating to working in a pandemic, including any support you may be providing for those struggling with the adjustment to working remotely.

But remember that it doesn’t have to be all work work work… we personally know of companies hosting quiz nights over Zoom with employees and partners, to keep everyone connected and in good spirits during lockdown.  A great team builder and morale booster combined, while helping employees (and families) feel less alone.

Use Your Online Storefront

During a pandemic or public health crisis that shuts down our premises, offices and shops, websites and social media platforms become the face of organisations and our windows to the world.  Allocate and train key employees in using these channels for communicating with customers.

They should be responsible for publishing regular information and updates, including items that start a conversation online.  But be sensitive in the content you publish – it should empathise with the challenges likely faced by customers during a pandemic, without capitalising on it.

While investing more time and effort into your technological channels, you must do so with a degree of care, which leads us to our final point…

Protect Your Digital Assets

Modern technology has made it possible for businesses to continue to operate by facilitating employees in working remotely.

However, working from home, away from the built-in firewalls of the office and the reassuring observation of the IT department, there is an increased vulnerability to cyber-attacks.  Cyber-attacks (phishing scams, virus and malware links) have seen a steep rise since Covid-19, so it is essential to protect your digital resources at all times.

Virtual private networks (VPN) provide encrypted tunnels between employees’ devices and your network, keeping hackers and third parties from watching your activity.  Using two-factor authentication strengthens the security of your cloud platforms.  A file encryption service will secure your digital assets both locally and in the cloud.  Look to your IT department or employ the services of an IT support company to put these safeguards in place. 

It is also vital to train your employees in recognising threats.  Many data breaches occur when employees click what looks like an innocent link within an email, inadvertently downloading malware.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us all that being prepared for any potentially global emergency isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity.  Although this is not an exhaustive guide for comprising your survival plan, we trust it will provide you with a solid foundation for protecting your organisation and employees in the future should we find ourselves in another global crisis.