The following was published in the March 1, 2020 editions of Foster's and Seacoast Sunday. This follows up on my posts from last week, "Is Your Business Prepared for Dealing with a Pandemic" and "Coronavirus Resources".
While we are all concerned about the health and safety of our loved ones in the face of the apparent inevitable Coronavirus pandemic, have you considered how your business will ride out the impacts of this rapidly developing threat?
Now is an excellent time to review your business continuity plan in light of the potential disruptions that may occur when the virus begins to spread in your local area, or areas where you have a physical business presence. To be clear, I am not intending to cause alarm. Rather, I am trying to offer some practical advice in light of the rapidly changing situation and the impacts we have seen in other countries.
Should the Coronavirus begin to spread where your business has physical operations, you will be impacted. Experts warn that we can expect mass transit and public gathering suspensions, school closures, travel restrictions and more, not to mention outright quarantines. Should any of these occur, the impact on your business operations will be felt and potentially with little advance warning.
I am not a qualified medical expert, but from everything I have read, the Coronavirus spreads very similarly to the flu. The output of coughs and sneezes as well as normal saliva exposure are believed to be the primary cause of spread. So washing hands frequently and wiping down public surfaces with anti-bacterial wipes are your best defense. Keeping unwashed hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth is also important. If you think you are sick, you should stay home and if you think your child is sick, they should be kept home from daycare or school. This is what may put the most pressure on the workforce. With most parents working, a sick child often means having to take time off to keep them home and in some families, this creates real hardship, so sick kids are one of our largest risk categories for not being kept home when they should be.
All of this means that our businesses need to be prepared for our workforces to need to work from home. This means workers that we typically do not expect to have to work from home. It also means having people working from home for longer periods of time than normal, if you already allow this. Simply put, can you continue to maintain normal business operations if everyone in your business is forced to work from home? This is what we may face, should an outbreak take place.
On the one hand, if you have not already planned for this, it may be too late. If you have a proven business continuity plan in place, that takes this need into account, you are in good shape. Even if you don’t have a plan in place that you know will work, you should still consider what it would take to implement one. While I previously said it may be too late, you may still be able to put enough in place to maintain the most important communications and operational requirements of your business to ride this out.
There are more options than there have ever been to set up your workforce to work remotely and securely. It should not matter if your critical business systems are located within your office or hosted in the Cloud. The key is making sure you have reliable, secure remote access to these systems. Many companies already have work-from-home policies in place and those businesses are likely well prepared should travel to the office be restricted or outright prohibited.
With luck, we won’t face anything severely disruptive, but until more is clearly understood about this virus and how it transmits between human beings, we should prepare now. As my late mother always said; “Better to have a plan and not need it than need a plan and not have it.” Wise words from a wise woman. Wishing you all good health and safety, now and always.