The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact and created unprecedented challenges to organisations all around the world. From remote working to supply chain disruptions, the pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of business operations and forced many organisations to adapt in a rapidly changing environment. Business continuity planning was critical for many organisations in helping them to continue operating during the pandemic and is equally critical in helping them navigate a wide range of pandemic after-effects.
In this blog, we are discussing the top 10 ways in which URM believes COVID-19 has impacted, influenced or affected business continuity (BC)
1. Remote working and the shift to the Cloud
One of the most significant impacts of COVID has been the shift of workforces from working in a specific location to remote working, mainly working from home. During the height of COVID, with the need to maintain social distancing, many organisations had to rapidly adapt to new technologies and processes to ensure that employees could collaborate, communicate and work effectively and securely from home. As such, we have seen increased adoption of video conferencing software, virtual private networks (VPNs), and project management software. In addition, many organisations had to establish new policies and procedures to ensure that employees were productive and engaged in a remote-working environment. This has all resulted in a significant shift in the way organisations operate and, due to the benefits felt by both employer and employee through this period, many have built remote working or ‘hybrid working’ into ongoing working practices.
From a BC perspective, this has significantly moved the focus away from physical offices or sites to the network or environment that supports the employees working remotely. As a result, many organisations have found they no longer need the disaster recovery locations they previously maintained, or at least not on the same scale as before. Some organisations have even gone as far as to become entirely Cloud-based, no longer providing a physical location from which to conduct its operations and activities.
With the move to Cloud computing, organisations have recognised the benefits of employees being able to access information and systems from virtually any location. Cloud computing has also enabled organisations to quickly scale up or down their operations as needed, without having to invest in new hardware or infrastructure. The pandemic has also helped to highlight the need for businesses to have flexible and scalable IT systems that can adapt to changing circumstances. In short, the pandemic is driving organisations to be more robust and resilient, the very definition of good BC planning. As a result, existing BC plans (BCPs) which were inherently physical or site-focused have needed to be overhauled to reflect these changes.
2. Supply chain disruptions
The pandemic had a significant impact on supply chains, with major disruptions to global trade and transportation, factory closures and workforce shortages, all causing delays and shortfalls of essential goods and raw materials. In order to address this exposed vulnerability, a number of organisations have had to adapt and find new ways to manage their supply chains, such as developing alternative sourcing strategies, increasing inventory levels and stockpiling or improving the organisation’s resiliency, all to help mitigate the risks associated with their suppliers. Many organisations have had to make significant strategic changes around their working environments, given the geographic spread of their workforces. The best example of this in the context of supply chain is how the pandemic has catalysed a rapid migration of organisations to Cloud-based IT service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure for the responsibility of maintaining their IT service environments.
This improved risk management has resulted in more streamlined BC arrangements for many organisations, whilst at the same time imposing the need for them to be increasingly diligent to ensure this new supply chain is itself resilient and has BCPs in place. In short, the pandemic has served to highlight the importance of having a robust and resilient supply chain to maintain business operations.
Remote working has also brought about other new security challenges. With employees working from home on less secure and more vulnerable networks, the risk of cyber-attacks has increased. As a result, there has been a greater emphasis on cybersecurity, within both the IT and infrastructure departments and also within BC planning, with organisations investing in new technologies and policies to protect their data and networks. This includes implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA), endpoint protection, virtual private networks (VPNs) and establishing clear policies and procedures around data security. Organisations have also had to educate their employees about cybersecurity risks and implement regular security training to minimise the risk of data breaches.
4. Crisis or Incident Management
The importance of effective crisis or incident management and good BC planning has been highlighted, as organisations have had to respond quickly to changing circumstances and navigate unprecedented challenges on a frequent basis. As such, in order to ensure they can respond effectively to future crises, many organisations have, or are considering the need to, develop new crisis management plans and strategies.
5. Renewed Focus on BC Planning
The importance of being both robust and resilient during an incident or disruption has been clearly demonstrated, and many organisations either have re-evaluated, or are now re-evaluating, their existing plans. This includes assessing vulnerabilities and developing contingency plans for supply chain disruptions, as well as identifying alternative suppliers and vendors. Organisations have also had to become much smarter at developing clear communication plans to keep employees informed and engaged during such a crisis. The pandemic has also made it very clear to businesses that BC planning is an ongoing process not just a one-time exercise.
6. Risk Management
Another impact of COVID has been to draw attention to the importance of effective risk management, and through many of the examples or areas already listed e.g., supplier chain resilience, organisations have had to be more imaginative and proactive when it comes to risk management. No longer can they afford to be reactive or ignore this element of governance entirely.
7. Financial Planning
Financial planning is another area to be impacted by the COVID pandemic, with many organisations facing revenue declines, increasing costs and cash flow challenges, forcing them re-evaluate their financial strategies and find ways to cut costs and conserve money. Organisations of all sizes and from all sectors have had to identify alternative sources of funding, such as government loans or grants, as well as implement new financial management strategies to manage risks and uncertainties. In order to maintain their key operations during an incident or disruption, organisations have been required to strengthen their financial planning and management.
8. Staff Shortages and Employee Wellbeing
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest impacts of COVID has been the ‘human’ component within organisations. During the peak of COVID, organisations had to deal with staff shortages due to employees falling sick, having to self-isolate, or having to take care of family members. Following on from this, COVID has also led many people to re-evaluate their lifestyle choices and has led, for example, to a significant number of people retiring early or reducing their working week. At the same time as dealing with staff leaving, organisations have also had to deal with wellbeing issues as many employees have experienced increased levels of stress and anxiety. As a result of these factors, many organisations have been challenged in ensuring that they can continue to operate without key individuals and at the same fulfil their duty of care to the wellbeing of their staff. In terms of building resilience against single points of failure, organisations have turned to knowledge and skills transfer by cross-training employees to help ensure that critical functions can be performed even if staff members are absent. This can involve training employees on different tasks and responsibilities, as well as ensuring that knowledge and expertise are shared across teams. Organisations have also responded by improving the documentation of key processes.
Organisations have quickly realised the critical importance of prioritising employee health and mental wellbeing, both in terms of their duty of care and in terms of reducing staff absenteeism and increasing staff retention. As such, many have implemented new policies and initiatives to support staff, such as employee assistance programmes, flexible working arrangements and skills training. By introducing flexible working arrangements, this can help to accommodate employees' needs, e.g., providing care for family members or pursuing other interests and in the process help to retain them within the workforce. The importance of regular communication with employees through incidents and crises has also been highlighted. During a disruption, for example, staff not only need to feel supported, but that they also need to understand their roles and responsibilities and what is expected of them.
Certainly, the pandemic has stressed the need for organisations to recognise the importance of taking care of employees' physical and mental health as an essential component of maintaining business operations and addressing the various needs of individuals.
Employee training and development has been impacted by COVID, as organisations have had to be more creative in finding new ways to provide training due to recipients being based remotely. Many organisations have naturally responded by increasing online training, but have also identified that there can be reduced employee engagement and increased levels of fatigue if the format is not varied. As such, hybrid learning is becoming even more important, and learning and development professionals are focussing on combining the flexibility of self-learning and available online resources with highly engaging real-world experiences.
10. Customer Engagement and Changed Consumer Behaviour
With the increase in remote working and decline of physical offices, customer and employee engagement has also seen changes, with organisations finding new ways to connect with customers and employees in a remote environment. Organisations have had to develop new engagement strategies, such as video conferencing, virtual events and online customer service in order to maintain customer and employee satisfaction and loyalty.
In addition, there’s been a significant shift, both temporary and permanent, in consumer behaviour and shifts in demand for certain products and services, e.g., consumers opting for online shopping and contactless delivery. This has required a major change in business operations to meet changing consumer needs, including investing in website development, e-commerce platforms and delivery services. Businesses have had to find new ways to engage with customers and develop new marketing strategies, such as using social media and other digital platforms to communicate with customers. Where physical stores and business locations exist, there is a greater emphasis on health and safety which has led to organisations implementing new protocols to protect customers and employees. From a business continuity perspective, this qualifies as significant change and requires organisations to conduct such elements as a business impact analysis (BIA), a process that in itself should drive the production of the BCPs to be revisited.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on BC and BC planning, disrupting nearly every aspect of business operations. As a consequence, organisations have had to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances to ensure they can continue to operate effectively. Organisations that are able to prioritise employee wellbeing, implement effective risk management and crisis management strategies, and adapt quickly to changing circumstances, will be best positioned to succeed in the post-pandemic business environment.
How can URM help?
Consultancy – Is your organisation certified or aligned with the best practice BC standard?
ISO 22301:2019 is the widely-recognised benchmark for what good looks like when it comes to BC management and not just implementing best practice BC, but continually improving it. Achieving certification, with its external validation, can help you comply with any legal requirements you may have that relate to BC and achieve a marketing advantage by standing out from the crowd. Certifying to ISO 22301 will also help keeping you focussed on changing risks, both external and internal, such as reducing your dependence on individuals and on other single points of failure. Most importantly, having an ISO 22301-aligned BC framework in place will help you prepare for, and weather, any significant disruption to your business.
URM and its team of BC consultants can provide you with a plethora of consultancy and training services, irrespective of whether your goal is to achieve ISO 22301 certification or simply to develop and improve your BC capabilities.
Consultancy – How prepared is your organisation for a disruption?
Planning for what might happen should a critical incident or disruption occur is a key risk management approach to increase an organisation’s resiliency.
URM and its BC consultants specialise in preparing for and conducting, with you and your team, simulated desktop exercises that closely replicate a real incident, enabling your organisation to better understand any weaknesses and identify improvements so that when a real incident occurs, you are ready!
Training – Interested in widening the knowledge and understanding of BC in your business?
Using, Alurna, URM’s learning management system, you and your team can make use of training courses already developed for BC and BC management, or have training material developed which is fully tailored to your organisation’s needs.