China’s coronavirus outbreak has developed into not only a global health crisis but also proved to become a business challenge for myriads of U.S. and foreign companies that operate in the world’s second-largest economy. In fact, a World Health Organization has declared coronavirus an epidemic and international public health emergency.
An outbreak can affect your customers, employees, reputation,and ultimately your revenue. In this article, we’ll provide you with a checklist for a Coronavirus preparedness plan and explore everything your business needs to know about a viral outbreak or pandemics.
What to Plan For
Before you can strategize your pandemic plan, you need to know what specific contingencies you’re preparing for. Let’s take a look at the many aspects of your business that could be affected by a pandemic.
The Effect of a Pandemic on Your Employees
The most obvious way a pandemic affects businesses is the increase in employee absence.
Your company is likely prepared for the occasional employee illness but even these anticipated sick days still cost businesses billions of dollars per year.
On the other hand, many businesses are not expecting half their staff to call in sick on the same day or for extended periods of time. This may very well happen if the flu or a pandemic sweeps through your area.
Afterward, the remaining staff may not be enough to fill all of the necessary roles for the company to function. Thus, unprepared businesses are forced to halt their business until their key employees get better.
The Effect of a Pandemic on Your Customers
A pandemic could impact your customer base as much as it does your workforce. This affects all businesses differently, depending on how they do business with their customers.
Consider how it will affect your customers’ purchasing behavior if half of them are affected by a pandemic outbreak. For example, there would likely be an increase in online orders as customers are stayinginside to avoid contracting or spreading viruses.
The Effect of a Pandemic on Your Business
As we just touched on, your selling tactics will have to change quickly in a pandemic. Keep in mind, the standards of supply and demand could change drastically in a very short period of time. You’ll need to reallocate how you’ll be investing your company’s time and money in the event of an outbreak.
Furthermore, the CDC may implement special quarantine regulations to prevent further outbreak. These may restrict things like mass gatherings and transportation/shipping services, which could affect your business.
Additionally, you won’t be the only business affected. Your competition, business partners, suppliers, maintenance technicians—all your business relationships will all be affected as well. Consider how that will, in turn, affect your company.
The Effect of Your Business in a Pandemic
Conversely, how will your business affect the pandemic? Aside from the pandemic affecting your business, your business will have an effect on your customers and your community during this crisis.
For example, the way you normally do business might become a health risk during a pandemic. Many of your policies will need to change during a pandemic to avoid the risk of spreading the disease. You may, for instance, require employees to wear protective face masks or wash their hands before entering the office.
However, communicating the steps your business is taking to prevent contamination can be instrumental to the health of the entire community. The attitude of a company’s leadership towards dealing with pandemics is critical in controlling its outcome. Jon Bahl, CEO at Agility Recovery, believes that when employees see the management approach a pandemic scenario with scrutiny and diligence, everyone is starting to take things very seriously.
“Agility stresses the importance of thorough preparation for such scenarios. And timely communication is key here.” Jon also emphasized the fact that “people may be unable to leave their homes or come to the office, so it’s important to alert and notify them of any special instructions, and to make sure people are safe. Nothing can replace an emergency messaging system that bridges the gap of connecting the employer and its teams in the time of crisis.”
Some of your products could increase the spread of disease as well. You might want to alter them or recall them temporarily.
Consider how your company can help with this common struggle. Remember, also, your customers are watching you. And they’ll remember what you do to help or to hurt during this crisis.
Pandemic Plan Strategies
Now that you know what to plan for, here are some tips on how to create a pandemic plan.
Create Pandemic Policies/Manuals
The first thing you should do is to create the special policies you’ll implement in the event of a pandemic. Review what you need to plan for from the list above. Then decide how you will proceed with your business.
As you do this, document these policies as official manuals. Once they are completed, train your employees on these practices so they are prepared if a pandemic happens.
Senior business continuity consultant Doug Langley recommends for “the lead ‘command and control’ team to come together and begin discussing the potential impact and their continuity strategies.” He advises for these teams “to ensure that they are actively monitoring the progress of the situation and think about the timing of their response.”
Another great advice Mr. Langley gave us was to conduct a regular Business Impact Analysis review to validate that the processes are correctly prioritized. “Review and modify the plan as needed and continue those key ongoing operations. Finally, reach out to key suppliers/vendors to understand their plans and adapt yours if there is a potential gap.”
Many businesses train each employee to fill a single position, especially the important ones. This is actually the opposite of what you should do.
As we mentioned, a pandemic could put half of your workforce on sick leave, maybe more. If you can’t fill the positions they leave behind, you’ll have to shut down until further notice.
Barbara Webster, Crisis and Business Continuity Consultant, believes that “information and proactive wellness planning are essential to alleviating fears and false information that can spread rapidly.” She recommends encouraging employees to get flu shots, working from home when sick, and providing hand sanitizers within the branches near entrances and at counters can also help.
“If there are several branches,” Barbara said, “management needs to prepare a business plan that would allow them to temporarily consolidate services in one location. Should a significant percentage of their workforce become ill or exposed, the plan would be a time-saver.”
That’s why most if not all of your employees should be cross-trained to do multiple functions at your business, especially the important ones. That way, you have “backups” who can fill these critical positions in when certain key employees can’t come in.
Research Replacement Contractors
Another backup plan for sick workers is being ready to hire temporary replacements. Staffing agencies have such replacements on standby, trained for any position you might need.
Before a pandemic hits, research different staffing agencies and find the one (or ones) that best meet your needs. As a bonus, this option may be cheaper than the time and money you could invest in cross-training your in-house employees.
Keep This Pandemic Planning Checklist
Even with a plan, a pandemic is unpredictable and devastating. We believe that investing time to train and educate your staff about the steps to be taken during a pandemic can provide a lifeline. Having an immediate access to educational resources such as a preparedness checklist or a detailed tabletop exercise is a simple way to learn about what must be done right away and how the situation should be approached overall.