5 Steps Companies Can Take Today to Prepare for Future Crises
Despite the promising rollout of vaccines, the reopening of offices and adjusting working models to a post-COVID world, many countries and regions are still experiencing lockdowns. Work-from-home extensions and permanent changes to the workplace may be required until the virus outbreak risk subsides, and businesses that haven’t adapted to flexible working and applying technology solutions to mitigate its effects may find themselves repeatedly struggling.
A common response firms take to a crisis is rolling out a linear “if x then y” action plan. These are simple to establish and easy to follow. In most cases this is adequate. But for events such as COVID-19, keeping up with its fast-changing nature and scale is almost impossible with a linear strategy, especially for multinational firms with complex, global workforces and office portfolios. It has become clear that being agile is a crucial part of responding to a crisis such as COVID-19.
Not All Crises Are Created Equal
This won’t be the last time business leaders are faced with a crisis similar to the pandemic. So what have we learned, what are the key elements of a robust response, and what measures can businesses put in place immediately?
Firstly, businesses should reconsider traditional thinking around linear responses to a crisis, because not all crises are created equal. For example, the project of constructing a bridge can and should be efficiently managed with a simple plan. But creating innovative software requires continuous and agile adaptation and iteration through feedback loops. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all” solution, and without an agile mindset and approach you won’t succeed.
It’s the same with crisis response. Simple scenarios such as accidentally lost files, hardware failures or third-party outages can be addressed with a simple response, which can be implemented in a lean fashion. Complex crises require immediate steps to initiate a disaster recovery plan, and additional steps must follow an agile process for an efficient response. Here are five considerations businesses can begin implementing today.
1. Protect Your People
Your people must always be the foremost concern in complex crisis scenarios. You only get one chance to get this right. And it’s one scenario where agility and empathy to individual situations are most required. Consider the physical and mental wellbeing of your employees and put in place plans to ensure their needs can be met in rapidly-evolving situations.
Understand the psychological effects of long-term work-from-home, the loss of social contact and potential impact on company culture, and consider any solutions, including technology solutions which could mitigate these. Make sure your workplace communications platforms reach all of your people all of the time, and be prepared to use them frequently.
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2. Identify and Prepare Your Critical Processes
Define your core business critical processes now. Understand what your company requires to continue functioning during a crisis and have these internal response processes up and running with a traditional linear lean approach. This should also include external factors such as ensuring a production facility has sufficient reserves of critical material, and that production output can be stored safely if there is an interruption in shipping. While cost savings can be achieved with just-in-time and lean manufacturing, in a pandemic where external processes fail, they can slow the whole company to a crawl. Review, and test frequently.
3. Crisis-Proof Your Infrastructure
Neither linear or agile responses will work if a company is ill-prepared on the basics. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how unprepared companies were to give employees access to the tools necessary for remote working. VPN connectivity to company networks and access to secure video conferencing, for example, had to be hastily implemented as existing systems were not designed for this scope, often due to cost reasons. Consider the existing tools required to keep your core processes running smoothly and identify where additional infrastructure may be required in times of crisis.
4. Don’t Forget Your Customers!
Your employees aren’t the only people for whom timely communication is essential — don’t forget your customers. Part of an agile crisis response should be anticipating and responding to the specific needs of your clients, with regular customer-specific communication to reassure them that you are thinking specifically about their needs and are still able to perform essential business functions without interruption. It’s also crucial to identify and crisis-proof the business-critical infrastructure which enables you to deliver for your customers.
5. Buckle In for the Long Haul
Don’t expect a complex crisis to resolve itself swiftly. Your business might not be the same when it does. A robust crisis response should have short, medium and long-term scenarios, the latter of which accommodates the possibility that a sea change may occur to which you must adapt. As COVID-19 has made clear, investments in workplace technology and infrastructure made prior to and during a crisis should be considered with a long-term outlook, so they continue to provide value long after the crisis is over. Future workspaces will need to be more flexible than ever before, and as hybrid working models become the norm, changes will occur more frequently. Workplace technology and business processes must be able to support these models and adapt and scale with the changes to accommodate an ever-changing landscape.
We hope to never again have to deal with a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, but nevertheless must prepare our people and businesses for that potential scenario. Organizations that take the opportunity to embrace hybrid work models and put in place robust technology solutions which allow for business continuity under difficult circumstances, will be better prepared to deal with such an eventuality. For those who have not yet considered how their business might weather the next storm, now is an excellent time to begin planning for the future.
About the Author
Dr. Stefan Dietrich is Vice President of Solutions Delivery & Support at Comfy and co-author of Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide.