2020 unleashed a storm of disruption unlike any other in living memory. The coronavirus pandemic represents an extreme challenge to every organisation navigating this unprecedented crisis. The shock wave has impacted individuals, organisations and societies, and will reshape many of them.
Any organisation that aspires to long-term success must be able to weather an occasional storm. Prudent organisations not only assess potential threats of disruption, they also take proactive measures to prepare for the unexpected so the business can continue in the face of adversity.
Why you need a business continuity plan
Fortunately, many organisations had already built a level of preparedness that provided some protective resilience to the pandemic’s worst effects. Business continuity has evolved as an internationally recognised management discipline over the last 25 years and has been adopted by thousands of organisations worldwide. It combines proven principles and practices that enable organisations to respond to and recover from significant disruptive events, both natural and manmade.
Headline-grabbing events, such as earthquakes, flooding, terrorism and cyber-attacks, provide tangible motivation for business leaders to actively safeguard their organisation’s continuity in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.
The magnitude and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the most robust continuity plans well beyond their original design parameters. Even organisations that had pandemic response plans in place found they had not fully anticipated the level of social or economic disruption caused by the coronavirus.
These uncharted circumstances have forced organisations to be resourceful and to adapt existing response strategies to the unfamiliar demands imposed by the pandemic. Preparedness and adaptability are key conditions that underpin organisational resilience and have been important success factors for those organisations that responded most effectively.
Organisations with tested plans and rehearsed teams in place were able to react more quickly and competently, for example by swiftly scaling up work-from-home options that might once have been selectively available so they could accommodate the entire workforce.
What do businesses face post-pandemic?
The world has now entered an intermediate, unsettled period defined by social distancing and travel restrictions that may last months or even years until a proven vaccine is widely available. We can anticipate a route out of the pandemic that will be shaped by periodic outbreaks, oscillating government controls, and a hesitant revival in business and consumer confidence.
Organisations will have to adapt to a fluid and unpredictable operating environment. The fear of future waves will encourage a cautious unwinding of temporary arrangements put in place to ensure business continuity.
As the world moves into a post-pandemic stage, the novel measures adopted under lockdown may be absorbed as permanent practice. Offices will be occupied more flexibly, or be abandoned by some, as a new understanding of the workplace takes hold.
Surveys of the Business Continuity Institute’s members during the pandemic have shown the technology used to enable work-from-home solutions has increased, rather than reduced, productivity. User-friendly apps can be repurposed to minimise concerns about social isolation. These unexpected benefits, combined with workforce enthusiasm, will make these COVID-induced reconfigurations hard to fully reverse.
As organisations are being rapidly remodelled, the risk profiles and continuity strategies created under pre-pandemic conditions will also need to be reworked to ensure they remain fit for purpose. Some legacy risks may diminish under these new conditions, only to be replaced by unforeseen threats. A highly distributed workforce might reduce the risks associated with single-site occupancy, but could make the organisation more exposed to hostile cyber-threats.
The pandemic has shown the organisational benefits of business continuity and resilience. The disruptive influence of COVID-19 will not fade quickly. Business leaders should seize the opportunity to understand the pandemic’s enduring impact and reinforce their organisation’s continuity and resilience capabilities in anticipation of future turmoil.