Flexibility is key to a successful and safe return to operations

The coronavirus has caused unprecedented disruption to companies around the world and, in particular, exposed organisations that had not appropriately planned for a pandemic and built resilience into their business.

Those that have responded well have been able to react and make decisions quickly because of a prepared flexibility in their operations, access to reliable actionable insights and a strong communications strategy. Such agility, more often than not, is led by the chief executive.

As lockdown restrictions are eased at varying degrees worldwide, organisations need to double down to take advantage of the changing landscape, while ensuring operations are safe. Though no company can guarantee preventing the spread of infection, there are numerous steps they can take to minimise risk and fulfil their duty of care, at the same time enhancing resilience.

“It’s been surprising to see just how many companies did not have a pandemic arm to their risk strategy and this really caught them off balance,” says Dr Mark Parrish, regional medical director at International SOS, which delivers customised health, security risk management and wellbeing solutions to more than 12,000 organisations globally. “But as we enter a new normal, all businesses have another chance to embed resilience and implement best practice for their workforce, workplace and operations.

“Many people find it harder to work from home than others, for reasons that include mental health and technology issues. Even office-based companies that can continue with a lot of remote working will benefit by opening parts of their workplace, which can be made COVID safe.

“For manufacturing, which mostly continued during lockdown, albeit with lower staffing, it’s about ramping back up to full production, while incorporating measures such as zoning, different shift patterns and longer factory opening times. We have seen lots of innovative solutions across all sectors.”

In a recent study by International SOS, seven in ten organisations said their primary business continuity concern is further disruption from a second wave of the pandemic. While there is a keen focus on return-to-work measures, one in five said they still don’t have a pandemic plan and process in place. The same number of respondents, however, expected mental health issues to pose a major threat in the coming year.

International SOS has identified five key steps to returning to operations safely and sustainably: risk assessment pre-reopening, development of workplace measures, procedures for screening at entry point, staff training, and internal and external communication.

However, it also warns of “COVID myopia”, whereby companies are overlooking other risks, such as security threats and even other healthcare risks, including mental health issues. As business travel restarts, other infectious diseases also need to be considered, such as malaria, which kills 400,000 people in Africa every year.

“Seasonal or everyday risks don’t go away just because of a pandemic, so a balanced approach is crucial, with a holistic view of all risks that could impact employees,” says Parrish. “We work with organisations on new scenarios and situations daily to design the strongest and most sustainable return-to-work strategies.”

The challenges facing International SOS’s clients are broad and varied. From an orchestra concerned about germs spread through wind instruments, to retail outlets protecting their staff and the public, rock stars on global tours, TV and film studios resuming filming, offshore operations and global companies affected differently by COVID-19 in different locations. Each will have their own steps to returning to success.

“Our consultancy practice is working with industries across the board, carrying out reviews, planning, walkthroughs (remote and onsite), procedures, process and advice, and providing precautionary measures, such as temperature-screening and testing,” Parrish adds. “We assist with mental health training, strategy and assessments, as well as providing the underlying call centre healthcare support.

“Above all, we work with companies to build flexibility and agility into their planning. If a second wave comes, businesses will need to react quickly and maximise their potential to operate. With workforce flexibility and resilience, a repeat of the catastrophic disruption we have experienced can be minimised, and organisations can be well prepared to manage layered threats and the potential second wave,” Parrish concludes.

For more information on how to protect your workforce and adhere to your duty of care, please visit internationalsos.com