Sam Miller, Cyber Assurance Manager at 6point6 writes –
Many companies around the world have found with the abundance of technology solutions at their disposal, continuing business as usual whilst remotely working during this pandemic has gone surprisingly smoothly. For others, however, it will have been a wake-up call that their business continuity processes have not held up when deployed in reality.
The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the need for thorough business continuity planning, while the findings for your specific business are likely to be unique, a few common lessons learnt have emerged:
1) plan for ongoing business impact
‘Individual organisations may suffer from the pandemic’s impact on staff absenteeism therefore reducing the services available.’
This quote from the National Risk Register may sound like ‘understatement of the year’ to those whose workforce has been hit hard by staff illness or forced furloughing. Sadly, an increasing number of people have also been lost forever due to this pandemic.
Just as the local supermarket is focusing on only stocking the basics; business decisions may be needed to reduce service offerings to match a diminished workforce. The business plan for 2020 should go back to the drawing board if organisations, both large and small, are to survive these difficult times. There is a need to plan ahead, focus on your business impact analysis and consider in which areas you may need to scale back your business both for this year and next. That isn’t to say it’s all bad news however, and new prospects could arise in terms of ways of working or business opportunities.
2) continuity of the supply chain
While most continuity plans establish Service Level Agreements for key suppliers, disruption on such a wide scale as is currently being experienced is not always factored in. What do you do when multiple elements of your supply chain are gone overnight, with no real estimate of when they will return to business as usual?
During the pandemic it is even more important to communicate with suppliers to manage expectations realistically and take note of the measures they are taking as well as keeping them apprised of your situation. It may become necessary to identify alternative suppliers and be prepared to embrace the change of switching if needed. But another option to explore is supporting your suppliers. If reasonable, it may be worth taking a commercial loss in the short term, as supporting both clients and suppliers during the pandemic could help to foster a deeper trust and new opportunities and working relationships in the long run.
The pandemic has affected the supply chain in our personal lives as well, such as the closing of schools. While school closures are unlikely to directly affect many businesses, it does have a large effect on the employees who suddenly have to spend the day looking after their children, affecting their time, productivity and well-being – not to mention having to share the internet connection. Planning for aspects like this in the future can help employees feel reassured that they are not going to be overwhelmed.
3) remote working is here to stay
With the world in lockdown, office-based roles have embraced remote working on a massive scale. Working from home and other flexible ways of working have already been on the rise, but it’s easy to foresee how the lockdown will push the trend further in this direction (see here)
One thing your company should be doing is assessing the IT impact of workers utilising remote access, and planning for increased utilisation in the future, if this is something your company wants to embrace. Additionally, be aware of The Unchecked Expansion of Shadow IT and Coronavirus Related Phishing and the security risks posed by both.
4) consider the human element
Of course, at the forefront of any planning should be the safety and well-being of staff. Having a remote workforce can affect employee morale as well as productivity. Plan for an increased up take of employee welfare services, and if you don’t currently offer anything in this area, it’s a good time to start. There are also short-term changes you can easily make to help boost morale. Here at 6point6 we have been having virtual team lunches, dress up video calls and have set up new channels of communication for things to do at home and questions about coronavirus as just a few examples. In the longer term, consider making plans on how to keep your workforce motivated and engaged during challenging times.
Improving for the Future
The points listed above are just some examples of planning that you might want to consider. What is important is to gather data specific to your business and situation and implement changes for the future by:
- holding question and answer sessions, listening to staff can highlight areas of concern
- identifying your own lessons learnt
- incorporating these into policies and procedures
Focusing on business continuity is more important now than ever. If you already had comprehensive business continuity plans in place, make sure they are ready for a possible COVID-19 resurgence later in the year, if your plans were lacking, the important thing is to learn and improve. Writing procedures can help you prepare for other risks that could impact your business.
The pandemic is likely to introduce lateral damaging events, and it’s important to consider these as well. Economic recession is one obvious example. Another less obvious might be the impact from the death of a monarch or notable official. Researching on how to prepare for these issues can mean you are ready for what may come.
Some further reading that could be of interest:
- More on business continuity from 6point6
- Expecting the unexpected: business continuity in an uncertain world
- Business continuity versus Covid-19
- HM Government Business Continuity Management Toolkit
- Business Continuity Planning: Checklist of preparatory actions in responding to COVID-19
- National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies
Sam Miller, Cyber Assurance Manager at 6point6