With thousands of cases reported, and the World Health Organisation declaring it a global health emergency, the coronavirus continues to make headlines.
While the primary concern remains the spreading of the virus and healthcare for those infected, the potential effects on businesses are broader, says Padma Naidoo, General Manager: Advisory Services at ContinuitySA, Africa’s leading provider of business continuity and resilience services. “Organisations should consider both the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic when evaluating whether they are prepared for the coronavirus.”
Should entry of the virus into the country be confirmed, what proactive measures will your organisation take to safeguard and support its employees? You may consider enhanced provision for hygiene at the workplace, awareness campaigns to help staff reduce their likelihood of contracting the virus, or even activating remote work to avoid having all staff members in one location.
Organisations need to be clear on how far they see their duty of care stretching. During the water crisis in Cape Town, some companies went to the point of planning how their employees would source water for domestic use. During a pandemic, you may, for example, need to consider what concessions the company would afford if schools were closed.
The indirect impacts of the virus (or any pandemic, for that matter) are far more complex and difficult to analyse. Economists have warned that the virus will have a ripple effect on business across the globe. Organisations therefore need to go beyond planning to deal with the virus itself, and explore the potential impacts on supply chains and, in some cases, demand. We have seen it in the past when the tsunami in Japan affected the ability of component manufacturers to deliver to factories elsewhere in the world, causing product shortages.
“In the interests of sustainability, organisations must have a strategy in place to reduce the impact of a pandemic on their ability to function,” she says. “Pandemics unfold in unpredictable ways, and proper planning is essential in ensuring that you are prepared. A well-constructed business continuity plan is particularly valuable when operating under unusual circumstances like this.”
She highlights that it is important to know which of your functions are critical, how much downtime you can accept, and what you require (at a bare minimum) to survive. With this information, management will be in a better position to make the right decisions during times of crisis.
“For example, if you do choose to disperse your workforce, do you know which staff you need to keep operational, whether your VPN can handle large volumes of remote work, which functions require team interaction and cannot be performed effectively remotely, and so on.
“Companies should seek to continuously improve their ability to anticipate a threat materialising, and quickly respond to it,” she says. “If you don’t already have a plan for how to deal with the virus, or any future risk, be proactive and take the responsible steps to protect both your organisation and employees.”