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  • Audrey Hametner

7 Steps to Prepare Your Company for a Second-Wave COVID-19 Outbreak

Lessons learned to date promise to help companies weather a second round of COVID-19 lockdowns this winter. Now is the time for leaders to begin preparing organizations for the possibility of a possible second-wave flare-up, and risk management must be at the core of these preparations. Following a few basic suggestions could spell the difference between a trouble-free transition and potential legal liability down the road.

At THG Advisory, we have been working with clients across a range of industries to make sure they are ready to weather future waves. We know that you and your team are tired; the last few months have placed a heavy burden on everyone. Making small preparatory steps now may save you time, resource, and money, preserving your bottom-line and creating the right spirit in your company. Preparing your organization requires insightful, detailed planning, and preparing for a worst-case scenario that we all hope will never happen.

Following these 7 steps will help you get started.

#1 Learn from the First Wave

Do not expect that governments, employees, clients, and customers will respond to a second wave of coronavirus in the same way as they did when the infection first took hold, and when emergency lockdown measures were implemented with little notice.

The initial wave of Covid-19 was genuinely unprecedented and, in general, people were understanding and accommodating as a result. It would be unrealistic to expect the same degree of flexibility in the event of a second wave, and it’s essential to understand up front that there will be less tolerance of coronavirus-related disruption by employees, clients, and customers.

By using a few hours to sit with your management and utilize the analytics that you have from that time to really take stock of lessons learned and new insights gained, you will be better positioned to predict reactions, and plan forward.

Some questions to ask would be:

· How did your customer base respond to disruptions (customer base by segment)?

· Where did the organization experience the biggest and smallest disturbances to operation (origin and any surprises)?

· Did the organization response plan work? How can it be strengthened?

· Were the measures that were put in place effective?

#2 Prioritize Risk Management & Business Continuity Processes

The pandemic has served as a tough wake-up call for many businesses who paid minimum attention to risk assessment and business continuity procedures prior to COVID-19. Ensure that you have the resources (time, people, and money) in place to prioritize this in your business, provide them with the tools they need to do the job, and make sure they have the full support of senior management:

· Conduct a full risk assessment. (It is important to be thorough here, and look at the business across suppliers, processes, procedures, and customers.)

· It is important to challenge assumptions. What new risks were introduced when the new measures were introduced?

· Publish it to your internal stakeholders, board, and partners. This will broaden the awareness and help expose any missed risks.

· Publish parts to your suppliers and external partners so they are better aware of how vulnerable they are to your business, and how important it is to keep you abreast of changes from their side. They need to believe in the partnership, so they can prioritize and support your interests.

· Provide evidence that you are effectively monitoring the discovered risks. Don’t just discuss and shelve the information. Create an accountability structure so that you are driven to evidence work being done to stay on top of issues- big and small.

Now is the time when every business, whether a start-up, SME, or large corporation, must have an UP TO DATE business continuity plan (BCP) in place, and understand their regulatory and reporting compliance requirements.

#3 Build a Resilient Culture

No one quite knows what form the next outbreak may take, but what we do know is that we will collectively have to knock down walls, respond rapidly, and be ready to successfully implement new processes and workflows almost instantaneously.

Your employees now understand the need to be prepared to be called upon in a crisis, yet management needs to recognize and reward the individuals and departments responsible for keeping the company alive. Some of the emergency pay cuts and job losses have left many employees feeling taken for granted, in companies where the burden was not evenly distributed, where they viewed the measure with suspicion or where little care, empathy and support was given to help them through the struggles that they were expected to endure.

From cleaning up the balance sheet and cutting costs, to eliminating waste in processes and through operational excellence, resilient organizations who are ahead of the curve will ride out uncertainty instead of being overpowered by it. Remember, running a good business starts with having the right team that is properly motivated and managed, therefore being efficient starts with your team. Next, the team is motivated to act and is directed on real issues through the tone from the top. Your messages need to be consistent and actioned by all levels of the organization.

#4 Protect the Health of Your Staff and Customers

Companies in nearly every industry face the prospect of employee and/or customer lawsuits over perceived negligence in preventing the spread of Covid-19. Businesses and brands that fail to learn from the current situation may suffer backlash and brand damage that, when compounded with an already challenging business environment, could threaten their very survival.

Keep your Covid-19 risk assessment and standard operating procedures under constant review to ensure that the right control measures are in place. Closely monitor how control measures are working in practice, and consult with employees regularly.

#5 Update and Clarify Your Remote Working Policy

Introduce a formal working from home policy, or review your existing policy if you already have one in place. As well as dealing with the day to day practicalities of working from home, this should also cover other important issues, for example:

· Data protection considerations such as secure access to servers, using company equipment, keeping the distinction between personal and business work are all areas where cyber criminals have taken advantage in recent months.

· Employees at high risk due to immunodeficiency disorders / underlying health issues will need to be monitored/managed and supported.

· Employees who may not be able to obtain childcare and therefore cannot easily work from home is a concern that is not going away anytime soon. As schools struggle to find a balance, parents are being expected to step in and support the system.

· Collaboration opportunities to keep ideas and progress front and centre may suffer when employees are isolated from each other.

· Consider provisions for employees that find working from home more expensive and require support from the company. Updated equipment, better broadband, increased mobile costs for staff who didn’t previously qualify for a company phone, etc. are all additional burdens that some employees are struggling to manage, especially on reduced salaries.

#6 Evaluate Your IT Capability

Connectivity is the lifeline that makes working at home possible, yet many organizations experienced serious capacity issues during the initial COVID outbreak. IT departments must plan to ensure that remote employees have all the resources they need to work effectively from home, including both hardware and software. This includes:

· Meeting and collaboration tools

· Updated software versions and new software solutions for the new structure

· Bandwidth capability

· Scaling for volume

· Cybersecurity and data protection

· Effective equipment

· Ergonomic health and safety testing

#7 Clear & Rapid Communications Strategy

Recently, we have been working with clients dealing with the COVID dilemma; what stands out for them is that clarity of message to stakeholders with a clear and shared understanding of terminology is key. Putting together stakeholder messages during times of crisis requires absolute clarity for all involved from the outset. Be clear and transparent from day one, and make sure you can get the message out quickly:

· Be clear about what you know, what you’re doing, and what you expect.

· Be clear about what you don’t know, and when you’ll have those answers.

Rethink how things are being done; rethink your roadmaps, and begin planning for the new normal. Most importantly, take the time to explore with your management team the big question - what have you learned from the first wave?

Prepare Your Company for a Second-Wave COVID-19 Outbreak

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