Learning from COVID-19: 7 Lessons for Business from the Pandemic

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The results are beginning to come in.

We are now far enough into the COVID-19 pandemic that we’ve started seeing some businesses pull ahead and others fall behind in regard to how well they’ve responded to the situation’s unique challenges.

Since it’s never too late for an organization to start doing better, in today’s post we’re going to look at lessons from COVID-19, including what works and what doesn’t in terms of responding to the pandemic as an organization.

Like most business people, I’ve curtailed my travel for the time being. Despite this, I’m still keeping in contact with our clients and other people in industries of all kinds, from all across the country.

In these conversations, the pandemic and business response to it has been the main topic, hands down.

I’ve talked to people at organizations where things are going relatively smoothly. I’ve also talked to people at organizations that are barely keeping it together and/or that are setting themselves up for a world of hurt when the time comes to start returning to work, however cautiously.

With just about everyone I talk to, I ask them how their organization has been handling various aspects of crisis and discover what’s they’re leaning from COVID-19.

From these conversations, I’ve learned seven lessons about what works and what doesn’t in terms of how a business has been responding to the pandemic.

I think these lessons are worth sharing because it’s never too late for an organization to do better, and also because many of the biggest challenges for business are still to come.

7 Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

1. Keep your pandemic plan simple.

You don’t needa 200-page document. A little bit of the scientific background behind virus transmission is all right, but leave the lengthy scientific explanations to the CDC. You want a succinct pandemic plan that focuses on practical steps and is easy for people to understand and, most importantly, execute.

2. Anticipate employee needs and devise policies that clearly address them.

Get out in front on this one and stay there. Deciding these policies on the fly is a recipe for chaos. Making things up as you go results in unnecessary stress, confusion, and conflict. Every employee has a different special case, and if you don’t have answers ready you’ll be driven crazy. Figure out your policies or guidelines on all the tricky issues: working from home, protecting confidential company information, taking time off, caring for dependents, hazard pay, reluctance to return to work, training and personal protective equipment once people return to work, and so on. This will become even more important as companies start bringing employees back. Is there a chance some employees will come back to work, contract COVID-19 on the job, and die? Lawsuits are likely, and companies that take a casual attitude toward their safety training, policies and guidelines will be in trouble.

3. Allow a central team to manage the event.

I can’t emphasize this one enough. There needs to be a central team in charge of managing the organization’s response to the crisis. The team should meet regularly and have some kind of nerve center. Everything pertaining to the COVID-19 situation should flow through the nerve center for the foreseeable future. If there’s no centralized leadership, only divergent solutions cropping up all over the place, the result is confusion, duplication of effort, and inconsistency.

4. Have a communication plan.

A big part of whether an organization succeeds or fails in dealing with the pandemic is how well they communicate with their internal and external stakeholders. Leave this to chance and your company might find itself left behind.

5. Know what your critical business processes are.

You can’t protect your critical business processes if you don’t know what they are. The best way to identify your most important and time-sensitive business processes is by conducting a BIA (business impact analysis). Keep in mind that common sense should be applied in applying the results of any BIA.

6. Be prepared to adapt to different working conditions.

Having a lot of people work from home is an immense challenge. Problems will come up that you never imagined, no matter how diligent you were in your preparations. Be prepared to be taken by surprise. One of the most common problems I’ve heard about is that companies are having difficulties printing checks because doing so requires specialized equipment rather than an ordinary printer. Another is that many organizations have no method for distributing the U.S. mail to their employees at home. Another is when there is a need for “wet” versus electronic signatures. The companies that do the best will expect the unexpected and learn to adapt.

7. Have a plan-ahead team.

This pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone. In addition to having a team to manage your response on a day-to-day basis, you should have a team that is looking 30, 60, 90, 180 days out. They should be looking at future developments in terms of public health and the economic situation. They should be examining the challenges your company is likely to face. This will give you a fighting chance to get ready for new problems early, which can make all the difference in the effectiveness of your company’s response.

Improving Your Company’s Response

Some companies are doing reasonably well in managing the pandemic, others are struggling. From looking at the varying experiences of these companies, we’ve begun to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t in terms of responding to the COVID-19 situation. There’s still a long way to go before this emergency is over. Follow the lessons above to improve your company’s response to the pandemic.

Further Reading

For more information on lessons from COVID-19, pandemic planning, and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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