Take a look back at almost every Business Continuity Plan or BCP created before the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic and you will find almost no mention of pandemics as a possible disaster companies need to plan for. BCPs usually feature natural disasters, such as floods, fire, or earthquakes, but they will also include government issues (such as a company losing a license to trade), strikes, and power failure.
In short, you can look at what all the management consultants and other experts said before this crisis and very few even considered that a viral pandemic was a serious risk. The only major organization I can see in the media that had a pandemic plan in place was the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, UK.
Wimbledon is one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world and is watched every June by millions. Since the SARS pandemic in 2003 the competition organizers at Wimbledon have paid about £1.5 million per year to insure against their flagship competition being cancelled. This year it was cancelled and they had a £114 million payout from their insurers.
That’s a good return on the premiums paid, but the lack of similar headlines shows that very few companies ever thought that a pandemic would return and would become much worse than SARS.
This BCP plan from 2017 featured in CIO magazine details the basic structure of a solid business continuity strategy. It outlines how to assess the business impact of different types of disaster and suggests 6 critical stages:
Identify the scope of the plan
Identify key business areas
Identify critical functions
Identify dependencies between various business areas and functions
Determine acceptable downtime for each critical function
Create a plan to maintain operations
In addition, you require a checklist of supplies and equipment, some of which may need to be stockpiled. You need to know where data is backed up and how to access it and you even need to know where the BCP itself is to be stored and who can access it.
I believe there are several areas where BCP plans globally need to be altered to account for our recent experience with COVID-19. In particular the immediate need to be able to keep the business going with most of the team at home. There are several areas of continuity planning for the customer service team that require thought:
Equipment: Does everyone have fast enough Internet speeds at home? Are people using their own devices or will you insist on issuing laptops to be used remotely? If you need laptops then are you buying or renting or stockpiling?
Training and Onboarding: How do you provide training to the existing team and bring on new team members if everything has to be done remotely? Do you have Learning Management Systems already in place that can adapt or is this entirely new?
Security: Can your information security team deal with the challenge of thousands of people working remotely from home? Are you placing customer data at unnecessary risk? Have you considered both the technical risk and risk of the people remotely having access to customer data?
Teamwork: You need tools like Zoom and Slack to create virtual communities. People cannot work in isolation, they need to be part of a team even if the team is now virtual. Are your people using these tools already and can they just transfer to home and use the same tools or will you suddenly need everyone to become familiar with new tools?
Management: The employees and managers should have different expectations about home working - it’s not going to be the same as being in the office. Managers need to learn how to communicate more effectively with their team and help them avoid the effect of isolation. Managers also need to trust their team more - remote delivery requires much more focus on what is delivered, rather than hours on the job. It requires more empathy.
Many of these actions will be included in your existing BCP, however, you will probably need more flexibility to manage the rapid deployment of a work from home solution in a pandemic situation. In my next blog, I’m going to explore some of those strategic and practical aspects of how contact centers can de-risk their activities.
Global Head of Solutions and Bid Management
Photo by Allan Harris licensed under Creative Commons.