Nine Critical Processes To Be Managed When Covid-19 Strikes
Tuesday evening, March 10, my phone rang while I was watching my daughter at her Karate lesson.
My largest and most reliable consulting client had a problem. One of their senior consultants had returned from the UK last week, had meetings in the office and developed a fever on the weekend.
The CEO had started to shut down the business, cancel meetings, have people work from home. He cancelled all my meetings.
I realised while talking with him that he had no holistic plan. He’d done well with his tactical response. But there was a lot more to do, a lot more risks, and no comprehensive view of what had to be done.
It didn’t take me much reflection to realise that all my other mid-sized business clients, and SMBs in general, had no plans, and no holistic approach.
I put together, for free, The Guide for COVID Recovery for CEOs and Business Owners. Click HERE to gain free access.
It comprehensively covers NINE Critical Processes to be managed, in order.
Then, COVID-19 hits
Coping with a strike from Covid-19 can be an existential crisis for a small business. Nine key functions have to be managed — of which four have never been on management’s radar before Covid-19.
Small business rarely has the luxury of having well-prepared “strategic plans” for corporate activities. They are mostly tactically adept with a focus on critical functions which generate customers, cash flow and costs.
When things are going well in a small business, things are still tough — sourcing working capital to support growth in production, location and people; finding the right people, and managing cashflow.
Add to those the increasing miscommunications and inefficiencies that often accompany growth as the systems fall behind the needs of the growing business.
As an operating system, small business is always on the verge of instability. That’s a risk equation that has worked well up to now for the owners.
Then, Covid-19 hits.
The day turns super-tactical. There are no well-rehearsed plans to pull off the shelf.
There is no time and no need to develop lofty corporate-style processes.
The work has to be done now, as simply as possible but not too simple, and decisions have to be made on incomplete information.
Pragmatic choices win over considered evaluations and comparisons.
Nine Critical Processes — in order
Here are the nine BIG-C crisis processes that have to be managed, immediately, when Covid-19 strikes your small business.
- CEO Communications
- Corporate Distancing
- Collaboration Systems
- Conferencing Systems
- Class Action
- Community Impact
PROCESS #1 Containment
In a small business handing, this emergency falls to the owners, the CEO and their most senior colleagues, including the HR Manager. This is the Emergency Management Team (EMT).
Containment is an immediate first step to protect the affected worker, their colleagues, the workforce at large, their families and the community. These are the “stakeholders”.
The “agent” is the person who is possibly carrying the virus, or has been identified as carrying it. For example, it may be an employee reporting in with a fever from home, and who has just returned from overseas.
Urgent reference needs to be made to government and official advice on containment. for example:
- Australian Government Corona Virus 2019 Prevention
- US CDC Corona Virus 2019 Business Guidance
- Australia — Victorian State Government — Covid-19 Guidelines
Immediately following these Containment activities comes the CEO Communications and the Corporate Distancing processes.
Here are the critical Containment questions and actions:
- Where did the identification occur — home, work, in-transit?
- Is it confirmed or still to be tested/confirmed?
- Who has been in contact with the agent?
- What action is needed ASAP concerning the agent?
- What action is needed about all stakeholders, ASAP?
- Who needs to be contacted in the next hour, by whom and what means?
- What do we tell those people, without causing distress? People at risk must be instantly informed.
- What 3rd parties do we need to notify?
- What physical processes need to be initiated ASAP e.g. cleaning, materials, office closure?
- What are the immediate business continuity issues which need to be solved, e.g. on-site products and projects which need to be completed?
And one particular topic your employees want to be immediately informed about is the safety procedures. They want to have clear guidance and safety tips so they can protect themselves from the pandemic.
PROCESS #2 CEO Communications
Once containment is underway, the CEO needs to develop and execute communications actions. These will apply across the duration of the emergency.
In a crisis information is vital. In a small business, this should come from the CEO. The key is transparency, and to alleviate fear, confusion and irrational behaviours.
Small business does not have the luxury of having a well-prepared communications strategy. These communications recommendations are focused on processes, survival, and the implementation of solutions.
The 10 commandments are to explain:
- In unambiguous and clear communication — always.
- What has happened?
- What is the company doing about it as a plan?
- What is the company doing about it to protect their health?
- What their role in this is.
- How their jobs will be affected.
- What they are to do next.
- How they are to communicate and ask questions
- To whom they should communicate
- Development of FAQs — when these will be coming.
Examples of FAQs include:
- “What if I’ve been working with a colleague who has symptoms, does that mean I may be in danger?”.
- “I’ve been working in a factory where a case has been detected, does that mean there are some risks for me?”
PROCESS #3 Corporate Distancing
Corporate distancing is the process of separating and protecting the workforce from the risk.
The Corporate Distancing issues the EMT need to address are:
- How well is the business set up for remote working?
- Do staff have the basic tools to start working at home immediately?
- How do we communicate with people — do we have everyone’s phone number?
- What OH&S issues might we face with remote work, e.g. unsafe practices at home?
- How do we share urgent information, e.g. safety and critical news?
- What entitlements will support people who are not able to work productively at home, e.g. paid leave?
- What to do about roles that cannot be performed at home?
- When do we expect people working at home to be available?
- What immediate impact does working at home have on our customers?
- What immediate impact does it have on our projects in progress?
It may be that parts of a physical operation can be continued, with new hygiene restrictions in place, and other aspects need to be completely dispersed to remote working.
PROCESS #4 Collaboration Systems
Most small businesses do not have an effective employee communication and teamwork collaboration platform in place.
This is a critical need when Covid-19 strikes.
Employees need to have a place of reference. It needs to be the source of official, sanctioned, news from the company and also the place to share their questions, fears and anxieties.
This is an “enterprise social network” — a teamwork communications platform — such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Facebook At Work.
This is not the time for a three-week evaluation by the IT team.
- If you have nothing in place, or what you have is not working well, then choose something that integrates instantly with your email platform.
- If you use G-Suite, then Facebook At Work is a good choice. The two integrate, and everyone knows how to use them.
- If you are using Microsoft mail, then choose Microsoft Teams.
- Slack integrates with both Microsoft office products and with G-Suite.
- Set up directories or workspaces in your chosen platform.
- Decide which groups of people should have access to which workspaces — many will be open to all, many will have a very specific (restricted) audience.
- Start loading company-wide news into the company news workspace.
- Promote Question and Answer Forums or workspaces, and make sure someone is monitoring those forums and knows the escalation procedure for approving answers.
- Create channels or workspaces exclusively dedicated to topics around the coronavirus outbreak. For example “Coronavirus — Breaking news”, “Coronavirus & supply chain”, “Coronavirus & safety procedures”, “Coronavirus & internal organisation”.
- Create as many channels as you feel necessary to adequately inform your employees and let them ask their questions.
Get all this happening ASAP, then come back later and sort out single-sign-on and all of the enterprise niceties.
Your IT Manager will hate you, but they’ll understand the need. Your IT team is an essential part of your recovery strategy, so make them part of the rapid decision-making — to the extent possible.
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PROCESS #5 Conferencing Systems
Remote working requires replacing face-to-face with video calls and conferences.
Everyone in the company probably has their favourite and their justifications. It could be Skype, Zoom, or Google.
All the leading conferencing software platforms are capable of providing high-quality video and full-featured collaboration tools. While many of these video conferencing platforms also offer live streaming and webinar capabilities.
The focus here is on virtual meetings.
Microsoft Teams has a built-in service, as does Slack, and Google has Hangouts Meet. There is also Zoom, Join.me, Webex, GoToMeeting, Zoho Meeting, to name a few. All good tools.
You don’t want a “typical” video conferencing experience where the first 5 minutes is wasted by everyone trying to make the connection work. That will drive your workforce nutty. In my experience, the legacy tools are like that — frustrating.
Keep it simple. You are in a crisis. You don’t need an evaluation. Choose BlueJeans Meetings.
BlueJeans Meetings is a video conferencing solution that focuses on instant connections, using a mobile or desktop app or directly from a browser (with no download required).
www.bluejeans.com (not an affiliate link).
The Bluejeans meeting technology, powered by Dolby Voice, includes background noise cancellation and integrates with hardware-based conference room systems as well as enterprise applications like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Facebook Workplace.
PROCESS #6 Cybersecurity
In executing the Corporate Distancing you have blown open the threat attack surface. Your employees will be using a wide range of communication services and potentially non-work devices to access your IT systems.
They will start uploading and downloading files to cloud filesharing systems such as Box and Dropbox. They will start searching for Covid-19 documents on Google and download them, complete with their embedded ransomware and malware links.
The threat level just went through the roof. It has always been a matter of when, not if, that malware will strike. If you were ill-prepared before for guarding against a cyber attack, then you are at high risk when responding to Covid-19.
Very soon, you have another crisis on your hands as you are locked out of your systems and held to ransom. If you do not act, this is just a matter of time.
In the same way as the decisions (above) about a corporate teamwork collaboration platform, and a virtual meeting platform, this is not the time for a three-week assessment.
- Step one is to audit and account for the status and operating performance of all of your existing cybersecurity defences — are they operating, up-tod-ate, maintaining a firewall, being monitored?
- Step two is to ENHANCE the standard perimeter and firewall defences by implementing systems which learn your network behaviours by observation and deduce threats using machine learning. You don’t have time to monitor everything, and you need automation.
- Step three is to implement the advanced system and to tune the machine learning of the system to your security policies and guidelines, e.g. no one to download documents from unapproved sites, no one to upload to Dropbox.
The best software for this purpose is Darktrace.
www.darktrace.com (not an affiliate link).
Once you have this installed, then ask your IT folk to get cracking on setting up a for-for-purpose enterprise Virtual Private Network. A VPN will help secure your office networks, business computers and internet connections.
PROCESS #7 Cashflow
By attending to the processes above, you now have the safety of your workforce in hand. They are working from home and relieved, and you have defences against cyberattack in place.
The next urgent issue is financial survival. Financial survival is not a matter of continuing customers sales and orders — it is a matter of maintaining solvency.
Covid-19 will fundamentally alter assumptions surrounding risk allocation, supply chains and access to markets and materials if the virus persists deep into 2020.
Your cashflow task force has to review the risk from all angles, from bankers to suppliers to customers. It is a matter of supply chain analysis and the impact on cashflow.
- Suppliers — are they able to keep supplying vital resources that you need to ship in your products and services? Do you have an adequate buffer stock of crucial parts and other inputs on hand?
- Customers — are they able to keep buying, and perhaps, more importantly, are they able to pay you for what they have already purchased?
- Funders — are you able to raise more working capital from your current providers? If not, are there alternatives? At what cost?
- What your options are for extending loans, terms, and other short-term obligations?
- Service providers — are contractors and 3rd party service providers who you need to keep supply your services to customers able to keep performing? They may not be willing to come to your premises.
- Staff costs — will you need to pay people while they are unproductive? How much can you afford to pay?
- Remediation costs — what are all the extraordinary costs and how are they spaced over time and matched to maintaining solvency?
- Contractual obligations and liabilities to customers — how flexible are customers before cancelling contracts or demanding compensation?
- Insurance options — is there any relief offered through the company’s insurance policies? Does your business disruption insurance apply?
- How many months of cash do you have on hand?
Looking ahead, in respect of future negotiations and contracting, you should prepare for changes in terms and conditions on offer.
Assumptions underlying and surrounding risk allocations in a range of contracting structures, the operation of supply chains and in terms of the ability to easily access markets and materials will all be negatively affected by Covid-19.
All these factors need to be assessed and reduced to cashflow projections. Preferably, resulting in a best case, and a worst case.
These projections form the basis of confidence in the on-going solvency of the business and will be required by lenders supporting the firm over this period.
Don’t leave this work until too late. Remaining solvent is business’s vaccine against Covid-19.
PROCESS #8 Community Impact
When your firm is impacted by Covid-19 the consequences spread far wider than the company. Communities are affected.
Take the time to map out a Community Plan, taking into account:
- For a start, you have an obligation to other firms and people in shared premises, the same building, the local cafes and meeting places.
- Under what circumstances might you ask parents to self-isolate if their children’s schools close?
- If a school’s closed or a family is self-isolating, will you waive rules that stop parents from home-working while also looking after a child?
- Will you pay employees who are asked to self-isolate? They don’t technically qualify for sick pay, and it obviously affects the bottom line, but the cost to your business (never mind society) of an infectious person showing up at work could easily prove to be much, much higher.
Once you have your own house in order, as a corporate citizen, you should support others in your supply chain, industry, community, and local government.
Consider how your business can contribute, be it in health care, communications, food, or some other domain. Focus on the intersection between acute social needs and your specific capabilities.
PROCESS #9 Class Action
You need to be seen to be acting in good faith and protecting the health and wellbeing all of your stakeholders.
Otherwise, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a class action.
If you have acted without due care and caused people to become infected, or worse, fatalities, then you may be found liable.
The 10, 20, 30 years of effort that you have put into building your business could be lost because of an inadequate response to Covid-19.
There will be a range of employment and OHS challenges that must be navigated deftly. Particularly if the virus gets a foothold and an isolation regime is applied.
In such an environment, commercial and legal risks accelerate dramatically.
These are the three key steps to take in order to minimise the risks:
- Document and demonstrate that due care was taken.
- Have clear policies and show that people understood the policies.
- Implement training and show that people received and understood the training.
- Show how feedback and questions were encouraged and responded to in a timely and open manner.
- Demonstrate the use of best-practice and government guidelines where applicable.
- Ensure that early warnings were acted upon, followed up, and closed off — with a documentation trail.
Being hit by Covid-19 is a tremendous shock for a small business. At the best of times, resources are finely tuned to the normal demands of the business.
When hit, the biggest question is where to start, and how to start.
The nine Big-C processes in this document provide a comprehensive guide to managing the first 7 to 14 days of a Covid-19 strike.
This response requires much more than just sending people home to work and disinfecting the office.
This Guide nominates, in order, the nine critical processes which must be managed:
- CEO Communications
- Corporate Distancing
- Collaboration Systems
- Conferencing Systems
- Class Action
- Community Impact
Attending to these processes will significantly reduce your risks and give you time to assess, plan and react more competently to protect your people and your business.
I’m Walter Adamson. Relevant to this article, I established and led the IT Audit group of the world's largest minerals and mining company for 3 years (Certified Information Systems Auditor: Credential ID 8404735). Worked in Corporate Planning for 2 years, CIO Asia Pacific Minerals 2 years, VP International Business 5 years. Now an independent consultant for 20 years. I bridge the communication gap between business and technologists. Advanced degree in Computing Science.
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