One year after many organizations switched to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work—or a work environment that looks very different from the traditional office—has become the new normal. If your business did not have a business continuity plan in place to address fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new era of remote work, now is the time to create one.
Why is a Business Continuity Plan Important for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses?
A business continuity plan is a document that outlines how an organization will recover from a critical event. Effective emergency preparation for small to medium-sized businesses should involve developing a business continuity plan for at least two reasons:
- Peace of Mind: This past February, a storm in Texas left millions of homeowners and businesses without power, according to NBC News. Unexpected emergencies might not ever be enjoyable, but with proper planning, companies can alleviate negative impacts. One advantage of business continuity plans is that they provide a way to continue operations when a critical event occurs, so these plans provide a higher level of confidence in your business’ future.
- Minimize Financial Impact: Disruptions to operations can lead to unhappy customers and lost profits. However, a business continuity plan allows you to outline recovery strategies so operations can resume as quickly as possible following a critical event.
This article will discuss how to create a business continuity plan by outlining critical steps to complete:
- Identifying risks and their impact on your business
- Developing strategies to handle threats
- Implementing training based on the business continuity plan
- Developing an emergency communications strategy for your plan
- Monitoring your critical event response
For further reference, Ready.gov offers a business continuity plan template.
Identify Risks and Their Impact
According to Ready.Gov, the first step in creating a business continuity plan is to “[c]onduct a business analysis to identify time sensitive or critical business functions and processes and the resources that support them.”
To complete a business impact analysis, you will need to identify risks that your business faces and the impacts that these risks could have if they strike. Consider these questions while you complete a business impact analysis:
- What critical events pose a threat to your business? Critical events might include power outages, earthquakes, equipment failure, etc.
- What assets could be at risk if a critical event occurs?
- What impact will a disaster have on operations?
- How could a critical event’s impact on operations affect customers, profits, and ongoing operations?
- What can your business do to continue any operations that a critical event disrupts?
Once you have identified risks and their potential impact, you need to develop a strategy to respond to critical events.
Develop a Strategy
To develop a strategy to manage critical events and minimize their impact, you should identify actionable recovery steps. These steps should address how operations will continue:
- Moving Forward: If operations stop because of a critical event, what can you do so operations can continue as quickly as possible? Many businesses had to consider this question when COVID-19 made gathering in workplaces unsafe, so companies responded by working remotely or increasing safety precautions within the workplace.
- Property: Actionable steps in an effective business continuity plan should include actions to maintain or monitor property following the disaster. When COVID-19 struck, many businesses decided to continue work remotely, but this left properties empty. Including a step in a business continuity plan to ensure property maintenance solves this problem.
- Employees: A business continuity plan’s steps should also include methods to check employee health. For example, a response to the COVID-19 outbreak could include steps for what to do if an employee contracts the virus.
- Customers: Your strategy should consider how an event will impact customers. What steps should be taken to inform them of the critical event and any important information?
Once recovery steps have been identified and outlined, they also need to be assigned to specific teams so everyone knows who is responsible for which portion of a business continuity plan.
Business continuity plans shouldn’t simply be stored on a computer until an emergency happens. Instead, the plan should be practiced regularly as part of emergency preparation so employees know how to proceed when a critical event occurs. Conduct training at least annually, and keep two employee groups in mind when considering business continuity training:
- Training for New Employees: Good potential training exercises for new employees could include walkthroughs, workshops, and orientation seminars. According to Ready.gov, these training methods “are designed to familiarize team members with emergency response, business continuity and crisis communications plans and their roles and responsibilities as defined in the plans.”
- Regular Training for Employees: Regular employee training sessions could consist of tabletop exercises or functional exercises. According to Ready.gov, tabletop exercises involve employees responsible for the plan gathering to discuss their individual role within the business continuity plan under the guidance of a facilitator. Functional exercises, which involve creating a situation that realistically simulates an emergency, are “scenario-driven” and “exercise specific team members, procedures and resources” to prepare for an emergency.
Identify How to Disperse Your Plan
Dispersing your business continuity plan throughout your organization is an essential part of ensuring business continuity. Include an emergency communications strategy as part of your plan to determine how to effectively send your business continuity plan to stakeholders. Here are some tips to create an emergency communications strategy:
- Identify Those Responsible for Individual Portions of the Plan: Before a critical event strikes, identify the people who will need to complete the plan’s recovery steps. Then, send the plan to these individuals so they can manage the critical event.
- Inform Employees Outside of Emergency Response Teams: Even employees who aren’t responsible for the plan will need to know about the plan and how they should respond to the critical event. Alerts that provide a critical event’s location and instructions for proceeding when a critical event occurs can keep employees in the loop. Polls could also be utilized to check employee safety and even monitor employees’ ability to move through certain stages of a business continuity plan. For example, if remote work is necessary due to a critical event, a poll could ascertain if employees can access the required equipment to work from home.
- Determine How to Disperse Your Plan: No matter how great your business continuity plan is, the plan can’t help you in a crisis unless the right people know what they are supposed to do. You will need a reliable method to send your plan’s recovery steps to pre-defined recipients. An emergency notification system could allow you to store, access, and share the plan.
- Consider External Organizations: Outline procedures for contacting customers while creating your business continuity plan’s emergency communications strategy. How will you reach them, and what information will they need to know?
Monitor the Plan
Though a business continuity plan can seem perfect during development, a plan’s faults may come to light once the plan is enacted. However, faults in a plan could go unnoticed if the plan is not trackable. When monitoring a plan’s completion, look for weak spots:
- Recovery steps that aren’t completed quickly enough
- Gaps in the plan where steps for an effective response are missing
With Konexus’ Task List feature, employers can monitor when a step is completed, view employee comments on individual tasks, and see when an employee decided to skip a step in the plan. With this information, organizations can improve their business continuity plan to ensure faster response and minimize disruption to operations.
Increase Your Continuity Confidence
Businesses can protect future operations and employees by developing a business continuity plan that outlines actionable recovery steps and an effective communications strategy, training employees to complete the plan, and analyzing the plan for continuous improvement. A business does not need to be thrown into chaos because of critical events. Find out more about how Konexus can help you enact an effective business continuity plan at Konexus.com.