As a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the world, the business world confronts a complex web of mitigation protocols. Since the first wave, most organizations have had time to adjust to a working environment filled with uncertainty. But many are still operating without a net. If another critical event occurs, will you have a plan in place to ensure business continuity and employee safety?
Keep in mind that even with a vaccine showing light at the end of a very dark tunnel, the pandemic may be far from over. As your organization receives new public health information, you’ll need an effective system to communicate with a remote, often widely distributed workforce. Organizations that plan ahead, invest in a critical communications system and share key updates quickly, reliably and securely are better prepared to protect their workforce and their operations in the event of a health crisis — or any other type of crisis.
Here are six proven ways to build a successful critical event management plan in 2021.
1. Take time to plan and prepare.
By now, you’ve probably grown accustomed to the ongoing cycles of closing and reopening that U.S. offices have experienced throughout the pandemic. But whether your business is operating at a limited or full capacity, medical experts expect continuous waves of COVID-19 cases, as community transmission continues to hit record highs. The only way for your organization to keep employees and customers safe, protect your operations, and retain trust with key stakeholders during these turbulent times is to be proactive.
Organizations need to put a business resiliency plan in place now that outlines key actions to take if (or when) an issue relating to local spread of the novel coronavirus arises. By having a plan in place and practicing it regularly, your organization can minimize risks and maximize employee safety surrounding critical events, such as suspected or confirmed exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
2. Use a critical event management lens.
In any crisis scenario, ensuring the safety of your employees (and others within your facilities) should be your number one priority. A prepared and practiced critical event management plan maximizes your chances of success. In PwC's 2019 Global Crisis Survey, business leaders across a range of industries shared their experiences, expectations, and top strengths and weaknesses in the context of critical event management.
By a wide margin (54 percent versus 30 percent), organizations that had a crisis response plan in place fared better post-crisis than those who didn’t. When it comes to ensuring the wellbeing of staff, businesses need to think through a comprehensive, iterative infectious disease mitigation and operational continuity strategy and practice it as often as possible.
3. Invest in advanced technology.
Investing in the proper technology infrastructure is a vital element of any modern critical event management plan. It’s especially important in the context of streamlining the communication of public health information. Every organization should explore risk intelligence, critical communications and incident management software to keep their people safe, informed and connected during critical events — and, thankfully, decision-makers are starting to take note.
The Business Continuity Institute 2020 Emergency Communications Report found that 67% of organizations use emergency notification and/or critical event management systems.
4. Automate risk intelligence.
In the midst of a health crisis, any incident can impact your organization. Consider a scenario where a spike in local cases of COVID-19 requires sending vital updates about infectious disease mitigation protocols and public health directives to a distributed workforce on multiple devices. You’ll need a reliable risk intelligence system that can anticipate and analyze the incident, then help incident response teams collaborate virtually while maintaining compliance standards.
Automating as much of this process as possible through technology allows human decision makers to efficiently and effectively focus their time, effort and expertise on what matters most in a crisis situation — implementing sound operational continuity strategies and, more importantly, prioritizing and considering employees’ safety and well-being when stress rises.
5. Communicate vital updates.
Strong incident management depends on strong communication. And the best communication comes from emotional intelligence, empathy, effective employee engagement, and authentic listening. This is the cultural component of your organization that can make or break your response to challenging situations.
If employees are exposed in the workplace to a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, employers must be prepared to quickly update staff on vital next steps, as outlined by the CDC and other public health authorities, and arm key functions — security operations, HR, facility management, legal and compliance, for example — with the information they need to mitigate potential spread of the virus, including:
- Closing/cleaning the office: Employees must be aware at a moment’s notice to stay away from or exit contaminated areas. It’s critical for businesses to communicate clearly with cleaning staff to follow procedures, use the right disinfecting products and sanitize high-touch surfaces.
- Alerting key groups that may have been exposed: Employers have a duty to alert workers of potential exposure to COVID-19. Having the proper communication infrastructure in place can streamline contact-tracing as well as the subsequent testing process and save time when it matters most.
- Ensuring work-from-home continuity or diverting workflows to alternative physical environments: Every work environment looks different today. Whether your organization is managing a distributed workforce, full-capacity essential workers or something in between, you need to have a communication system in place to ensure business continuity.
- Outlining next steps for reopening: After a potential exposure, employees require the proper reassurance that they’ll be returning to a safe working environment in an organized, thoughtful manner that aligns with public health best practices. From coordinating a limited-capacity return to the office to outlining new infectious disease mitigation protocols — such as steps for receiving a vaccine in the coming months — you’ll need to continue to update employees quickly, comprehensively and often.
6. Make technology central to your plan.
While the general public awaits the broad deployment of a vaccine, businesses will continue to face myriad challenges as they navigate operations in 2021. Public and private sector leaders still have months ahead of them before daily operations even begin to resemble “business as usual.”
To best prepare for the second year of the global pandemic, your organization can take at least three immediate steps toward building a strong critical event management plan:
- Outline a plan tailored to infectious disease mitigation protocols
- Explore augmenting your crisis management policies with risk intelligence, crisis management and incident management technology
- Focus employee communications on containing and rapidly resolving events associated with COVID-19 exposure
As leaders analyze existential threats to their business in 2021 and beyond, they have only one mandatory consideration to make: keeping employees safe, informed and connected during critical events.
Learn more about developing your COVID-19 communications strategy and crisis management plan.