Coronavirus business continuity: immediate actions

Significant ripple effects have already been experienced by businesses around the world following the global outbreak of coronavirs, which is choking global supply chains, altering the way businesses operate and affecting people's everyday lives.

The five immediate actions businesses can take are:
1.    Develop a crisis communications plan.
2.    Identify operational essentials.
3.    Evaluate staffing strategy.
4.    Implement remote work policies.
5.    Understand your dependency.

Our colleagues in RSM US held a webcast for their clients on these five actions, continue reading for the main take-aways.



These are five immediate actions that you can take throughout the methodology from beginning all the way to the end - and you will notice that it doesn’t end.  This continuity is something that is a living breathing programme and something that requires updating and maintenance. It does, however, have some key parts that can give you some control in a time that is very uncertain; something that you can do to put some control around what is happening and hopefully bring a little confidence in the days and weeks ahead.

1. Crisis communications plan

With that said, the first thing is to develop a crisis communications plan.  As you will see, all of these five elements have some continuity actions associated with them and what their impact might be if you decide to implement them.  So if you have a crisis communications plan, one of the things it will resolve is that you will have something that outlines defined decision makers which will have one message and one voice. As we have seen over the last few weeks, it is vitally important to have one message, one voice so that the messaging that goes out, not only to your customers, your clients but also to your employees, is consistent.  

Your crisis communication plan should have very consistent communication protocols for all of your employees across your organisation, to have notification procedures that follow a regularly scheduled update cycle. 

This will minimize confusion and it will also maintain confidence in the leadership.  People will understand that there is a rhythm and, even if the messaging is that nothing has changed from the period before, that’s ok.  Your employees will have an expectation of what is to come and know that leadership is monitoring the situation and putting together updates that matter to them.  

In the communication plan around the crisis are escalation and de-escalation processes.  This is a proactive measure to show that the organisation is reacting to dynamic events. It demonstrates that you are planning for contingencies and, as part of that plan to escalate or de-escalate your communication processes, you should be paying attention to how aligned your guidelines are with your local, regional, federal or national health authorities.  

Finally, one other component for your crisis communication plan is some external outreach strategy and, depending on what your organisation is, a media strategy. This can also be inclusive of customer messaging; what are you going to tell your customers and your clients; what is your organisation is doing to ensure that business continues? Your vendor and partner communications are another critical outreach.

2. Identify operational essentials

The second part is identifying operational essentials.  Many people will understand these as essential business functions or essential services.  This is a key element in continuity planning.  It is the way our business will scale back its operation and it is important to tie that in with the crisis communication message and your crisis communication plan. Employees must understand that services and functions that are being suspended are being suspended temporarily and do not mean reorganisation at this point in time.


The action is to classify what your essential business functions are and to include a bit of a risk analysis as part of that so that you understand which actions are essential and which ones should be suspended.  You also need to strategise how you will resume any suspended business functions that have been identified.  The best approach to do this that we recommend and have found in our experiences is to bring business functions back on line in a phased approach.  You cannot just resume everything all at once.  These are critical items in identifying your operational essentials.

3. Staffing strategies

Develop a staffing matrix.  This matrix will outline your primary and support staff needed for those essential operational business functions that you identify as part of your continuity plan. When doing this, you want to maximise the skill sets of your employees. 

All organisations have institutional knowledge that may or may not be documented or may or may not have been transferred across groups across departments.  These folks will recall a time, a less sophisticated operational time for your company and, in a continuity environment, this becomes very important. 

Conduct any just-in-time training, especially for any staff who were identified as in the suspended function. These people can be reallocated to support your essential business functions and present the basics. Do not over complicate what is not complicated. This will help your organisation be predictive and proactive versus reactive.  

Review employee contract language and engage union leadership, if appropriate. This has been proven to be critical in the success of running a business and maintaining operations that have devolved. Getting employee buy-in from the very beginning will be crucial.


4. Remote working policies

Many of you have already done this. Identify staff to work remote versus those who are needed on site. 


Obviously this reduces the risk of exposure, will provide you flexibility to manage work life balance and as employers, we want to encourage collaboration as part of that. This becomes very important for anybody who is not accustomed to working remotely. 

Coordinate with your information technology department to confirm required aspects.  IT infrastructure can meet these needs as more and more of your employees begin to work remotely.  Assess the IT procurement needs.  Make sure staffing levels within IT are sufficient to support the servicing helpdesk function.  

There are other things to consider such as any training needs that may have to be done just-in-time. Coordinate with your IT function to increase the success of your organisation in maintaining your operational central functions as more and more people begin to work remotely.

5. Understand vendor dependencies

The fifth element that we recommend is understanding  your vendor dependencies. To identify your critical vendors associated with each of your essential functions, you need to understand their continuity strategy and, as part of that, you can develop a risk based rating of your vendor’s preparedness which will enable you to be more proactive in seeing the impact as this event continues to unfold and mature in an unpredictable way. 


If needed, identify any alternative vendors.  Facilitate their contracting process and this will be a way to mitigate sole sourcing of products and services and will result in some dampening of your supply chain.


At RSM, a substantial aspect of our contingency focus is on avoiding or mitigating the adverse effects of any crisis, through emergency planning, and helping businesses overcome the disruption they face. Our Business Continuity team provides innovative solutions to clients involved in critical continuity situations, allowing them to minimize costs, enhance value and properly position themselves for the future.

Through these uncertain and critical times, our multi-disciplinary Business Continuity team can advise on a full range of continuity planning and resource services. We can harness our expertise across audit and advisory, tax, transaction and management consulting, to work with your people towards minimizing your risk of operational and commercial exposure to help you serve your clients.