How to build a business continuity plan

If you thought the coronavirus was going to blow over, you’re not alone. Most of us never imagined a world with empty restaurants, canceled sporting events, and social distancing. So if you’re a little behind on creating a business continuity plan in light of recent events, don’t feel bad. There’s still time. And this step-by-step guide will tell you how.

1. Define the problem you’re trying to solve

Guidance is evolving every day. So it’s understandable if your business continuity plan is more like many continuity plans for:

  1. What to do if an employee becomes infected.
  2. What to do if everyone has to work from home.
  3. What to do if a supplier can’t provide materials.
  4. How to manage employees in different locations.
  5. What to do if your business can’t or doesn’t have work.
  6. How to pay employees when you’re not sure how to make payroll.

And that’s fine. The point of a continuity plan is to think ahead to how you want to manage your business’s worst-case scenarios. So before you do anything else, acknowledge your fears. What are the biggest problems that could come up for your business during a pandemic? Now, let’s create a plan.

2. Trust experts to guide you

As you think about how to solve the problems you’ve identified, you’ll want to do some research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are working around the clock to provide the best advice. Other resources for business owners include:

  • Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. Refer to the section titled “Important Considerations for Creating an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan.”
  • What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19. Get tips on how to manage sick employees and new hires who may be ill.
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19): Small Business Guidance and Loan Resources. This source may be especially helpful for any business already experiencing financial strain.

3. Create a task force to solve for each problem

You might be the head of your business, but no one expects you to solve every problem. After all, isn’t that why you hired great minds? Now is the time to practice transparency and teamwork. Bring your best people in and divide your biggest problems among them. Now, you have project drivers for each.

The beauty of assigning a driver to each problem is that no one has to work alone. They’re merely the most devoted player, or the person making decisions when solutions arise. Ask each driver to come back with one or two proposed plans for dealing with each problem. Then spend some time discussing each proposal.

Allow each person to draw on personal experiences to find the ideal solution. Someone with a financial background, for instance, may have different concerns than someone with a communications background. Have each driver submit a new plan based on the feedback they receive, then make a decision.

Now, rather than building out one continuity plan at a time, you’re addressing them all at once. If one of your worst-case scenarios becomes a reality, you’re ready to react.

4. Consider each solution on a micro level

You’re almost ready to finalize your plans. But there are a few more things you need to consider. Most notably, your employees. Drivers proposing solutions should be working with the best intentions for their fellow team members.

A good continuity plan takes into account:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Investors or shareholders
  • Your community

But even good plans run the risk of excluding key players, like contractors, part-time employees, and interns. In trying to make a solution that fits everyone, it’s easy to overlook individuals. That’s why the next step in your continuity plan is to think about specific people. Pull a list of employees at random and run a hypothetical test. Does the solution you’ve created work just as well for one employee as it does for another? Maybe not.

For instance, a plan that asks employees to come on-site but practice social distancing might not work for those with compromised immune systems. Now is the time to make exceptions—or, at least, open the door for exceptions—should an employee have specific needs.

5. Document everything and make it accessible

Once you’ve created your business continuity plans, share them with the rest of your team so that everyone is on the same page. Having a plan on paper will help teams hold each other accountable, should a worst-case scenario become your new reality. And don’t worry if something changes. It’s OK to alter your plans. Just keep your people in the loop, so they don’t fall behind.

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