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Small business pandemic plan should cover supply chain, staff

COVID-19 has many organizations shifting gears when it comes to pandemic planning, and SMBs are no exception. For small companies, adaptability is the key to recovery.

Businesses of all sizes have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with smaller organizations facing their own particular struggles.

SMBs are often working with fewer employees, resources and customers than large enterprises. Many are dealing with potential customers quarantined at home, working remotely or working with limited staff, leaving them with little to no business. SMBs starting off with a small staff are likely feeling the absence of employees who are stuck off site due to stay-at-home orders or the risk of illness.

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) planning, incident response training and other resilience activities are key elements of a small business pandemic plan. By creating and updating a pandemic plan using information available now, SMBs will be able to plan for and cope with future pandemics and similarly disruptive events.

Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

Most of the same issues SMBs are facing in the current pandemic also affect large companies, such as loss of staffing, increased remote working and business closures. Additional issues that have affected SMBs, perhaps more than large firms, include supply chain disruptions and government interventions restricting on-site staff.

The pandemic is by no means over, but areas around the world are entering the reopening phase. Now that many stay-at-home orders are no longer in effect, some organizations are sending employees back to work, albeit with extra precautions. These may include an increased emphasis on social distancing, wearing face masks and limiting the number of employees allowed on site at one time.

SMBs that have not yet returned to their previous locations may need to reconsider how much floor space they need, especially if more employees elect to work remotely. Some companies that decide to reconstruct their original business model may find that an office accommodating the entire staff is not necessary; video conference services such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom can be considered as alternate communication options.

Going forward, BCDR, incident response and resilience activities for SMBs are likely going to look different.

The ways SMBs operate during the balance of 2020 and thereafter may change forever. This will also change the types of business continuity, disaster recovery and response plans that they will use, with more pandemic-focused practices included.

How things may look post-pandemic

Going forward, BCDR, incident response and resilience activities for SMBs are likely going to look different. Training, technology, procedures and supply chains will all be affected.

Business continuity plans will need to accommodate the potential for the business to be disrupted or even closed as a result of a pandemic, particularly from government intervention. Reduced staffing is a common disaster recovery concern and a significant one in a pandemic like COVID-19 where social distancing is a must. Leadership may consider cross-training employees in additional areas of the business, so they can cover for remote or ill employees. Have a succession plan so that employees will know who oversees what. Keep plans up to date; this especially includes contact lists and addresses of companies in the SMB's supply chain.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that current technology is, for the most part, up to the challenge of people working remotely, such as having video meetings and adapting to a totally different way of social interaction.

DR teams must ensure that activities such as data and system backups and periodic tests of DR procedures continue as before. Automating DR processes is one way IT teams can achieve this.

In the updated small business pandemic plan, organization leaders should be sure to identify procedures for addressing situations such as loss of staff, building closures and stay-at-home orders. This may be a separate document dedicated to pandemic planning or part of a more comprehensive BC plan. The processes associated with recovery and reopening after a work stoppage may have to be developed ad hoc, based on what is happening externally. SMBs should establish a general, flexible framework for what should happen when the business reopens.

Disruptions to the world's supply chains from the current pandemic have been significant and, in many ways, worse than anticipated due to the far-reaching global effects of the virus. For SMBs, the supply chain may be just a few companies, such as shipping firms, office supply firms and product manufacturers. SMB leadership should take time to familiarize themselves with their supply chain and identify possible alternatives, especially for those items that directly affect the bottom line.

SMBs should take a careful look at what has happened with the current pandemic and ask the necessary "what if" and "what else can we do" questions. What if the virus spread differently or affected different regions? Apart from social distancing, what precautions and procedures can DR planners add when updating current BCDR and pandemic plans? External unknowns, such as rulings from government agencies, could change plans literally overnight, if not sooner. Flexibility and diligence are important qualities of a small business pandemic plan.

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