Just when we were hoping that the worst was behind us, there's concern about the possibility of a stronger strain of H1N1 and a harsher flu season. Now, as the government is urging us to take precautions to prevent and prepare for this possibility, business owners and executives must also make preparations for a potential pandemic in the workplace. The impact of pandemic will hit small businesses the hardest, since we have the smallest bandwidth when it comes to staffing and resources. That's why it's even more important for small businesses to be prepared.
It's human nature to put off emergency preparation because we either assume it won't happen to us, or we're too caught up in day-to-day issues. But with pandemic recommendations coming from the White House, health organizations, and others, it doesn't make any sense to ignore the issue.
Even if we're lucky to avoid a major flu outbreak in the workplace, emergency preparation would be useful for any type of disruption that businesses may encounter — such as natural disasters, technological failures, human error, terrorist-related biological, chemical, or nuclear attacks, etc. However, a pandemic is often a more complex issue to address than many other disruptions because it would be widely dispersed geographically and might arrive in waves that could last several months at a time.
So what can you do to make sure your business has continuity and can survive a pandemic? Your plans should consider the impact of a pandemic on your business, employees and customers, resources, external organizations, the community-at-large, etc. In addition to health precautions, here are just a few of the things we're implementing at Insight Performance and suggesting to our clients:
Appoint a pandemic coordinator or a team to work on preparedness and response planning.
Develop options for employees to work from home, and make sure the technology and tools are in place to accommodate that option. Communicate this information to employees.
Identify essential employees and other critical needs— e.g., raw materials, suppliers— required to maintain your business and ensure that you have contingency plans in place.
Develop a temporary "succession" plan for essential employees and the management team so others can assume their roles, as needed. Ensure that these back-ups have access to the information, tools and resources to keep the business running.
Review the compensation and benefit plans that are available to your employees. Consider adding benefits to address potential employee needs. Review your policies for sick-leave, travel, etc.
Consider how a pandemic could affect your revenue. You might want to model a few possible levels of revenue loss and consider how you would handle cash flow shortfalls under each option.
Establish authorities, triggers, and procedures for activitating and terminating the company's response plan, altering business operations and transferring business knowledge to key employees.
It's a lot to think about, but emergency planning is a wise investment. At the very least, pandemic planning will give you piece of mind, and in the worst-case scenario, it could make the difference in the health of your employees as well as the health of your business.
NANCY MOBLEY is founder and CEO of Insight Performance, a human resource consulting firm focused on emerging and mid-market companies. Clients include biotech, medical device, manufacturing, banks and technology companies. @InsightPerf