Preparing to Return to Work after COVID-19

Many of us still have more questions than answers as it relates to COVID-19 response and recovery. Let’s step back for a moment because some may not have had business continuity plans developed before this happened and have been flying without a map.

Business continuity plans can look very different in format and details, but some common elements should:

  • Identify the critical processes your business does (Claims Processing, Tax Assessor, Facilities Management, Data Center Operations, etc.) What are the things you do that make you money!

  • Complete a business impact analysis. This is looking at your business, looking at a long-term business disruption event and determining how much impact will be felt for each critical process you have identified for your business. The ones with the shortest interruption time before being problematic are the most time-sensitive and critical and you need to address restarting those processes first.

  • Answer the question: What resources does each of your processes require to work? (number of people, equipment, software, customer service numbers, critical websites that may be lost if you lose your computer in the disaster, etc.)

  • Identify your crisis management team and a way to contact them. These are the people who would be the ones immediately going to the office building and assessing just how bad the event is and estimating how long the office space will be unusable

  • Talk through your plans during tabletop exercises then eventually actually practicing your plans (are people ready to go home tonight and begin working without interruption?

We have an opportunity now to evaluate during this event what is going well and what is not going so well and figure out how to fix it. These lessons need to be written down and fixed so you won’t repeat the same mistakes. An honest critique of how you handled the response and initial resumption of business is vital and will only make you better. Yes, mistakes were made and will continue to be made but this is a great time to learn and improve.

Now for the next step, returning to work. It might be a little more than just reversing what you did so far. Here are some things to consider:

  • When to bring workers back (all at once or staggered). Who’s guidance are you going to follow, the Governor’s, other offices near you, the CDC, WHO or your gut?

  • Will you configure your office space differently before bringing workers back in or begin having customers come back. You have a responsibility to protect both your workers and your customers.

  • Will you allow more people to work at home full-time or partially (come in a couple days a week instead of everyday)?

  • Is there other equipment you can purchase now that will make this easier next time. Some people need extra cable at home to connect their work PC or would a personal printer or scanner help your staff at home?

  • Will you monitor your employees once they come back in the office for fevers, coughs, travel habits?

  • If someone is suspected of being sick, do you make them produce negative COVID-19 test results from a doctor’s office before returning?

  • Will you change your procedures for getting shipments in or allowing vendors to enter your office?

  • How will you handle cleaning schedule changes and what products to purchase and stockpile?

These are a good start, but I would think many of you have even better questions and thoughts. Let’s hear them!

- Greg Sox

Greg Sox is an Online Instructor at Columbia College and has worked in the field of emergency management for over 30 years. He has a Masters in Management and is a certified Business Continuity Professional and former Certified Emergency Manager. He teaches in courses in Emergency Management and Business. His competency areas include project management; Team Development and Training; Business Continuity Plan Analysis and Development; Crisis Management Program Training; Development and Management; Emergency Communications and Alternate Work Site Development; Exercise Development; Planning, Execution and Evaluation; and Emergency Operations Center Development and Management.

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