COVID-19: How Organisations can Facilitate a Return to the New ‘Normal’

2020-05-05
Globally most countries are now at very different stages of ‘unlocking’ the lock down and returning to the new ‘normal’. The recovery and return should be seen by organisations as an enabling and supportive process, which allows employees, and their wider organisation, to attain a proper level of functioning through the provision of information, specialist services and resources. Furthermore, it requires the establishment of planning and management arrangements, which are accepted and understood by the whole organisation.

In this latest insight from 4C Strategies, Senior Consultant Ben White looks at some of the challenges that we will face in returning to the new normal, and then provides some perspectives on what organisations should consider in their planning and communications to staff.

Before we identify and address some of these challenges it is worth reminding ourselves of the current phase of the crisis that we are in. All crises have distinct phases, and each phase raises its own uniquely complex challenges. The BSI Standard for crisis management identifies six phases:

  • Pre-crisis – capability building identifying, equipping and training the crisis management team
  • Response phase – understanding what happened, defining objectives / strategies and obtaining / committing resources
  • Consolidation and stabilisation – Stopping the situation from deteriorating further and building a stable platform for recovery. (Note: this is where we currently are in the COVID-19 crisis)
  • Recovery phase – putting in place solutions and resources to remediate the crisis
  • Return to normality – transitioning into a stable operating environment
  • Post crisis – learning from the crisis, rebuilding / improving response capabilities and preparing for the next crisis.

So the key question here is how do we build a stable platform for recovery and how can we start to remediate the crisis. The first step is understanding the challenges that we will face. Below we have listed some of the more common challenges:

  • Assessing current status. How does our business look following the crisis, how have we fared? All businesses have been impacted in some way by the crisis, even if that is primarily the effect on their suppliers. We will still need to continue to manage our business and finances carefully.
  • Employee availability. Who is available to return to work and who works from home? Where are all our people currently and do we know who can continue for longer periods to work from home and who is actually available (and willing) to return to the place of work?
  • Employee safety. Most organisations are responsible for their employees from the time they leave home and travel to the workplace. As such, there are now new challenges to ensure that our employees can get to work safely, especially where they have to use public transport.
  • Opening up workplaces. Organisations need to reconsider their day-to-day management and timing for the end of the workday. What new rules may be imposed by building management, will we need to stagger shift patterns, what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will they provide and what will we need to provide?
  • International operations. Major challenges remain with the impacts on the supply chain and travel between one country and another. When will we be able to travel again and even when we can, how will that be viewed by our host country?

Once we have understood these challenges we must think about some planning assumptions or core principles for returning to work. These planning assumptions can then be used as the basis for selecting options and recovery strategies. We have come up with a few suggestions below:

  • Organisations need to understand the full capability that they currently have at their disposal.
  • Flexibility and adaptability are the key skills required in the current crisis. Results will have to be continuously looped or mapped back to the objectives, which will evolve over time, with the outcomes measured for success.
  • It is clear that the current crisis may be with us for a protracted period and some form of restrictions will be in place at least until a vaccine is available.
  • Organisations will need to develop safe working practices to enable recovery to take place.
  • Organisations will need to reassure staff members and stakeholders that arrangements deployed are appropriate and effective.
  • Organisations will need to be prepared to deal with any other disruptions or crises that arise concurrently to the current COVID-19 crisis.
  • The current crisis will evolve from primarily a health crisis to an economic crisis for many organisations / nations.

So what should organisations be doing?

  • Recognise the complex, dynamic and protracted nature of returning to a new normal and the changing needs of affected employees and the wider organisation over time.
  • Involve the whole organisation with openness and transparency. It is most effective when people from all levels in the organisation are involved with the active participation of the affected employees and a strong reliance on local capacities and expertise.
  • Human resources or the personnel department should have a major role in all levels of decision-making which may influence the well-being and recovery of the employees, not just left to senior management.
  • The arrangements the organisation puts in place should be supported by training programmes and exercises which ensure that the teams and individuals involved in the process are properly prepared for their role.
  • Provide a comprehensive and integrated framework for managing all potential incidents in addition to returning to normal and ensure it is sufficiently flexible.
  • Continue to work with continuity management (supply/personnel) and risk mitigation, building organisational resilience to face a potential second wave of the virus.

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About the author

Ben White, Senior Consultant at 4C Strategies, previously worked in the London Resilience team and the London Fire Brigade, working across a whole range of resilience capabilities including pandemic planning. He later had more and more responsibility for pan London training and exercising.

For the last 4 years Ben has been working as a senior consultant at 4C Strategies with responsibilities for all our projects and programmes delivered to the UK enterprise sector in the fields of Risk Management, Crisis Management and Business Continuity Management. He has a broad academic background combined with specialisation within crisis management and I hold an MSc in Risk and Crisis Management.

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