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Coronavirus: an action plan for business continuity

How organizations can pool constantly changing workforce data to inform business continuity planning.

Published by Rupert Morrison 

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While the business focus of the Coronavirus pandemic has been predominantly around economic impact, this is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis. In this article, Rupert Morrison explains how organizations can pool constantly changing workforce data to inform emergency planning – now and in the weeks to come.

Like all businesses, we’re concerned for the wellbeing of our people during this unprecedented time. It’s more important than anything that we get through this together – but there’s also the longer-term picture. By understanding the health and wellbeing of your workforce from an organizational point of view, you can plan how to bring people back to work in a timely, respectful, and purposeful way.

Planning around critical roles, activities, and resources based on up-to-date information is how organizations can keep their business going for as long as the pandemic and its effects last. You can start by documenting individual circumstances and agreeing reasonable workloads case by case, without putting people under unnecessary pressure.

This is the first step in a three-stage emergency planning process. In subsequent articles, we’ll look at prioritizing the provision of critical products and services to maintain business continuity during lockdown, and then at what you can do to accelerate business recovery following the peak of the crisis.

Adaptable workforce planning for better crisis response

To give a few examples of how organizations are having to adapt their workforce to rapidly changing circumstances, consider the NHS having added 150,000 volunteers in a few hours or the 10,000 recently retired medics who are being reintegrated into the workforce at breakneck speed.

And think about supermarkets that have stripped back their recruitment process in response to soaring demand. Now candidates start work the same day as being interviewed. And there’s the question of delivery drivers that have recently left the industry but whose licences may still be valid and could be reintegrated to increase capacity.

Assessing the condition of your workforce

As the crisis subsides and the panic passes, what can your business do to plan the return to work with sensitivity and understanding for employees’ individual circumstances?

You can begin by assessing the condition of your workforce on a continuing basis and using that understanding to adapt your resourcing plans.

As a minimum, you need to know if people:

  • Are unwell with COVID-19 and when they became unwell
  • Are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 or have underlying health conditions
  • Are at higher risk of exposure than others 
  • Have dependent care for children or elderly relatives
  • Have a working environment that allows them to be productive (or less so)

Automating data collection: ‘pull’ versus ‘push’

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many businesses are scrambling to gather workforce data to inform their planning in response to Coronavirus. But they’re doing this by patching together Excel workbooks across locations and organizational boundaries, based on phone calls. While this is resourceful, it is also time consuming and imprecise.

Using automated online forms to gather this data can reduce cumbersome workloads associated with manual collection. It also changes collection from ‘push’ to ‘pull’ and enables businesses to bring together information that’s scattered throughout the organization in different formats and locations – some of which may not be accessible.

At OrgVue, instead of quizzing our people on productivity, we ask them to self-report their personal effectiveness given their unique circumstances. This gives us a contextual understanding of employee wellbeing that we can use to plan workloads considerately.

What we’ve learned so far and how we’ve responded

From the online surveys we’ve conducted so far, we see key elements affecting business continuity and the welfare of our people. These are isolation for those living alone, household conditions for those with families, care responsibilities for children, elderly relatives, and those highly vulnerable to COVID-19, and support for mental wellbeing.

Layered into these elements is the changing nature of circumstances relating to health and work environment. While in most cases, data on work environment is relatively stable for now, health status is volatile and susceptible to sudden change.

Our survey data uncovered concerns for psychological wellbeing among some employees, such that we quickly introduced confidential counselling services for those affected and their families.

We also found that a proportion of our workforce are the sole providers of dependent care. With this knowledge, we were able to introduce measures to ensure work commitments are balanced with these responsibilities. And we’ve been able to provide additional equipment and support to those working in a challenging home environment.

Be sensitive to individual circumstances

As well as being good for recovery planning, collecting information on the condition and productivity outlook of your workforce is good for morale and sense of security. Knowing that the organization has a clear plan for navigating the Coronavirus crisis gives employees faith that the business will survive its worst effects. 

But apart from the financial considerations, we must remember that this crisis is about people’s lives and livelihoods being taken out of their control. It’s not appropriate to respond purely from an intellectual, economic point of view. We must have empathy and sensitivity for how this situation affects every employee and their family differently.

A brutal assessment of productivity at this time is misplaced, whereas asking people to assess their own effectiveness brings a much more contextual perspective. Time saved on commuting should not be overlooked as a counterweight to added parental responsibilities. At the same time, it’s important to bear in mind that the Coronavirus pandemic has increased workloads for many people.

Don’t bury your head in the sand

Taking all these factors into account is essential to understanding who is most able to work and how this might change what your business is able to achieve in the coming months. It’s also vital to establish a return to work that is realistic, reasonable, and respectful for everyone. If you just ignore the situation and expect people to continue as normal, eventually you’re going to be disappointed and your business is more likely to suffer. So, rather than delude yourself, plan around what’s happening on the ground and where that’s going to take you as this crisis subsides.

Read more about workforce planning

How do you know if your business is getting the right people doing the right things with the right skills? Aside from the day-to-day operational requirements, making the time to think more strategically about workforce planning can add significantly to your organization’s productivity.

Rupert Morrison

Founder and Deputy Chair of Orgvue, Orgvue

Rupert Morrison is the founding pioneer behind Orgvue, the leading organizational design and planning platform, which has won numerous accolades including Gartner’s ‘Cool Vendor’ in human capital management software. Rupert’s aim is to help businesses realize their goals through data and analytics. With over 20+ years of experience in consulting, and 17 years in developing software, he blends a deep understanding of board level business issues with new data driven methodologies to give real and sustainable business impact. Rupert is the author of the industry's foremost thought-leading books, considered to be essential 'must reads' for all org design and workforce planning professionals: "Data-driven Organization Design" (now in it's second edition) and "Organizational Planning and Analysis".

Photograph of Rupert Morrison