We are in an unprecedented moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended businesses in nearly every industry. Across the globe, companies are quickly shifting operations and forcing employees to work from their homes. Non-essential businesses have been ordered to close altogether as countries across the region are shutting down. Cuts, layoffs and closures are now all on the table. But if there is one piece of advice we have for businesses that are scrambling for solutions, it is this: Now is the time to harden your business continuity systems, not loosen them.
Let’s start with the simple truth that the risk of a pandemic is constant. The threat was always there. While businesses scramble to rework their business continuity planning for the coronavirus, COVID-19 is exposing weaknesses in many organization’s overall preparedness.
To be fair, nobody knew this was coming at the time and speed that it did. But anticipating potential threats is what business continuity is all about. The underlying disruptions caused by COVID-19 were always risks to prepare for: workforce interruptions, sudden revenue losses, supply-chain disruptions, office inaccessibility, government mandates and so on.
Thankfully, many businesses are adapting quickly to weather the storm. But the storm is not close to being over yet. There are endless additional risks and unknowns that businesses need to be preparing for right now. News flash – the hurricane season is around the corner, have you considered the implications of such in the midst of this crisis?
Heightened risks during a pandemic
The safety of your employees is a chief concern right now, as is your ability to continue your mission-critical operations. But the pandemic itself is not the only threat. As coronavirus spreads, so do cyberattacks and fraud. Every organization needs to be re-evaluating their cybersecurity defences right now and also ensuring the availability of backups in case attacks get through.
As businesses race to adapt to the current situation, many are particularly vulnerable to “everyday” risks such as: Data loss, Phishing scams, Malware, Data migration mistakes and System failures. Officials have warned of an “unprecedented” surge in coronavirus fraud. And we have already seen numerous reports of COVID-19 phishing schemes and hoaxes:
- Emotional appeals for donations have been exposed as fraud.
- Phishing emails have been disguised as COVID-related communications from banks.
Increased risks as employees work from home
The sudden surge in working from home makes these risks even worse. Hackers are specifically preying on remote workers and stressed IT systems. They know they can inflict more damage by taking advantage of people’s fears and confusion.
Additionally, many companies are allowing their employees to work remotely using their own home networks. Those networks are often less secure than the business’s, creating additional vulnerabilities. Furthermore, workers themselves are more likely to misplace files or accidentally delete them. This is especially true if they are suddenly forced to use unfamiliar software or save their work to different locations.
What can all businesses do now?
Update your business continuity plans. Talk to employees. Hysteria is also contagious. Communicate what your plans could mean for employees including health and risk education, physical distancing through work from home where possible, and stockpiling of supplies. Let them know you are prepared and are protecting them.
If any operations have changed, policies need to be reassessed. And if employees are suddenly using new systems or processes, then they need to be thoroughly trained. A lack of training, or lapse in security, will significantly increase the risk of problems.
With a focus on preparedness and swift action, we can help lessen the spread of a pandemic and reduce the business as well as the human impact. According to the Business Continuity Institute, ”The new reality is likely to lead to different working practices going forward: With so much negativity being reported around the COVID-19 epidemic, it could see many organizations move towards more flexible working practices in future with increased use of technology. Over half (55.2%) of organizations are planning to maintain their increased use of technology when teams are allowed to return to work, in their recent survey”.
This article was written by Cheryl Griffith and reprinted with the permission of the Barbados Chapter of the Caribbean Institute of Management Consultants. Cheryl Griffith is a Business Continuity Consultant.