Continuous Operation Plan
We had great hope that the initial COVID shutdowns in March would quickly stop this pandemic in its tracks. But as of now, it remains unclear how long we will be operating our businesses in various partial capacities as we continue to battle through. Uncertainty is no friend to a business owner, but there are steps you can take to prepare for a future that is unknown. Now is the time to create a continuous operation plan for your business. Planning will take some time, and it will require feedback from your employees. The plan may require some investment in hardware/software technology and is likely to require redesigning some of your processes.
Identify the functions and work tasks for each position on your team. If you are stuck on this, the job description you used to hire for the position is a good place to start. You can also google generic job descriptions to get the ideas flowing. This exercise will have the best results if you solicit feedback from the employee in this position so that you don’t miss important tasks they complete that you may not be aware of.
Assess task location. The tasks and functions your employees do are either “location specific” or can be done “anywhere”; emails can be read & responded to from anywhere, phones can be answered from anywhere, project management can be done from anywhere. It will be fairly easy to find remote / offsite / virtual solutions for the “anywhere” tasks. Perhaps even as easy as a $50 a month stipend to upgrade home internet service, or allowing an employee to take a laptop and office chair home. Note what will be required to transition those tasks offsite, should you receive a shutdown order.
Identify barriers to taking location specific tasks offsite. For those tasks that you have identified as “location specific”, identify what barriers are keeping that task tied to that location and potential solutions you could implement to remove the location specificity. Complete the barrier/solution exercise for each location specific task, the goal is to convert as many location specific tasks as possible to anywhere tasks.
Example 1: “I need someone to be at the office to receive & process customer payments that come in through the mail”. The barriers are: the mail is a physical item (versus a virtual or electronic item), the mail goes to a specific physical location, leaving the mail in the box for a day or two poses a security risk, delays in processing the payments will negatively impact cash flow, the payments are a physical item, the physical checks have to go to the bank. Potential solutions include: transitioning your customers to electronic payments, getting a PO box for your mail, having the post office hold your mail for pick up, adding remote deposit capture features to your bank account so deposits can be completed from anywhere, having customers send payments to a lockbox at your bank and the bank immediately processes the deposits.
Example 2: “I need someone at the store to stock the shelves”. The barriers are: products are physical items, shelves are location specific, products must be stocked to be purchased by a customer, automation of stocking is cost prohibitive. Potential solutions are: virtualization of your stock & shelves in an online store, online ordering, curbside pickup, contactless home delivery, dropship fulfillment.
Onsite tasks. For the remaining tasks that truly MUST be completed onsite, the goal is to turn those into solo tasks that employees can safely complete with no contact with customers or co-workers. Some creativity will go far in coming up with potential solutions. It may be helpful to reach out to others in your industry for tips on how they are handling these challenges. Is it possible to deploy strategic onsite scheduling? Can shifts be staggered? Can operating hours be rearranged? Can delivery commitments be extended to spread out production? Is it possible to add automations to the production line?
Once you have identified your essential location specific functions and the functions that can be virtualized, you can create your plan. You may need to implement additional technology and processes for your virtualized tasks. It’s a good idea to get that set up now. Get the plan rolled out and get your employees trained on that so the transition is not too disruptive. As we experienced in March, it could be a scramble trying to implement on the fly. We believe that this crisis has been the catalyst for major changes to the way that we all do business, and we believe that these changes are likely to be permanent. We believe that the future of our industry and the business world at large looks much different going forward.