In my role at Fidelity, I’m focused on business continuity planning and, as you can imagine, it’s already been an extraordinarily busy year. One point that I’ve found myself explaining in the past few weeks in particular is that there are distinct differences when it comes to contagious illness planning versus typical business continuity planning.
Unlike other business disruptions, contagious illness is not likely to be resolved quickly and it can come in waves across multiple locations, limiting the ability to move work to other sites. Firms need to focus first on protecting their people, who will in turn protect operations.
When it comes to contagious illness planning, we’ve outlined some key considerations for advisory firms in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are your most critical functions and how will they continue to get done?It’s important to identify what’s operationally critical and the details of those functions, which you may have already done in your business continuity plan. For example, are your most critical functions customer-facing? Do they involve trading and market hours? Do they require certain technology training?
Once you’ve identified the critical functions, map out what and who is needed to get them done. Then determine how you’ll manage the continuity of each critical function – beginning with the most essential – if team members are affected by things like illness or school closures. Who does these processes today and who else could do them if needed? Are there other employees who have held that role in the past and have transferrable skills or who could be trained as a backup for a critical process?
Identifying those backups will help ensure that you have enough employees dedicated to managing your most critical work. You’ll likely need to test different scenarios in real time to determine what is most efficient and appropriate.
How are you protecting your team?Closely monitor information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, as well as state and local authorities, and implement policies to help ensure your team is following the recommendations and precautions.
Allow employees who can work from home to do so as soon as practicable. This will help protect them and the functions they perform, and create more space in the office for employees who currently need to be there.
If you can’t send certain people home now, you need to get to the why. What do they need? Are they missing equipment, do they require physical materials that are in the office? Consider deploying more equipment or allowing employees to check out equipment from the office to bring home if there’s a delay in ordering new setups.
For those who need to remain in-office, it’s critical to maintain a safe environment. This starts with following recommendations from organizations like the CDC and WHO, limiting who is onsite, practicing social distancing and finding alternative ways to interact, like video conferencing.
Temporarily suspend any “green” practices that may contribute to the spread of the virus. For example, encourage employees to use disposable cups and provide bottled-water options. Adopting an A/B shift schedule with thorough cleaning between shifts is a way to help maximize social distancing within the office if space is limited.
How are you communicating with your team and clients?Frequent and transparent communication with employees helps them feel supported and confident, which should help them focus on their activities, including client service. Everyone needs to understand what the company is doing to respond. You need everyone to rally around the plan for it to be successful.
Remember that your team is juggling personal stress on top of work, so make the plan digestible and the information easy to find. It’s also critical to recognize the team’s hard work and challenges, and ask about their needs, as well as encourage communication between employees to maintain a sense of camaraderie.
Clients turn to their advisers in times of market volatility and uncertainty, so proactively updating clients is critical, too. A high-touch communication approach helps reassure them that your firm remains focused on their needs and is committed to helping them. Be sure to speak in their voice and address their needs.
How are you collaborating with business partners and vendors?Your continuity plan also depends on your business partners having a strong continuity plan. Get in touch with all critical vendors to understand their contagious illness plan and how they plan to protect the processes essential to your business, including how to reach their team remotely. Share a summary of your plans too: Collaboration is essential. At Fidelity, we provide high level information on our preparedness with our clients to help inform them of our preparations.
Be ready to adapt the planIt’s important to remember there is an emotional impact to contagious illnesses, and situations can quickly change. Having a plan helps your firm continue to deliver on client needs in trying times, but be ready to be flexible, nimble and empathetic.
Michelle Cross is vice president of business continuity at