Business continuity in a crisis: COVID-19 challenges

Unplanned events can have a devastating effect on organizations. Learn about the resources available to help you respond to the challenges related to COVID-19.

Organizations are facing unprecedented times as the measures being deployed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are impacting capital markets, supply chains, and business operations. The uncertainties of the current environment serve as a powerful reminder to senior decision-makers of the need for risk management and crisis planning.

Organizations that have typically survived crises were best able to recover if they:

  • had a well-tested business continuity plan or prepared such a plan promptly
  • had strong leadership to ensure decisive action in response to immediate uncertainties
  • communicated swiftly and frankly with stakeholders and, where appropriate, the media
  • demonstrated practical compassion for those impacted
  • were prepared for the mundane and predictable problems of business continuity (e.g., alternative technological and communication systems, preservation of vital records and other operational requirements, including remote access)
  • had access to financial and other resources to absorb the effects of the crisis or conducted an early and aggressive review of cash flow and developed a cash management plan

COVID-19 poses significant challenges and, unlike many crises, has unfolded without much advance warning or scope for preparation. Nevertheless, there is a wealth of information and resources that organizations can use to weather the pandemic and its aftermath and can be accessed here. CEOs and small business owners may find it helpful to bring this information to their boards or other advisors to stimulate discussion on the issue. 


  • How is the organization reacting to this crisis?
  • Are employees, shareholders and other key stakeholders staying calm and letting the leaders of the organization address the crisis?
  • Do those in leadership positions have access to the resources and support necessary to respond decisively and effectively?
  • If not, how can the organization best access external advice?

Coronavirus - Leading through the Crisis (McKinsey)
(2020 I McKinsey)

Responding to COVID-19 (EY)
(2020 I EY)

COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey
(2020 I PwC)

Rethinking Preparedness: Pandemics and Cybersecurity (IIA)
(2020 I IIA)

COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan: 5 Ways to Reshape (EY)
(2020 I EY)

Respond, Manage and Prepare for the Impact of Coronavirus
(2020 | Gartner)

Pandemic Preparedness Guide for Business
(2020 | Canadian Chamber of Commerce)


  • Does the organization have sufficient funds (or access to financing) to continue operations?
  • How will the organization fund extra costs or operate with reduced revenues during the crisis?
  • Is a cash flow plan in place and how should it be revised to address unanticipated expenses?

COVID-19: Business Continuity During Crisis – Cash Flow Management
(March 2020 | CPA Canada)

COVID-19 Dealing with Financial Distress (ICD)
(2020 I ICD)

Responding to COVID-19: 7 Steps to Manage Cash Flow and Financial Headwinds (Grant Thornton)
(2020 I Grant Thornton)

Finance Canada: Summary of Support for Canadians and Businesses
(Income support, flexibility for taxpayers, mortgage default management tools, access to credit, and more)
(2020 | Finance Canada)

COVID-19: Managing cash flow during a period of crisis
(2020 | Deloitte)

BDC Special Support


  • How is the organization communicating to key stakeholders and the public in general?
  • Is information being communicated to those who need to have it (e.g., is the CEO of a public company appropriately engaging the board?
  • Is the board balancing its need to know with management's responsibility for dealing promptly with urgent issues?



  • What are the essential services that must continue, and which ones may be put on hold?
  • What is the plan for operating with a skeleton crew?
  • If those in leadership positions are out of commission, who can direct the organization as needed? 

Canada's Emergency Response for Workers and Businesses
(2020 I Government of Canada)

Essential Services
(2020 I Government of Ontario)

Essential Services
(2020 I Government of Quebec)

Human Resources Professionals Association link to recent COVID-19 information
(2020 | HRPA)

Job Protection for Workers
(2020 | Ontario Government)

Temporary Layoffs
(2020 | McCarthy)

Note: These resources were created by external organizations and were not reviewed, developed or approved by CPA Canada. CPA Canada accepts no responsibility or liability that might occur directly or indirectly as a consequence of the use, application or reliance on these resources.