Now is the time for your COVID-19 response team to reflect on strengths and weaknesses and prepare for a possible second wave (Getty Images/Westend61)
As COVID-19 cases continue to decline, Canadians are focusing on safely returning to work and planning domestic summer vacations.
But, even as we feel more confident returning to some semblance of normalcy, there remains the threat of a second wave of the virus. Experts warn that a surge of new cases, especially in surveillance blind spots, is inevitable. It’s a tough forecast for businesses, which have been hard hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic and shutdowns.
Assuming a COVID-19 second wave is coming, organizations of all sizes and across all sectors will need to plan for further disruptions—a difficult task for those on your team who have been working around the clock to adapt to changes during the pandemic.
“Make sure that the folks that have been going non-stop—with a whole lot of stuff thrown at them in a condensed period of time—have a bit of downtime, because it’s going to happen all over again,” says CPA Eitan Dehtiar, a business consultant and volunteer with CPA Canada’s Financial Literacy program.
Here are four ways to plan for a second wave:
1. LET THE RESPONSE TEAM REFLECT AND PREPARE
Having a group leading the charge in an organization is the most impactful method to ensuring business continuity. Dehtiar calls this period the time to rest and reflect.
“Have a debrief and try to have an honest assessment of what the weaknesses were. Because everybody had weaknesses, everybody was learning,” he says. “Try to learn from the decisions you made; what could you have done differently in terms of the rollout of the initial stay at home orders?”
Just because the task force may be planning a return to the office, doesn’t mean that team should cease looking forward. At OECM, a not-for-profit sourcing partner for Ontario’s education sector, acting director of human resources Janet Clark says the group compiling best practices for return to work will continue to be ready.
“We’re going to be proactive. It’s not a matter that we’re going to return people and then say, OK, disband the committee,” she says. “We’re going to continue meeting weekly to keep an eye on things.”
As for reflecting on their response, OECM’s CFO Len Scavuzzo points to successes on issues like staying in touch with staff. He also highlights lessons learned on the logistics and co-ordination that come with a remote workforce.
“How to deal with all the physical distribution of goods back and forth between staff, whether it be laptops, phones, furniture, etc.,” he says.
2. PLAN FOR FINANCIAL IMPACT
The last four months have been nothing short of devastating for many businesses. And, if pursuing a recovery from that wasn’t enough, many organizations will be forced to grapple with the idea of further lockdowns or disruptions.
At OECM, Scavuzzo says they’ve been able to supplement a decline in cash flow with some of the wage subsidies offered by the government. The organization is just entering their summer peak period, when school boards and universities normally buy a lot of goods for the coming year. However, if a second wave wipes out plans to reopen educational institutions, the decline will hit harder.
“A lot of organizations are going to be wondering how the business is going to be doing year-over-year and what substantive programs are in place to support them,” he says.
Dehtiar says companies should generally approach things with the mentality that the subsidies are going to end and that revenue isn’t going to come back—so there’s no reliance on revenue that might not be there.
“To the extent that you can, you want to try to have a cushion, so you’re prepared for the second wave,” he says.
Unfortunately, Dehtiar adds, a lot of smaller businesses don’t have those fall back funds and taking a few months of cash flow out has a pretty significant impact.
“So, part of it is planning as though things are not going to come back,” he says. “Looking at an overall cost reduction plan, trying to transition as many fixed costs as you can to variable costs so that you have the ability to turn off the tap and adjust. And really eliminating anything that doesn’t add value and focusing on anything that adds value to customers.”
3. CREATE A PHASING-OUT PLAN
Just as workplaces experiment with a deliberate phased return to the office, a hypothetical second wave could mean a slow departure from the workplace—allowing non-essential employees to quickly pivot back to remote work, while others phase out of the office if required by provincial guidelines.
Dehtiar points out that the biggest variable will be what the schools do. If kids are still at home or a second wave forces schools to shut again, it’s going to continue to be a challenge getting all employees back to work.
“If you look at what a lot of organizations were doing early on, and what a lot of organizations are planning now, it’s just, how do you minimize interaction between people,” he says.
That might mean having 10 employees going in at a time—but it’s always the same 10 people and then some type of rotation so that you’re not intermingling those groups. In terms of preparing for a departure from the office, Dehtiar suggests organizations plan for a range of scenarios, because the situation could be completely different by the start of the school year.
But preparing the phase-out plan includes more than just remote work arrangements. The response team must look over the continuity of the operation, including supply chains and communication lines to clients or customers. And, where applicable, your business may need to ensure a stockpile of supplies, including PPE.
4. BE MENTALLY READY
As much as organizations can prepare the operations of their business, the toughest part may be the mental preparation that comes with a full or partial shutdown. The anxiety spans from leadership down to all levels of employees, who might still be adapting to the new normal.
“As a general rule, ambiguity is brutal on everybody,” Dehtiar says. “So, people don’t know and they get anxious.
“You want to make sure you’re taking surveys and getting a sense of what people are worried about. I think one of the real tough parts that everybody is dealing with is how to create a healthy work atmosphere. Employers are going to need to be able to accommodate a wide range of things.”
At OECM, the organization has consistently made employees aware of the assistance program, says Clark.
“The Employee Family Assistance Program includes counselling for our staff members, but also their immediate family, because we do recognize that there has been a mental toll for some. So, we’re trying to support people through any need they may have.”
MORE COVID-19 UPDATES
Learn about coping with the effects of COVID-19, including reopening your workplace, survival tips for small businesses as well as how to pivot your business and ensure continuity.
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