As COVID-19 continues to put businesses through a return-to-work roller coaster ride, many risk managers are asking how the Delta variant and vaccinations play a role in their overall business continuity management strategy, especially as some companies have rethought their office reopening plans.
Just as many North American businesses were beginning to carry out their post-COVID-19 pandemic return-to-work strategies, the Delta variant has forced some businesses to rethink reopening plans as COVID-19 cases rebounded.
The Delta variant is more infectious than other variants and has been the cause of 93% of new COVID-19 cases in the US, with cases doubling every two weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In Canada, Delta also makes up most of the new variant cases, although the spike is not yet as high as in the US, with 60% of Canadians fully vaccinated, compared with 51% in the US.
While organizational office reopening strategies remain in place, many have been delayed until the variant is controlled and numbers drop again. A growing number of companies have also modified their requirements of employees working on site, including:
- Mandatory mask-wearing for all, including vaccinated employees
- Increased testing, including surveillance testing to monitor current state of pandemic within organization
- Renewed social distancing requirements
- Mandatory vaccination requirements of employees
Whether your business postpones, modifies or continues its return-to-work strategy as planned, safety and risk mitigation must be factored into your business continuity strategy, including the role of vaccinations, and potential impacts to the business should be quantified if outbreaks continue to occur.
Your business continuity management strategy should focus on reducing the impact of any potential vaccination risk to ensure continuity of your organization’s critical business operations, processes, reputation, financial stability, and more. Here are five considerations for risk managers as they proactively build upon their existing strategy:
1. Establish the foundational questions.
For many, the biggest questions are:
- If vaccinations are mandated by the organization, what verification or credentials will be required?
- For organizations that monitor employee vaccinations -- as booster shots become necessary, how will they coordinate validating a staggered booster shot process?
- If organization does not mandate vaccinations, will that change when vaccines are fully approved by the FDA?
To be able to answer these questions effectively, employers should consult with legal and HR professionals and leaders and understand the protective actions their vendors/suppliers and customers are taking. The vaccination rollout will affect every business and industry’s business continuity planning differently. It’s critical that the organization’s business continuity management plan be able to respond and flex to meet these requirements -- for instance, whether business continuity requires people to be onsite or interacting with one another and customers versus an all-virtual strategy. Employers will need to make reasonable accommodations to keep their employees safe and mitigate risk.
COVID-19 will continue to change the way companies operate for years. Among the top priorities for companies seeking to reshape their business are the new and accelerated use of technology, redeploying resources, workforce planning and rethinking the future of work, among others. How companies across the globe address new challenges and prepare for the future will be deeply intertwined with their approach to risk and resilience.
2. Continue testing and risk mitigation strategies.
Employers should comply with CDC, the Public Health Agency of Canada or local health regulations and encourage employees to continue testing, mask-wearing, continuous cleaning, and social distancing, where possible and where mandated. Effective business continuity management strategies don’t rely too heavily on any one risk mitigation measure, but rather a robust plan that considers various angles and considerations. In a public health crisis involving a highly contagious virus, for instance, employers need to consider not just their employees coming in contact with one another and customers, but also their spouses, children or other members of the household; how they get to and from work; and other aspects of their lives. Employer decision-making should track closely with their local community infection rates.
The most effective organizations will be willing to reprioritize risk and resilience, innovate and explore new solutions. In the insights that follow, we examine how some organizations are responding, recovering and reshaping to emerge stronger and more resilient.
3. Determine where your company can be more agile.
The pandemic continues to alter the way many companies operate, and importantly, the way they approach and implement business continuity strategies. One of the themes that’s emerged in successful business continuity management is agility -- companies should continue embedding flexibility into their business practices. By incorporating data and analytics and digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation into the operation, they will be able to build resilience and agility while managing the ongoing vaccination considerations.
4. Collaborate for better outcomes.
There’s an opportunity to build a consortium among large organizations to learn from one another and establish a set of best practices and guidelines based on learnings from COVID-19. This collaborative approach proved valuable in the initial COVID-19 response. And because the role of vaccinations in business continuity management is not isolated to one organization—public and private entities should collaborate to build a wider-scoped BCM approach to help organizations and communities build operational resilience.
5. Communicate with clarity.
Since the start of the pandemic, employees have looked to their employers for information on their response, safety and risk mitigation measures, and other guidance. Many employers looked to government resources such as the U.S.-based CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada along with experts, local government leadership, and other businesses to develop timely and relevant messaging, bringing in their HR, Legal, and Operations teams to help create consistency. These proactive practices should continue. There are established resources for business and employers from the same groups, such as the CDC, the Public Health Agency of Canada and local councils that can provide more information at the local and regional level. Employees will continue looking to their employer as a trusted source of vetted information, so employers should ensure their communication strategies, channels, and frequency are sound. Doing so will support overall business continuity management not only during this time, but in the future. Further, employers should encourage employees to make decisions based on accurate data and information sources.
The COVID-19 vaccination process has a number of implications for an organization’s business continuity management plan, and that plan will create resiliency in the face of challenges brought by the vaccination rollout. By taking a thoughtful approach to the needs of the business and employees, employers can maintain a robust business continuity plan even in the face of uncertainty.