Boris Johnson has now taken steps to ease the COVID-19 lockdown, encouraging those who cannot work from home to return to the workplace.
As expected, businesses will have many questions about how to achieve this. First and foremost, employees need to have confidence that the workplace they’re returning to is safe and will remain so, and firms will need to dedicate significant management attention and resources to ensure that. However, they also need to overcome a multitude of immediate and practical challenges to achieve this goal.
Taking a broader view of resilience
Going beyond immediate people and health-related considerations, a successful ‘return to the workplace’ strategy will have considered the need for broad-based resilience in the new norm. In fact, reactivating business operations will require a sustained and material focus across all operational aspects of the business. Supply chains, technology, premises, privacy and data – they’ll all play a critical role in enabling a safe and resilient resumption of core business and physical operations. We won’t be able to think of all those things separately.
Time to think about resilience capacity
The Prime Minister signalled that there are many “ifs” on the road to recovery. There are multiple steps that we’ll need to go through before everyone is able to return to the workplace – and acknowledge that we won’t all be going back in the same way we left. That raises a pertinent question: How do we maintain resilience throughout this period of great uncertainty and heightened vulnerability? The pandemic - and our sudden and unprecedented reliance on remote working and its associated technology and logistics - has placed firms under considerable stress. As a result, they are also increasingly exposed to further shocks and disruption. Firms have consumed their “resilience capacity” and should urgently consider ways to replenish this precious commodity.
Firms should undertake extensive scenario-based exercises to find and identify vulnerabilities in this new way of working and develop solutions accordingly. Indicative scenarios might include a large-scale telecoms outage, a building evacuation, the failure of a critical third-party, a cyber ransomware attack or a major IT failure, amongst many others. All have in common the starting point of today’s stressed operations and the COVID-19 context. In selecting a portfolio of scenarios, what matters most is the additional stresses anticipated, the vulnerabilities identified and the solutions put in place. These will be valuable no matter what the future holds.
Innovation and challenges ahead
Innovation will be key to building resilience capacity. Businesses have proven their ability to innovate at an unprecedented rate in the face of COVID-19 and many have reached a position of relative stability in a spectacularly short period of time. Firms must now tap into this tremendous ability to innovate to develop sustainable and broad-based resilience that can support them in navigating the challenges ahead.