As the coronavirus outbreak continues, are businesses prepared for the potential disruption the crisis might bring?
The FCA has now released a statement on coronavirus and its expectations of firms, which can be accessed here. The regulator is working closely with the Bank of England and HM Treasury to ensure that it is responding effectively to the outbreak. In the statement, it lays out the expectation for "all firms to have contingency plans in place to deal with major events" and for "firms to take all reasonable steps to meet their regulatory obligations". It adds that "if firms are able to meet these standards and undertake these activities from backup sites or with staff working from home, we have no objection to this". If firms have concerns or questions, they can contact the FCA in the usual way.
A business should ideally have a continuity plan in place already to deal with any unexpected disruption to its day-to-day operations. This will involve having systems in place for recovery and prevention to deal with any potential threats to the business. Business continuity planning aims to ensure that operations continue as smoothly as possible with minimum possible disruption to staff and customers.
Cases are continuing to rise in the UK. Chief medical officers have raised the public risk level from low to moderate, although the risk to individuals currently remains low. Businesses may need to prepare for how the virus could potentially impact their operations if the spread continues.
At a basic level, it is good practice for employers to keep employees updated on any actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace. They should ensure that contact numbers and emergency contact details of employees are up to date.
Where a member of staff may be advised to self-isolate by the NHS 111 service or a medical professional, managers should be prepared to deal with these situations and be clear on sickness reporting procedures and sick pay policies. Staff may be concerned or confused about the processes in place so managers should ensure that communications are clear and consistent.
For some organisations, self-isolation may pose more problems than for others. While some workers may be able to complete the bulk of their work from home, it may be more difficult for others. What if, for instance, employees are regularly required to travel to client meetings? How will the client’s expectations be managed in this situation? Consider if any business-related travel plans are essential and keep an eye on government advice regarding travel.
Businesses need to be prepared to adapt and to communicate any service changes, where required. There are other options to consider if face-to-face visits are not viable – phone calls, web conferences etc. There are many ways in which staff can maintain relationships with both clients and colleagues remotely where needed.
Coronavirus creates many unknowns and its impact on UK businesses is hard to predict. Businesses will understandably not have been able to foresee a situation like this, so there may be teething problems. Ultimately, being prepared to deal with the unexpected, as far as possible, is key. Where business continuity plans are already in place, these may be useful. Being able to deal with a situation such as coronavirus, might help businesses adapt in future and strengthen their operations.
For further information on coronavirus, visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public for the latest government advice.