COVID-19 Shows Importance of Business Continuity Planning

April 13, 2020 Ben DiPietro

Plan International USA didn’t include a scenario for a worldwide pandemic in the business continuity plan it created several years ago, but the plan is helping the aid organization as it continues its work in the midst of this pandemic.


“The plan covers a variety of scenarios, and while we weren’t really anticipating a worldwide pandemic in our planning, nevertheless the business continuity plan has held up pretty well and has made the transition to a remote workforce much smoother than it could have been,” said Kitty Holt, the organization’s ethics and compliance director.


When the plan was being put together, each team identified key processes that would need to continue in the event of a disaster. For each of those processes a back-up person, and step-by-step procedures for the process in question were written down, should someone else have to take it over. Each team developed a list of vendors, and any online accounts they must access as part of their job, said Holt.


“It is evident to me that many organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, have not put a business continuity plan in place,” she said. “This is not the time to beat oneself up over it, but instead to take the time to put one together. … Organizations with a plan in place are going to weather any storm much better than those without.”


Here are some of the things Plan International USA is doing to keep workers safe and connected, while also continuing to fulfill its mission to help people around the world who are suffering.


A bit of good luck helped Plan International USA, as the group had just finished a switch over to Zoom for meetings, and had completed training for all staff, just before the number of COVID-19 cases exploded. The change was not linked to COVID-19 but helped to make the transition to remote work much smoother than it could have been, said Holt.


All employees, except for a very small handful are working remotely, and even those people are working apart from each other. Working hours are more flexible so workers can care for children and family members. 


Holt’s team rolled out cybersecurity training at the beginning of March as a refresher to staff. “With the rise in cybersecurity risks resulting from so many people working at home, the timing of this training proved very valuable,” she said.


Plan updates its enterprise-wide risk register on a quarterly basis, and although “disease” was listed as the cause for some of its risks, Holt said no one imagined a worldwide pandemic would occur. “As we update our risk register over the next few weeks, we will have many discussions about how our landscape has changed as a result,” she said.


COVID-19 also is present in many of the countries where Plan International has aid programs, and that led to some project readjustments. Plan is on the ground in more than 50 developing countries, in some cases for decades, so it is known and respected, and is being asked in some countries to assist the government with its response, said Holt.


In one country, this might be with COVID-19 messaging, or focusing on mental health for teenagers during this crisis, she said. In another, Plan is working with parents to provide guidance on helping their children to learn to read while at home, and on reinforcing good hygiene. In some countries there’s been an increase in domestic violence, so Plan is disseminating messages around gender-based violence.  


The organization formed a task force, which sends an email to all staff on a daily basis, offering updates and information on resources that may be of assistance. There are weekly Zoom meetings that include hearing from senior leaders, and allowing staff to ask questions.


“Just seeing the faces of other colleagues has been therapeutic to staff,” said Holt, who started a “Fido Friday” group chat with a dozen co-workers. 


“Once a week, we take a moment to share a photo of what our dog is doing," she said. "This is a really nice way to bring a smile to everyone’s face, something we all need right now."

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