The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as the biggest economic disruption that no one saw coming. As we roll into the fourth quarter, the U.S. is bracing for a third wave of cases. The World Bank estimates that the virus could plunge the global economy into the deepest recession since World War II.
Many people are calling the pandemic a “black swan” — an improbable, unpredictable event that carries a massive impact. The term was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and it certainly fits COVID-19. People look back at black-swan events and say they were predictable, but this is just how humans cope with catastrophe.
Nobody could have foreseen the massive disruption to businesses and consumer behavior. But now that leaders have the benefit of hindsight, they can proactively prepare for the next wave of cases.
Here are five strategies for protecting your business as the pandemic rages on:
1. Assess potential vulnerabilities in your business.
When the pandemic hit and lockdowns swept the nation, companies were forced to change their business practices virtually overnight. Companies that had once operated out of a central office sent their employees home to work remotely. Retailers rolled out contactless delivery and curbside pickup. Most businesses were simply reacting and doing everything they could to survive.
Now that the world has settled into a new normal, it’s time to switch to a more proactive approach. Take a good hard look at your business vulnerabilities and what people, practices, and products may pose a risk. Are there a handful of individuals whom you rely on? Would another lockdown bring operations to a crashing halt? Are there specific products your business relies on that you can only get from a single supplier? Once you identify your vulnerabilities, you can take steps to create redundancies and mitigate the potential risks.
2. Gain leverage and reduce costs with a GPO.
One unexpected side effect of the pandemic was that it revealed just how fragile our supply chains really are. Back in April, ports shut down, factories closed, and some countries banned exports of commodities. This led to shortages of crucial goods and brought manufacturing to a screeching halt.
Supply-chain disruptions can be especially detrimental to small businesses because they don’t have the capital larger companies do. They don’t have massive buying power, and cash flow restricts the stock they can hold.
Joining a group purchasing organization can help level the playing field with suppliers. A GPO leverages the collective buying power of its members to negotiate deep discounts. Better pricing often means businesses are able to stock up in case of a shortage. A GPO can also help its members find other suppliers if current vendors can’t meet their demands.
3. Secure financing before you need it.
Congress is at an impasse on the new coronavirus relief bill. It’s likely that a second stimulus package will come eventually, but lawmakers probably won’t be able to reach an agreement before the November election.
Since no one can predict the future, it’s a good idea to take matters into your own hands. For instance, you may be eligible for a business line of credit. Talk to your bank now about securing financing so that you can draw on it later if things get worse. It could be the cash you need to weather a third wave in cases.
4. Create a system to alert employees quickly.
When it comes to contact tracing, time is of the essence. Most people don’t show symptoms for at least two days, but they can still be shedding the virus. This is why it’s critical to be able to alert individuals to potential exposure immediately.
Some countries and states have already rolled out apps that send push notifications to users alerting them to exposure. But this technology isn’t ubiquitous yet, so it’s a good idea to put your own system in place. By setting up a company-wide text-alert system, you can warn employees immediately about potential exposures.
5. Audit your health and safety practices.
Back in the spring, companies of all sizes rolled out massive changes and new health and safety measures. Sneeze guards and hand-sanitizer stations went up. Face masks went out, and companies created new employee guidelines around hand-washing and cleaning.
But just because your company has policies in place doesn’t mean your team is following them. Your employees are only human, and humans tend to get a bit lazy once the threat of danger has faded. Now is a good time to audit your current health and safety practices and ensure they’re being followed.
The pandemic created a host of unforeseen challenges for businesses, but savvy leaders have found ways to cope. Don’t let the earlier lessons of 2020 go to waste. It’s time to move out of reaction mode into a more proactive mindset. By taking steps to fortify your business now, you’ll be ready for whatever comes next.