As government and private businesses begin to reopen in the ongoing pandemic, they need new approaches to rebuild operational capability while supporting employees and customers. CNA's Institute for Public Research has examined these issues in depth while working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a Pandemic Exercise Toolkit for infectious disease preparedness, response and recovery. In this process, we have identified five critical actions for organizations to adapt to the new normal.

.
Step 1: Risk

Assess organizational risk from reopening. Organizations, like people, operate in different ways. These differences can lead to variations in risk of exposure to COVID-19 for staff and clients. Before reopening, consider which aspects of your organization’s operations present the greatest risk to employees and customers, such as communal work areas or employee travel. Develop clear guidance and protocols to mitigate these risks in accordance with local, state and federal public health guidance.

Step 2: Anxiety

Ease employee anxiety about returning to the workplace. The prospect of returning to work can cause fear and anxiety within your workforce. Take the time to listen to your employees’ concerns and proactively communicate the measures your agency or organization is taking to assure a safe work environment, such as social distancing requirements, expectations of employees and visitors to wear masks, ensuring clean workspaces, and monitoring employee health and wellness. Establish clear expectations of how employees might need to modify their behavior in the workplace to promote safety for all.

Step 3: Business Practices

Review and update business policies. The plans that organizations had in place to withstand threats and maintain operations were severely tested by the pandemic. The experience will change how we think about business continuity in the post-pandemic period. But just because businesses are reopening does not mean business continuity practices can be set aside. Many of the flexible strategies you’ve employed to maintain operations will need to be continued during the recovery while the virus is still circulating. For example, take this time to revisit and update key policies related to employee sick leave, flexible work arrangements, childcare options, and medical insurance coverage. Also, have a strategy for how the organization might reinstitute strict mitigation measures if warranted.

Step 4: Tools

Upgrade business continuity tools. Collaboration tools have been an essential lifeline for many businesses during the pandemic. These tools will continue to play an important role in maintaining business operations during recovery. Ensure IT systems are updated, communication platforms and collaboration tools are upgraded, data security measures are enacted, and system vulnerabilities are identified and addressed.

Step 5: Resources

Identify critical resources. The pandemic has revealed the fragility of the supply chain for essential goods, and a second wave of infections could threaten those supply chains further. As your organization continues to rebuild capacity, think proactively about your critical resources. Develop strategies to ensure availability, identify alternative suppliers, and update emergency contracts.

It is also important that there is clear, proactive and regular communications with staff and stakeholders through each of the five critical actions. The disease preparedness Pandemic Exercise Toolkit was designed to help government agencies, businesses and nonprofits conduct tabletop discussions about a novel infectious disease outbreak.

For more information, contact Eric Trabert, Director | CNA Center for Public Health Preparedness and Resilience | TRABERE@cna.org.