Organisations lacked pandemic preparation before COVID-19 outbreak

Two-thirds (66%) of UK organisations had no plans in place for responding to a pandemic before the COVID-19 outbreak, new research from Databarracks shows.

The company’s Data Health Check survey found that organisations were unprepared despite a pandemic ranking highest in terms of impact and likelihood in the UK government’s National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies.

The study also found that most companies were unprepared for a pandemic despite 61% of respondents having an up-to-date business continuity plan.

Half (50%) of businesses have already lost revenue as a result of the coronavirus and 43% have reduced staff hours.

Speaking to HR magazine, Andrew Secker, employment partner and legal commentator at Mills & Reeve, said: "I am not convinced imposing legislation to cater for a future pandemic will be helpful.

“We may find it inhibits a future government from taking some of the unprecedented steps we’ve seen in the response to COVID-19 outbreak.

"The key lessons from me are about ensuring a workforce is agile enough to cope with either remote or short-time working and ensuring the leaders and workforce more generally are resilient enough to cope in uncertain times."

Databarracks’ Data Health Check survey has been running annually since 2008 and questions 400 IT decision-makers in the UK on issues relating to security, disaster recovery and business continuity.

Shereen Daniels, managing director at HR Rewired, added that despite the challenges, organisations can learn some valuable lessons from the crisis.

She said: "We've never seen anything like this, therefore it doesn't surprise me the pandemic has caught businesses off guard.

"Going forward there is a chance to rectify this by making sure there is a flexible business continuity plan, with clear accountability.

"This allows the business to respond to new information quickly and make the necessary changes - from analysing data to determine how customers or clients are responding, to building a flexible approach to talent management which means you can retrain and redeploy employees quickly to other areas of this business, reducing the risk of having to furlough, reduce hours or even make people redundant.

"This is a massive opportunity for HR to take the reins here and drive these flexible business contingency and talent management approaches."

Further reading:

How to make virtual teams work

What HR should know about England’s return to work guidance

Rethinking business as usual post-coronavirus