Welcome to the new normal. Social distancing, restrictions at grocery stores, and full-scale business shutdowns. It’s clear to see that the current pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on businesses around the world, and it’s disheartening to see how easily most organizations can be devastated by unexpected emergencies. No one could have anticipated the extreme measures that would need to be implemented during these times. But that’s the nature of emergencies. They are unpredictable.
It’s imperative that businesses are ready to adapt to changing circumstances. While COVID-19 is unlike anything we have dealt with in recent history as a society, the alarming part in my opinion is that many businesses are not adequately equipped to handle everyday emergencies – even on a small scale. In other words, most workplaces are not sufficiently prepared for common scenarios such as fire drills, let alone unforeseen situations like COVID-19.
The way that most businesses and organizations react to emergencies is just that – a reaction. While you probably already have emergency protocols in place, you may want to re-evaluate whether they are actually reliable. Unless your process can be implemented AND enforced quickly, it will not withstand a major emergency.
Unlike a fire drill, COVID-19 is a prolonged event that requires people to change their daily behaviour. But because humans are beings of habit, the human factor becomes your biggest issue to manage. Unless your process is actively integrated into the everyday routine within your workplace, the implementation of new procedures, whether temporary or long-term, will not be effective.
By establishing a system that is an integral part of the day-to-day routine, you create an environment where small changes in the process are quick and easy for employees to adopt, because they are a relatively small deviation from the daily routine. For example, if visitors normally sign in through a tablet at your front desk, then it only makes sense to add emergency procedures into the tablet they sign in through, as both employees and visitors are already accustomed to this procedure. It is only a slight deviation from their normal behaviour. This is the key to seamless integration of an emergency plan.
While formal emergency plans are important for safety, the problem is that documented plans do not ensure that they will actually be followed as such. During urgent or unexpected situations, your business is vulnerable to relying on your personnel for executing the plan. Even though the steps are defined, they are still open to interpretation by individuals, who may be stressed by the pressing event at hand. Thus, digitalization is an important part of streamlining processes.
A process is just a series of defined steps, and automation is the enforcement of that series of steps. The key to creating an efficient system is to break down the full process into seemingly small steps which require a simple decision in order to move the process along. By breaking down the steps and reducing the severity of decisions that need to be made, you are creating a smooth workflow from an otherwise complex process.
It’s like driving a car. You are making micro decisions the entire time you are driving, but you don’t actively think about how you are driving the car. You just drive.
This is why I am so passionate about creating automated systems in the business environment. To respond quickly to sudden or unexpected situations, you need a definitive plan that can be enforced. Most emergency plans are basically guidance on how to react in situations. They are not in and of themselves consistent and actionable steps to be taken in order to ensure proper execution of strategies.
Technology can be leveraged to create a system where complex processes are broken down and streamlined using a structured, methodical approach. The steps create an automated hierarchy, where further decision-making processes are defined by the inputs at preceding steps in the process.
This step-by-step approach creates a more manageable environment where new processes are instantly enforceable, and not open to interpretation – ultimately giving you better control over the management of your facility and helping you safeguard your staff. An executable process might be the determining factor between struggling, maintaining, or even thriving during challenging times.
During this time, it is imperative that companies prioritize protecting their workplaces. As of May 6th, over 3.6 million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19, non-essential workplaces have closed, and millions of jobs have been lost.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with a crisis. No one can be fully prepared for each and every emergency. But with proper systems and processes in place, you can establish a framework that can prepare you for at least 80% of scenarios. That way when disaster strikes, you are already more than half way there. You are able to promptly implement new procedures in order to respond to the situation. That last 20% of work is simply making slight adjustments and adding a few extra steps to an existing process in order to respond to the specific situation at hand. It’s easier to react when you only have the last 20% of the process left to figure out, while the rest of the process is already built in and ready to execute. This puts you in a much better position than having to scramble and start from scratch each time something goes wrong. Both structure and flexibility are key to an efficient process.
As an entrepreneur, my ventures have been driven by automating and systematizing everything within the business environment. I firmly believe that companies need to have a clear and flexible process in place that can be adjusted based on different scenarios.
In my company, iLobby, we empower businesses with visitor management workflows that can adapt to specific cases. When COVID-19 started impacting businesses, my team was quick to set up an emergency workflow that clients could quickly implement into their systems in order to screen every guest upon arrival. This requires that visitors pass the mandatory workflow successfully. If a guest does not pass, they are denied entry to the building, and asked to reschedule their meeting to a later date in order to protect the employees within the building from potential exposure. Simple as that.
The iLobby platform was designed for scalability and flexibility so that it can be modified and expanded as quickly as needed. During the outbreak, our customers have been able to react quickly to new developments and we’ve helped them implement precautionary screening steps in order to better mitigate their risks and exposure. (Our process for managing pandemics and global emergencies in the workplace, is outlined in our whitepaper here.)
No one was prepared for COVID-19, and it continues to be an evolving situation that is touching people on a global scale. However, we can continue to put in place best practices and preventative measures in our system to protect our workplaces. This type of control and automation is not only important during these difficult times, but I believe it will be ever more important in modern workplaces going forward.