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COVID-19: Your guide to ramping up or restarting operations

April 30, 2020 Article 10 min read
Daron Gifford Dave Plomin
As states relax stay-at-home restrictions, we’re entering a post-COVID-19 “new normal.” Whether you’re still operating or are completely restarting, this is your guide to workplace readiness, new safety protocols, business continuity, and more.
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The impact of COVID-19 on U.S. businesses has been dramatic. Whether you’ve continued to operate or are planning to restart, you’ll need to take several actions to ensure your operations are as safe and productive as possible.

Our COVID-19 crisis management team has been providing expertise and resources to help you assess the business impact of the crisis, respond to immediate health and financial consequences, and prepare to restart operations when that day comes. Each phase of our approach is focused on your current state of crisis:

Phase 1 — Respond: The actions taken during the early days of the crisis were critical to set the stage for survival and recovery. What you did — be it positive or negative — with your people, customers, and suppliers will be remembered forever.

Phase 2 — Restart: Even if you’re currently operating, having solid plans to restart or reengineer your business begins with thinking ahead of the current state of crisis. Organizations will need to restructure how they operate their businesses in the new normal of social distancing. Companies that can hit the ground running will be far ahead of those who wait.

Phase 3 — Be ready: We’ve all learned a great lesson from this crisis: We weren’t ready. Focusing on preparation for the next disruption should now be woven into your day-to-day operations so it becomes part of the fabric of your business.

Our five-step restart guide will help you evaluate your current situation, triage the critical actions required, and prepare an immediate action plan. Here are the areas to initiate and focus on immediately:

1. People: New safety protocols and workforce optimization

Clearly, the health and well-being of your people are the highest priority as you restart or ramp up your operation. You’ll need to review and implement new human resource policies, processes, procedures, and infrastructure in rapid response to changing circumstances and regulations.

Whether you’re restarting or ramping up your facility, start by considering the flow of people. This includes implementing new processes for entering and leaving the facility and for keeping people and workspaces clean throughout the day. Whenever and wherever people congregate, identify ways to change the flow to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Common areas and activities include entry and exit, time entry, meetings, and lunch breaks, all of which need to be reengineered. You may need to establish new shift schedules, work arrangements, or work zones that keep people separated. And all staff will need education and training on the procedures in order to keep themselves and their coworkers safe.

Infrastructure changes are also required to support employee safety, facility maintenance, and the new ways work will be conducted. Facility changes include additional hand-wash stations, storage for new protective equipment, and clear work zone marking and signage, among others.

To safely operate in a COVID-19 environment, it will be critical to make your operating model compliant with new practices and requirements.

If your business has continued to operate, you’ll need to identify gaps in your existing processes, procedures, and infrastructure to determine the appropriate steps to address the potential vulnerabilities. To safely operate in a COVID-19 environment, it will be critical to make your operating model compliant with new practices and requirements.

Note that a variety of new roles and responsibilities will emerge in this new normal. Roles will need to be defined — and modified as needed over time — to ensure your workforce adheres to the new processes and to carry out escalation procedures in cases where they don’t.

Critical actions:

Your guide to ramping up or restarting operations graphic 1. 

  • Determine the policy, process, and procedure changes needed to provide your people a safer and healthy environment when complying with new requirements.
  • Analyze how people flow through your facility to identify risk areas and reengineer the flow to minimize risk.
  • Adopt necessary employee and visitor screening at entry to prevent exposure (using criteria such as high temperature, sore throat, other symptoms).
  • Change work schedules and work areas to eliminate density of people within the facility.
  • Identify and install the necessary infrastructure changes to support new policies, processes, procedures, and regulations.

2. Daily operating procedures: Maintain daily operating process efficiencies

The new safety protocols will have profound impacts on your people in their daily work processes. In the short term, productivity will be reduced as workers’ positions in offices, production lines, facilities, and other areas are separated, cleaning breaks are added, and personal interactions become limited. Accordingly, the way that you schedule your people must be evaluated. For example, in a manufacturing plant, it may take longer to prepare a line as packaging materials may need to be sanitized before being positioned at the end of the line. And in the office, workstations for people will need to be either spread out to allow social distancing or hours rescheduled to reflect fewer people in the allowed workspace. Supporting processes such as maintenance and cleaning will also need to change, since there will be a requirement for increased sanitation of surfaces.

We won’t be able to go back to the old way of doing things for a while (if ever). Maintaining levels of collaboration and process efficiencies will require tight coordination with your human resource, supply chain, and technology teams. As you evaluate process changes, your human resources team can help determine the impact on the health and safety protocols that are being introduced. Your supply chain team can help ensure that you have the right level of available PPE, products, and raw materials to support your operational plans. Finally, your technology team can help enable your new business processes, as they have already in a remote working world. Reconfiguring your office, service, distribution, and manufacturing systems will likely need to happen, and introducing technology-based communication tools with needed security will be a priority.

Critical actions:

Your guide to ramping up or restarting operations graphic 2. 

  • Understand the new safety protocols required, in particular those that impact the work required in offices and at production plants.
  • Assess the full scope of business processes to determine productivity impacts.
  • Determine process changes required in order to maintain safety and productivity.
  • Define new procedures needed and provide communications which align with the needed safety protocols, including potential impacts to work efficiencies.
  • Understand potential supply requirements, encompassing available PPE, and likely supply chain disruptions that could impact production plans.

3. Training, education, and monitoring: Changes are only effective if they’re well-communicated and adopted consistently

Once you’ve established new processes, roles, and responsibilities, you’ll need to turn your attention to training and education as well as management and enforcement practices. New practices and processes are only effective if they’re communicated well and followed.

Training plans should comprehensively cover all health and safety processes and be formally documented. It will be important that you track that training has been delivered, who’s received it, and the level of comprehension and engagement.

Communication plans should target not only your internal team, but your customers and suppliers as well. Your customers and suppliers will need to know how your new processes affect them, even if it’s just assurance that flow of production will remain unchanged. Frankly, most of them will be requesting your plans as part of their processes.

New practices and processes are only effective if they’re communicated well and followed.

You’ll need to ensure you have staff in place with responsibility for continually monitoring the COVID-19 situation and understanding new guidance as issued. Reviewing and implementing human resource policies in response to changing circumstances and regulations — quickly — will be essential to communicating with your people and keeping them safe.

Now that you’ve optimized the flow of your people and your operations, you’ll need to turn your focus to active monitoring, measurement, reporting, and continuous review and improvement. Even as you do your best to set up the proper processes, policies and procedures, and infrastructure, be prepared to make changes. How fast you respond to new circumstances and changing regulatory requirements will make the difference between maintaining an ongoing operation and being forced to shut down. Additionally, as you introduce new technology and automation, process and staffing changes likely will need to follow. It’s important to understand the timing of technology changes you’re planning and implementing. And you’ll need to update operating playbooks and revise training plans.

Critical actions:

Your guide to ramping up or restarting operations graphic 3. 

  • Develop and deliver education, communication, and training materials to all staff and document your efforts.
  • Ensure necessary management and enforcement roles have been established and staffed and that these roles and responsibilities are clearly communicated.
  • Monitor and measure all activities to ensure their effectiveness and compliance with health and safety procedures and regulations.
  • Use your results to identify changes that need to be made, and then adjust processes and procedures accordingly.
  • Report results across the organization to ensure transparency, gain buy-in, and allay employee concerns.
  • Fold in additional work processes as operations expand and as you continue to optimize additional processes.

4. Workplace readiness: An enhanced operating model

The COVID-19 pandemic will require longer-term changes to your operating model to keep the workplace safe, your people healthy, and to optimize your future organization productivity. Focus on your core processes and determine where digitization, automation, and data analytics can be used to promote social distancing, eliminate manually intensive processes, and improve productivity. For example, automating points of contact with surfaces, such as material-handling activities, will reduce hand-to-surface and hand-to-hand contact. Technology will play a key role here. Consider the use of automated entries, tablets, and handheld devices that can be sanitized, and optimize your ERP and business systems to digitize more of your operations and reduce the amount of paper handled. Keep in mind that most of these initiatives take months rather than days or even weeks. It’s important to focus on the core work being performed rather than incremental, fringe improvements. Additionally, it’s important to develop an optimization roadmap early so it can guide ongoing decision-making as circumstances change with time.

Critical activities:

Your guide to ramping up or restarting operations graphic 4. 

  • Identify target improvement areas within your operation that require high levels of physical contact, frequent handoffs between workers, manual data manipulation, or a high concentration of people in a given area.
  • Scope out optimization initiatives to strategically leverage automation, digitization, and data analytics. Where can you streamline operations, optimize your business systems, and make optimal use of your office or production space?
  • Assess the costs and benefits of each optimization initiative to prioritize which projects to pursue and how many resources should be assigned.
  • Plan the implementation activities and milestones by establishing executive commitment, determining timing, and assigning resources.

5. Business continuity planning: Manage your future risk

Our COVID-19 “new normal” environment will add risk to your operations. Customer demands will change, the supply chain may be disrupted again, or you could experience an outbreak in your facility, heightening the risk to your workforce. These dynamics require you to think through all possible scenarios, develop contingency plans, and have emergency processes mapped and ready to deploy.

How fast you respond to new circumstances and changing regulatory requirements will make the difference between maintaining an ongoing operation and being forced to shut down.

Think through each area of your operation and perform a formal risk assessment. For example, if one of your production facilities has to close for a period of time, can you shift key activities to an alternative location? Is there a contingency plan to reorganize work? Or keep safety stock at higher levels? Defining all of the activities necessary to make this shift should be part of your operational continuity plan. The same kind of analysis should be done for all parts of your organization and supply chain.

Finally, management leadership must make sure that they have continuity plans in place in every area of the business. For example, the finance department should have a plan in place in case of potential cash and liquidity crunches, and one for the IT department to manage technology disruptions.

Critical actions:

Your guide to ramping up or restarting operations graphic 5. 

  • Develop a future vision for your operations based on customer needs, your core competencies, and the new demands due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Consider all critical business functions and develop and execute contingency plans for operational disruptions.
  • Work with leadership across the business to validate and improve plans.
  • Develop defined time periods for revisiting and updating plans.
  • Pay particular attention to plans in these areas:
    • Determine the risk of operational disruptions (locations, operations, financial risks) and assess the impacts of your supply base on your operations.
    • Communicate your plans for disruptions or shortages to all customers (focus especially on core customers to support long-term relationships).
    • Evaluate alternative supplier arrangements, particularly to meet short-term needs.
    • Identify, address, and plan for cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
    • Prepare your cash forecast and conservation plan.

Questions? We can help

Planning ahead is immensely more valuable to mitigating risk than reacting to a crisis. We’re here to help. If you have questions or need immediate assistance, contact us to talk to an expert and receive complimentary guidance on key questions.

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