Navigating business continuity in a new era

Pittsburgh Business Times

Nothing highlights the urgent need for business continuity planning like a devastating, prolonged global pandemic.

Without question, this global pandemic has forced businesses, large and small, to face and adapt to a new normal. They’ve had to deal with state­ mandated closures, layoffs, employee safety threats, new remote work environments, cybersecurity concerns, supply chain interruptions, real estate lease adjustments, and a myriad of other serious business continuity challenges.

Many of those same issues will haunt the business community this year and possibly beyond, even amidst what one might hope would become a strong post-pandemic period of recovery. And that, said Don Bluedorn, managing shareholder and environmental attorney of Pittsburgh law firm Babst Calland, is why more businesses need to consider a longer-term view of their future – including adaptable disaster plans that take into account business continuity in times of unexpected disruptions.

Bluedorn spoke recently with the Pittsburgh Business Times about business continuity planning.

“This has been a unique year,” said Bluedorn, who not only advises businesses but also has had to confront the pandemic himself as chief executive of one of Pittsburgh’s largest law firms. “There’s an old saw that ‘tough times don’t last, but tough people and tough businesses do. And I think that’s certainly true during this pandemic and the difficult economic construct we all have had to face.”

Business Continuity: Pre- and Post-Pandemic

Of course, Bluedorn was quick to point out the importance of ongoing business continuity or disaster planning even without the cloud of a pandemic hovering overhead.

“A SWOT analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats still applies,” he said. “But I think people need to look more broadly than that now. Certainly, from my perspective, looking at the legal and regulatory implications that have arisen as a result of the pandemic are critically important. I also think it’s important for business leaders to recognize that they need to take the long view.”

He added: “I think people need to recognize that the decisions they make today and in the short­ term future really will define how they are thought of for years to come and that these are times when sometimes difficult decisions need to be made and the company should be looking into the long-term future. One of the shortfalls that businesses have had to confront this past year is poor planning for contingencies, and by contingencies, I mean disaster recovery.”

Donald C. Bluedorn II – Managing Shareholder, Babst Calland

Bluedorn shared that Babst Calland had been better prepared for the pandemic and teleworking, thanks largely to a “small disaster with a flood” several years back at the firm’s downtown office, which forced many of the firm’s employees to work temporarily from home.

“We learned a lot of valuable lessons from that,” he said. “For better or worse, when the pandemic hit, we were able to very seamlessly move to a teleworking situation. We had off-site servers, cloud supply, and licenses for all of our people. Many businesses didn’t have that, and many businesses, frankly, still don’t have that. They’re scrambling to play catch-up.”

That’s where a good contingency plan comes into play, Bluedorn said, particularly for 2021 and beyond, as the pandemic continues.

“What is the right process that you need as a company to enter 2021?” Bluedorn asked. “What’s the right structure that you need? And what are the right technological tools that you need to better service your clients, your customers, and to engage in your operations?

Assessing Contractual Obligations

From a legal perspective, Bluedorn said business leaders also should take the time to review their companies’ contractual obligations to others, as well as the obligations of others to them. That would include supplier/vendor and other supply chain contracts, manufacturing contracts, employment contracts, health insurance and even building lease agreements, among other areas of obligation that have been affected by the pandemic.

“Maybe they need some additional credit guarantees or some additional performance assurances,” Bluedorn said. “Conversely, they may be looking for some relief in their own contractual obligations. Now’s the time to do that, to get out ahead of it.”

Data Security and Employee Privacy

Teleworking has presented its own challenges as well, Bluedorn said, elevating the issues of data security and worker privacy, among others.

“Teleworking has created, unfortunately, opportunities for criminals and others to take advantage,” he said, noting that every business continuity plan should include provisions for dealing with cyber-attacks, stopping or tracking cyber-theft, and preventing future attacks. “What do you do about it? Whom do you go after? How do you protect that? What procedures do you put in place? And whom do you contact to do the forensics to figure out what happened? We’re starting to see that now because of increased teleworking.”

Other factors to consider in creating a business continuity plan, according to Bluedorn: the changing political landscape, with ramifications such as tax changes and changes in environmental regulation, and the potential effects of climate change on the business, whether directly or indirectly.

Putting People First

All of that said, Bluedorn emphasized that business continuity plans should put people first.

“Sometimes, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers and the business aspects and not really think about the people,” he said. “I think a successful business should think about the people, while at the same time keeping an eye on the numbers.”

Among the most important people issues, he said, is daily connectivity between employees.

“Looking at your infrastructure and making decisions about what’s involved – I tell people that, in some

ways, the hardware and software are the easy part to this,” Bluedorn said. “What we’ve also seen on the teleworking side is the loss of daily connectivity with co-workers and clients and customers. Business owners need to be aware of this, and they need to foster ways for people to interact on a daily basis, just like they would if they were in the office.

“People are so critically important to every business,” he adds. “I would encourage everyone who runs or owns a business to think about putting the people first because that will result in positive effects for your business.”