Planning effective responses to the Covid crisis

14 May 2020

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The tenth FIDIC Covid-19 webinar took place on Thursday 14 May 2020 with an event looking at how companies have responded to the current crisis and the measures they have taken in preparing their response to the current crisis, writes FIDIC communications advisor Andy Walker.

“Covid-19: Developing crisis response plans - an industry perspective” was attended by 400+ attendees and explored some of the key issues around how companies have developed crisis plans dynamically when experiencing uncertainty.

Moderated by FIDIC CEO Nelson Ogunshakin, the speakers at the event included FIDIC board member Mark Pehlig from the Netherlands, Mitch Simpler, a partner at Jaros, Baum & Bolles in the USA, Chituwa Sinkala Chulu, chief executive of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Zambia and Anthony Hardingham, divisional business development director of Atkins. FIDIC president Bill Howard was also present at the webinar.

Opening the webinar, FIDIC president Bill Howard thanked the speakers for taking the time out from their busy schedules at a challenging time to support FIDIC and the industry. He highlighted the need to protect staff at the present time, as they will be needed in the future as the industry recovers from the Covid-19 crisis. Howard also spoke of the need to lobby for infrastructure investment to help global economies out of the potential economic challenges that will develop in the aftermath of the current crisis.

FIDIC board member Mark Pehlig spoke about how firms and business associations had set up a global task force response to Covid-19 and many of these were in dialogue with governments and other business leaders. This was enabling the industry to get closer to key decision-makers and was vital in any crisis. A focused approach was essential, he said, together with constant monitoring of progress to ensure that your crisis plan was on track. It was also key to keep aware of all the latest national and international developments with the crisis to get the fullest possible picture about what was going on.

Jaros, Baum & Bolles partner Mitch Simpler joined the webinar from New York, currently at the epicentre of the Covid outbreak in North America. He said that the list of unknowns and uncertainty around the current crisis made making any response plan a real challenge. Cash flow was a critical issue in an economy where 30 million workers had lost their jobs, said Simpler. Firms were being helped by the consultancy and engineering business association ACEC in the USA through their regular updates and webinars underlining the important role of FIDIC member associations during the current crisis. “There are still far too many unknowns as we look to restart the economic engine,” he said.

Chituwa Sinkala Chulu, chief executive of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Zambia, said that the crisis has meant dealing with a ‘new normal’, including widespread working from home, which was not something that was previously prevalent in Zambia. Worker stress and uncertainty was on the increase and employers were having to deal with that as well as getting to grips with new ways of working. “Reallocation of government spending to fight Covid-19 had led to a devastating effect on the consulting engineering sector in Zambia with payments delayed or suspended,” she said and there were challenging times ahead for the industry.

Atkins divisional business development director Anthony Hardingham spoke how his firm had decanted its 10,000 UK staff to working from home in just three weeks. The firm’s business continuity plans had to be revisited as these had been originally designed for isolated events, which Covid-19 clearly was not. “Getting the right balance in our response between central content and local tailoring was very important,” he said. Being a mature, agile business with staff used to working digitally was absolutely vital in being able to respond effectively during the crisis, said Hardingham and the ability to scale up that digital capability was crucial. Separate crisis teams for planning, external comms, business continuity and a central organising team were key and the ability to revise plans as necessary was also important, he said.

In the discussion, Mitch Simpler said that no matter how effective you think you have planned for a crisis, the current Covid-19 situation had tested crisis plans to breaking point and firms had to readjust and refocus to cope. Anthony Hardingham highlighted the challenges involved in making a near-total switch to remote working and made the point that they had been well served by an excellent internal IT capability and great external providers.

Speakers also discussed the possibility of a second peak to the pandemic and the effect that this would have on the industry and the economy. Recovery could be a slow process as economies emerge from the crisis and within that there was a need for sensible and rational decisions, avoiding knee-jerk responses which could cause irreversible damage to businesses.

The discussion was wide-ranging with questions from the audience covered many issues including how the industry might look in the future given the massive increase in working from home and remote working. Will large offices be needed in future? Employee morale, maintaining company culture in a virtual environment and influencing governments’ economic response as societies come out of Covid.

Summing up the webinar, FIDIC president Bill Howard said it was great to see FIDIC facilitating global communication with so many people from the industry. The value that engineers bring to infrastructure and indeed society has never been more important. “This crisis has changed a lot of things but one thing that has not changed is the need to address the serious infrastructure issues that were present before the pandemic. These are huge issues and they need to be addressed, only now more urgently,” said Howard.

The next FIDIC webinar in the series is Covid-19: Communicating your response both internally and externally which takes place on Monday 18 May at 12 noon CET. Please register your place as soon as possible as we expect another healthy turnout for this event.

Click here to book your place on the event on communicating your response.

Click below to view a recording of the Developing crisis response plans webinar.

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