With 15 possible risks and challenges to restoring normality to business operations, enterprises need to plan carefully, or else.

Many companies in Southeast Asia have re-opened under a less restrictive rules, with some offices maintaining a skeletal staff. What are some of the risks that such businesses have to consider and mitigate upon slowly easing back into full operations?

American research firm Forrester has produced a report that is applicable to the Asian region, especially given that some countries here have already imposed penalties for businesses that had overstepped the boundaries of caution.

  1. Forced return to work before employees are ready. In the Philippines, public transport is still limited, and employees cannot be expected to walk long distances to their workplaces. Yet, the pressure is on, for some employers to arrange for return to office before everyone is ready to observe social distancing measures in the workplace.
  2. Workplace discrimination based on age, race, gender, or health status. A Forbes article reminded employers that it is risky to attribute blame for the pandemic to Asians. It is not legal to say, “Look, Asian people make me nervous because they’re more likely to have the coronavirus, so I can’t hire you.”
  3. Maintaining high health and safety standards and living conditions. Thailand migrant workers are at risk because they live in crowded, unhygienic accommodation where social distancing is a challenge to enforce. The government, private sector and international supply-chain actors have been urged to take action to give them the needed protection. Singapore has also hogged the limelight for similar challenges.
  4. Failure to ensure the safety of employees during their entire journey. It takes only one unsafe journey to expose the whole office to the virus or other opportunistic infections.
  5. Partner violations. Partner refers to third-party contractors who may be overlooked in an office’s social distancing measures.
  6. Violation of employees’ privacy rights. Nearly every country has data privacy laws, and in the age of the pandemic, more data has been collected.  Breaching privacy rules will invite enforcement actions, fines, and reputational damage.
  7. Violation of employees’ privacy rights with contact-tracing solutions. Contact-tracing refers to identifying the chain of people who had interacted with an infected person. Ensure that employee identity data and location data are not routinely matched but are linked only when needed and only for as long is necessary.
  8. Violation of customers’ privacy rights.
  9. Eligibility and compliance issues for stimulus packages. In the Philippines, many displaced employees were not able to avail themselves of financial assistance from the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) owing to confusion over eligibility requirements.

    It is critical to engage the professionals in enterprise risk or compliance program. Ensure these individuals are involved from the beginning when applying for any government loans, grants, tax relief, or other initiatives under these stimulus programs.
  10. Retaliation against employees who execute their rights. Businesses should ensure that they have reviewed the relevant local regulations and standards and to communicate these rights clearly to employees. This can avoid confusion when it comes to mutual obligations in respect of compliance with social distancing and business reopening laws.
  11. Inability to retain a diverse workforce. Challenges and risks linked to employment of foreigners will be challenging. Also, diversity in terms of gender and age balance may be difficult to maintain due to parental, mobility and other issues that prevent certain staff from returning to office work. Ensure that flexibility is offered equitably across all these divides, and promote a culture that supports remote-working and flexibility.
  12. Decreased productivity. Fear of being laid-off upon returning to work is natural for employees, and providing a psychologically safe environment for your employees—one where issues are ironed out equitably—is essential.
  13. Backlash to layoffs and cost-cutting measures. When the need for layoffs arises, be transparent, compassionate, and align with the company’s core values in outlining the decision-making process, severance, equity, healthcare, job support, and affected people can expect next.
  14. Inability to counter increased cyberattacks and insider threats. Businesses need to keep updated on the most common cyberattack methods. At the same time, they need to enforce security measures in order to plug up system vulnerabilities.
  15. Failure to track and manage evolving legal and regulatory uncertainty. Reopening employee welfare and communications in the new landscape may involve uncertainties in different overseas offices. Task regional roles to monitor local laws and government guidance. Enable local managers to make decisions based on the changing regional regulations and conditions.