In December, International SOS released its annual 2024 Risk Outlook Report, created to identify top concerns that organizations are expected to face in the coming year and how to mitigate them to protect a workforce, meet duty of care needs and ensure business continuity. According to this year’s report, geopolitical tensions and instability are expected to be the second highest security risk with 74% of respondents believing their organization will be impacted in some way. On top of this, organizations have also reported higher levels of unpreparedness for security concerns caused by geopolitical tensions, which encompass a broad spectrum of interconnected issues, from regional conflicts and political instabilities flowing to economic uncertainties and global power dynamics. Moreover, according to Statista, 2024 will witness national level elections in 60 countries — involving approximately a quarter of the world’s population.

Another catalyst that will drive geopolitical challenges for organizations in 2024 will be climate-related crises. Persistent climate-related crises are expected to drive primary, secondary and tertiary issues, including conflict, migration, price volatility of essential goods and their corresponding drivers of acute social and political division. In 2023, International SOS intelligence teams saw a significant rising trend in the number of climate-related alerts issued, with 80% more medical climate-related alerts and 30% more security climate-related alerts. These included a fourfold increase in climate-related special advisories, those that, due to their severity and immediacy, are considered a direct threat to life. Although climate-related threats are expected to continue to cause challenges for organizations in 2024, only half of Risk Outlook respondents say they have factored climate change into their health and security plans, emphasizing how vulnerable many organizations could be. 

Organizations must be attuned to these types of threats, recognizing their potential impact on employee safety and business operations, in addition to supply chain and other threats in a highly connected world. In 2024, geopolitical awareness will not just be a strategic advantage; it will be a fundamental necessity. The following strategies will help organizations mitigate the associated risks. 

Comprehensive risk assessments:

To ensure the safety of employees, organizations must conduct thorough risk assessments that extend beyond direct and immediate concerns to incorporate global factors. This proactive approach involves analyzing international relations, political stability and regional tensions to identify potential threats that may affect resilience. Comprehensive assessments also cover cybersecurity and physical security risks, allowing organizations to allocate resources for targeted risk mitigation strategically. By fortifying their security posture in response to identified vulnerabilities, organizations not only protect assets but also cultivate a culture of preparedness and adaptability among employees. Integrating geopolitical considerations, including climate change-related impacts and scenario planning, into risk assessments ensures a strategic approach to navigating the complexities of the interconnected world. Through a holistic approach, organizations can craft targeted strategies for mitigating risks and enhancing workplace safety.

Adaptive crisis management & emergency response plans:

In the current global landscape, organizations must adopt a proactive approach to effectively alter their response plans. Constant monitoring of the prevailing geopolitical, social and environmental factors is paramount to staying ahead of potential threats. Flexibility becomes a key component, necessitating regular reviews and updates to response strategies to align with the dynamic nature of risks. Embracing technology for real-time communication and coordination also enhances the responsiveness of emergency plans. Additionally, fostering a culture of continuous training and scenario-based simulations ensures that employees are well-prepared to navigate the unique challenges presented by the current climate. Exercising plans, performing thorough post-crisis reviews and constantly improving is critical to organizational resilience. But it must also be balanced and recognize that organizations are in a state of permacrisis, perpetually trying to manage their business as usual in addition to managing crises, often crises and major incidents that are occurring concurrently. Recognizing and structuring teams in light of the foreseeable risk of crisis fatigue, including the attendant mental health implications, remains a key factor to be addressed explicitly and systematically. 

Employee training and awareness programs:

Empowering employees with a thorough understanding of geopolitical threats is instrumental in fostering an organization's resilience. In addition to the conventional measures stated above, organizations should invest in comprehensive training programs that provide in-depth knowledge and accessible resources for employees, including for under-represented minorities such as the LGBTQ+ members of an organization. These programs should cover not only the identification of potential risks but also provide insights into evacuation procedures and the effective utilization of safety resources. By ensuring that employees are well-informed and trained to navigate diverse scenarios, organizations establish a proactive line of defense against current and potential threats. Such training not only enhances the individual preparedness of employees but also contributes to creating collective responsiveness within the workforce.

Technological solutions for surveillance and communication:

Many organizations stand at the forefront of technological advancements, where the use of cutting-edge technologies becomes essential for effective monitoring and response to emerging threats. By integrating advanced surveillance systems and communication tools into their security infrastructure, organizations gain a real-time understanding of their surroundings and empower themselves with the agility required for swift decision-making and seamless response coordination. These sophisticated technologies go beyond conventional measures, offering a comprehensive and proactive approach to threat detection, communication and response.

Collaboration with global partners:

Organizations frequently extend their operations across borders, underscoring the need for strategic collaborations to effectively navigate the intricate web of geopolitical challenges on a global scale. Establishing and nurturing collaborative partnerships with international counterparts, local authorities and relevant agencies is paramount, as these partnerships facilitate the exchange of critical information and insights and foster a shared understanding of potential threats. By engaging in collaborative efforts, organizations can leverage the expertise and resources of various stakeholders, enhancing their collective capacity to anticipate, prepare for and respond to global challenges.

As security leaders continue to live through an ever-changing landscape of geopolitical threats, workplace safety will require a proactive and adaptive approach in 2024. Leaders in the workplace play a pivotal role in shaping the resilience of organizations and ensuring the safety and well-being of their most valuable asset — employees. By staying informed, embracing technology, fostering international collaboration and prioritizing duty of care, businesses can navigate these uncertainties and emerge stronger in the face of adversity.