The COVID pandemic has made business owners to take a long look at their business and its ability to survive, thrive and expand. Many have taken advantage of various government schemes to try and ensure business continuity, including the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), Temporary 10% Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA). There are also other benefits to give businesses more ‘breathing space’, from no penalties or interest charges on late-filed tax returns to deferred WSIB payments.

However, many of these measures are temporary, and so business owners will be looking at ways to continue to serve their current and future customers in a brave new world of social distancing and fluctuating lockdown measures.

 

Hats off to the resourceful

What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown is just how resourceful the businesses and employees of Ontario can be. As traditional methods of selling in person ended, many of those businesses that could moved to sell online. Employees set up offices at home, juggling Zoom calls with child care. Employees who did go to work premises found themselves taking on old roles in new ways, or new roles, according to requirements.

New products and service have been created to cope with diverse demands from food to healthcare. Manufacturing lines have been adapted to create in-demand medical equipment, and industrial sewing machinists switched from fashion to scrubs for healthcare workers

 

Use the experience

All of this experience is the perfect background to making your business more efficient and effective moving forward in several key areas:

– Offices v home working

Remote working is here to stay, with many employees relishing the opportunity to work from home and avoid the daily commute. Many employers in turn will have implemented home working and seen how effective it could be for their business. Outlays on technology have been modest for most, utilizing standard conferencing software, home PCs and VPNs for security. So, do you actually need your offices? Will a smaller, leaner (cheaper) set-up work just as well? In other words, are you paying downtown rents and utility bills where you simply don’t need to?

– Employee productivity and working from home (WFH)

Studies often show how those working at home without distractions are more productive than those in an office. However, is that your experience? Home working may suit many, but for others, it is purgatory with a PC. In a leaner, more efficient business, can you strike the balance between those who work well as home and should continue if they wish, against those who struggle and require considerable management input.

– Helping employees work better at home

It’s important to bear in mind that that not every office based employee will have a spare room or bedroom in their home that’s available. Smart employers will take time to find out what challenges each employee faces, from limited bandwidth shared with the kids’ schoolwork time, to no proper surface to set down their laptop on. Employees need to look after their physical health, and that includes a working setup that is as ergonomic as possible, from table heights to chairs, screen sizes to lighting.

“Not having a well-equipped home office space when (people) begin remote working can cause a temporary decrease in productivity.”

Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs

– Staying connected

It is crucially important to keep in touch with employees, to combat loneliness. According to a survey by Buffer, loneliness was the 2nd biggest challenge for WFH employees, experienced by 19% of surveyed workers. Equally, regular contact gives a structure to the working day:

“Have really clear-set expectations for communications day to day. Ask (your manager) if they don’t mind having a 10-minute call to kick off the day and wrap up the day. Often times, managers just haven’t thought of it.”

Barbara Larson, professor of management at Northeastern University, Boston.

– WFH resources for free

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has put together a comprehensive list of resources to help you as business owners help your employees working from home.

– New skills in old roles

Just like the Michelin tire workers now sewing scrubs, your employees may have acquired new skills during lockdown that your business can utilize moving forward. Your employees may also have shown great aptitude in unexpected ways that their original job would not have revealed, from planning the logistics of new product delivery to communicating with customers on social media. Your business can recognise their extraordinary input and see if it’s something they enjoyed doing, and wish to continue with.

– Enforced change and innovation in business

For any businesses, change will have been enforced on them by regulations to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The businesses who have been innovative will have a lasting legacy to take away from the experience.

“Innovation is the process of making a product new or better. It is can also be the process of doing some service or action in a new way … To innovate in business is not just to do something differently, but to do or make something better.”

The same applies if you have had to pause, suspend or close your business. Now is the time to look ahead, and think how to reopen, if and when you can. As the CFIB website suggests, start by creating a Business Continuity Plan:

“Restarting a business that has been suspended will take thought and time to bring back to its former level. Are there other options for your business to stay open? Can you find new suppliers? Can you change your business model to continue to serve your clients?”

– Talk to your suppliers

If you haven’t done so already, talk to every business your business pays money to, and negotiate new terms and payments if you are struggling. Look for ways o reduce or stagger payments, review pricing, or have a ‘payment holiday’. Be ethical in your approach; their business may be suffering too, so a discussion is always better than a demand. It’s a good way to remain in contact and keep ahead of possible issues with supply or provision looking ahead.

– Go digital / paperless

If you’ve found yourself working from home and limited in what you can achieve due to no access to company paper files, there’s a lesson in that for a more accessible, digital solution. The ability to access what you need onscreen, quickly and securely, opens up a more time-efficient way of working, It might also show that digitizing archived paper files may be a valuable investment against the ongoing, monthly costs of storage in an over-large office.

For many, going paperless will be a wrench from their comfort zone way of working, but consider; when did you last actually open a filing cabinet drawer – or lock one? When did you type a letter and receive a reply you could file alongside your original? The reality of the so-called ‘paperless’ office is actually the “much less paper” office – there will always be a need to store some hard copy items, but the volume will be much reduced and accessibility much increased.

– Keep on networking

There is absolutely no reason why you can’t continue to network effectively and efficiently. Our own Business After Five networking events now happen virtually, and a little earlier at 4pm. With space for up to 100 attendees, it’s a time-efficient way to hear about topics of interest such as the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund on Tues 26th May meeting). If you’re not sure how to use Zoom conferencing, we’re even running a free webinar at 3.30pm the same day so you can join in at 4pm with confidence! See our Facebook Events Calendar for full details.