Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The federal Liberals 2024 budget landed last week to mixed reviews, especially among Chamber of Commerce leaders.

 

While Deputy Prime Minister Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland kept her promise to keep the deficit from growing without raising income taxes on the middle class by tabling Budget 2024: Fairness for Every Generation with a projected deficit of $39.8 billion, slightly below the $40 billion projected last fall, the document contained few surprises.

 

“Most of the major new spending was announced by the government over the last few weeks, and the government’s projections for the deficit are largely in line with previous predictions. Instead of using a revenue windfall to reduce the deficit more quickly, the government chose to use it along with changes to the capital gains tax, to fund this new spending,” said Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in a release. “What’s still missing is a clear plan to promote productivity and restore economic growth in Canada. Canada continues to slip further behind our competitors in both of these categories.”

 

This sentiment is shared by Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher, who says business operators regularly share their frustrations with him regarding the difficulties they continue to face trying to conduct business.

 

“Their concerns do not seem to reach the ears of the those who make the decisions,” he says. “The reality of it is the framework around how this current federal government wants to address the issues of the day are not conducive to solving the problem but probably more conducive to deepening the problem.”

 

Housing affordability crisis

 

Among these issues is the housing affordability crisis, which the budget addresses by putting special emphasis on generational fairness and helping younger people – Millennials and Generation Zs — with programs to help renters and first-time home buyers. While this may bring some relief, Greg says there are other ways to address the issue in a less costly manner.

 

“There is no secret to building more homes. You must create a market for home builders to access and ensure interest rates are acceptable for homeowners to borrow money and you must simply reduce the costs to developers in building the product we desperately need. None of these issues have ever been addressed by any level of government to this point,” he says, adding despite any incentive programs local political bureaucracies often create barriers for development. “You can throw all kinds of mud up against the wall, but none of it is going to stick when it’s already dry.”

 

Besides housing, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says the budget should have addressed the need to build better resiliency surrounding supply chains by providing targeted financial support for small and medium-sized businesses. It has recommended the federal government work with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure and explore contingency plans for key trading partners and assess potential vulnerabilities.

 

“I think those are just sensible things our federal government should always be doing to ensure the flow of goods and services can happen because every issue that all levels of government deal with requires a strong, vibrant economy in order to find solutions to those problems,” says Greg. “Building a more resilient supply chain shouldn’t even part of a budget, it should be a core element of the government’s role.”

 

Despite these concerns, both he and Beatty both welcomed the budget’s move to support interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, something the Chamber network has been seeking for several years.

 

“Strengthening our internal trade could elevate GDP growth by up to 8% and fortify Canada’s economic foundation,” said Beatty in a release. “It shouldn’t be easier to trade with Europe than it is within our own country.”

 

Economic survival imperative

 

Besides interprovincial trade, the budget’s promised investment of $2.4 billion towards building AI infrastructure and adoption advancement also came as welcomed news.

 

“The investment in AI infrastructure and support of start-ups in the AI field is good for business,” says Greg, adding he was disappointed the budget didn’t contain more regarding the co-ordination of broadband investments with the private sector. “The government has done nothing to extend broadband coverage to remote and rural communities and the fact of the matter is if you don’t have internet, you can’t do business. You can’t function without the most advanced technology.”

 

Overall, he says the 2024 federal budget sends a clear signal the current government is forgoing economic survival in favour of more social programming, a move that doesn’t bode well for conducting business in Canada.

 

“While I support taking care of those who can’t care for themselves, and every business I know supports initiatives to help others, we also have to recognize the No. 1 objective of any level of government is to ensure a strong and vibrant economy,” he says. “There are very little initiatives in this budget signalling that Canada wants to develop a robust economy.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

Several measures announced in the federal budget to assist Ontario’s business community. These include:

 

  • Addressing the housing affordability crisis by investing in building more homes, making it easier to own or rent, and creating new programs to supply low-income affordable housing for those who need it most. The government is proposing a combination of tax measures, low-cost financing and loans, utilization of public lands, streamlined approvals, and programs to assist homebuyers and renters directly.
  • Building AI infrastructure and advancing adoption through a $2.4 billion investment. A significant portion of this investment is dedicated to building and providing access to computing infrastructure. An additional $200 million is allocated to support AI start-ups to bring new technologies to the market and accelerate adoption in critical economic sectors.
  • Advancing economic reconciliation through a national Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program and funding for Indigenous Financial Institutions that will accelerate capital for Indigenous-owned businesses and projects, support project development, reduce the cost of borrowing, and enable Indigenous communities to benefit from natural resource projects.
  • Supporting interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, intended to enable all levels of government to work together to eliminate barriers to trade and labour mobility.

 

The Ontario Chamber network is calling for further action in the following areas:

 

  • Co-ordinating broadband investments with the private sector to avoid duplication and maximize the impact of public programs to enhance redundancy resiliency within broadband networks, collaborating with provinces and territories to establish future federal goals for broadband connectivity, assess opportunities for promoting competition and private sector investments in the sector, and expedite funding commitments while improving coordination with stakeholders to address gaps in private sector expansion plans.
  • Bolstering Canada’s life sciences ecosystem by creating new funding streams to encourage innovation and high-risk ventures, working with stakeholders to review approval processes, and enhancing regional collaboration.
  • Building more resilient supply chains through targeted financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises, working with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure, expanding capacity across all modes and channels of distribution, exploring contingency plans for key trading partners, and conducting an assessment to identify bottlenecks and vulnerabilities.
  • Implementing broader Employment Insurance reform to reflect the needs of today’s workforce by ensuring the governance, programs, policies, and operations are viable and sustainable, responsive, and adaptable, non-partisan, inclusive, and relevant for current and future generations of Canadian employers and employees.

 

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Customer reviews can serve as a powerful tool in the contemporary marketplace, offering invaluable insights for both consumers and businesses alike.

 

However, while reviews can elevate a product or service, they can also become a source of challenge for businesses as negative comments find their way onto Google Review, TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Yelp as customers enveloped by social media vent their frustrations.

 

But just how businesses can utilize the information from this positive or negative feedback can prove difficult when it comes to gauging the impact.

 

“It’s one of those things where you can’t ignore it. Emotionally, you can’t ignore it, nor should you,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “If you’re seeing reoccurring patterns in your reviews, to me that’s free research so you will want to investigate the validity of that.”

 

He says customer feedback is clearly a good marketing tool and warns that companies attempting to ‘stack’ their reviews with positive ones can quickly pay a price, noting research shows consumers between the ages of 18 to 34 are very savvy when it comes to analyzing reviews.

 

“They can easily filter out the reviews where people are being too whiny or the ones that are too glowing and clearly smack of being written by a PR person,” says Brad. “They’ve developed this innate filter that can diminish the impact of much of it.”

 

Authenticity of reviews leads to skepticism

 

The authenticity of online reviews has become a growing concern, blurring the line between genuine recommendations and promotional tactics, leading to a loss of trust in reviews overall. In this way, the very tool designed to provide transparency can become a breeding ground for deception, causing skepticism among consumers.

 

In Canada, those promoting fake reviews could be liable under the Competition Act. Enforcing the Act is a key responsibility of the Competition Bureau and any business making materially false or misleading claims to promote a product, service or business interest could find themselves in legal hot water. 

 

Brad says there is already a certain amount of skepticism among consumers regarding online reviews noting research data shows that 88% to 95% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 say they rely on reviews. However, among them research also shows that 93% say they are suspicious of Facebook reviews, while 89% says they are suspicious of Yelp reviews, with 88% admitting to being skeptical about reviews on Amazon.

 

“On one hand, they’re saying reviews are very influential but on the other hand, they’re saying they are very suspicious of the content. I think there is a real shallowness about a lot of this research. There’s a lot of assumptions,” says Brad, adding consumer behaviour is driven more by subconscious emotional drivers where people rationalize their decisions after having already made them. “Consumers aren’t going to the reviews with a blank slate in most cases.  A review would really have to be very extreme in order to make you reconsider your decision.”

 

He says consumers often turn to reviews as a final ‘check’ to confirm they have made the ‘right’ choice and that striking a balance between leveraging the benefits of customer feedback and mitigating their potential drawbacks is crucial for businesses aiming to thrive in the digital era.

 

Companies must focus on genuine customer engagement, ethical practices, and continuous improvement to ensure that customer reviews remain a constructive force rather than a destructive one.

 

“I think consumers sometimes often just want to vent a little a bit and know they are being heard,” says Brad. “Reviews are worth monitoring but I would be concerned if businesses think they are a definitive thing and will make or break us.”

 

Tips on how to handle reviews:

 

Monitor Reviews Regularly: Stay updated with what customers are saying about your business by regularly monitoring various review platforms such as Google My Business, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and social media channels.

 

Respond Promptly: Address both positive and negative reviews promptly. Responding promptly shows that you value customer feedback and are proactive in resolving issues.

 

Personalize Responses: Personalize your responses to each review whenever possible. Use the reviewer's name, acknowledge their specific feedback, and express appreciation for their input.

 

Stay Professional: Maintain a polite and professional tone in your responses, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. Avoid getting defensive or confrontational, even if the review is critical.

 

Acknowledge Positive Reviews: Thank customers for positive feedback and let them know that you appreciate their business. This encourages repeat business and loyalty.

 

Address Negative Reviews Constructively: When responding to negative reviews, apologize for any negative experience the customer may have had and offer a solution or compensation if appropriate. Avoid making excuses or blaming the customer.

 

Take the Conversation Offline: For complex issues or disputes, encourage the reviewer to contact you directly to resolve the issue privately. Provide a contact email or phone number for further assistance.

 

Seek Clarification: If the feedback is unclear or vague, seek additional information to fully understand the customer's perspective. This helps in providing more targeted and effective solutions.

 

Stay Consistent Across Platforms: Ensure consistency in your responses across different review platforms to maintain your brand's credibility and professionalism.

 

Use Feedback to Improve: Use feedback from reviews to identify areas for improvement in your products, services, or customer experience. This demonstrates your commitment to continuous improvement.

 

Encourage Positive Reviews: Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews by including links to review platforms in follow-up emails, on receipts, or on your website. However, avoid incentivizing reviews in a way that violates platform guidelines.

 

Address Fake or Malicious Reviews: If you suspect a review is fake or malicious, report it to the platform for investigation. Provide evidence to support your claim and request its removal if it violates the platform's policies.

 

Seek Professional Help if Necessary: If managing online reviews becomes overwhelming or if you need assistance in developing a strategy, consider seeking help from reputation management professionals or digital marketing agencies.

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The weight of responsibility can be overwhelming for business leaders.

 

They are constantly under pressure to drive growth, manage teams, make critical decisions, and ensure their organizations’ long-term success, which is something Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at H2R Business Solutions says has only been magnified in the recent years.

 

“Since the pandemic, some things have really changed. They changed during the pandemic and somewhat again since then,” she says, referring to a rise in negative conflicts which can lead to a toxic environment and even workplace investigations. 

 

“We’re seeing an unbelievable amount of those kinds of problems coming into play in organizations and have leaders coming to us because they’ve never had to deal with them before but are dealing with them much more often.”

 

She says employees have become more empowered with information, and that many are dealing with mental health issues and feeling ‘angry’.

 

“They may not be working with the same expectations in their jobs that they used to and for some people, there are more challenges as they deal with downsizing, and shifts,” says Debra, adding bigger workloads, and hybrid work situations could be adding to these stresses since they may no longer ‘align’ with what an employee wants.

 

As a result, she says many leaders are now seeing more employees who are willing to take employers to court, or a human rights tribunal, or filing a report with the Ministry of Labour.

 

“Leaders who may never really had many people issues to deal with are now finding they are faced with all kinds of these things just to keep the business going,” says Debra. 

 

She says the challenges can vary between the several generations of employees that are now in the workplace, noting there are still many benefits of having a multi-generational workforce despite potential issues.

 

Leadership can be isolating

 

“For a leader, becoming someone who has to manage all these things that come to play and the nuances and potential conflicts, plus the lack of time and resources, it’s very challenging,” says Debra. “When someone says being a leader can be a very isolating place, they are not wrong.”

 

She says leaders must first watch for warning signs and realize they don’t have all the answers.

 

As the demands of leadership continue to mount, it is vital for leaders to discover effective strategies to ease their burden and navigate their roles successfully, which Debra says can start with better communication.

 

“As a leader, you have to get comfortable with communicating. Employees want messaging and they want to hear it from the owner, CEO, or an executive,” she says, adding that a communication breakdown is often the key cause of any conflict, and that lack of management training could be the root cause. “When you do a job well and get promoted to management, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good people manager.”

 

As well, Debra says leaders can benefit from expert support from others who may have experienced the same issues they are facing, even those outside of a leader’s particular industry.

 

“I’m not a big fan of coaching for your own industry. You can receive a lot of benefits from working with a diverse support group,” she says. “Even if you feel like you’re an introvert CEO or leader, you might be really surprised how much that support is going to mean to you.”

 

And while some companies and industries are dealing with tight budgets, Debra says investing in training can pay off big time for a leader professionally and personally, as well as the organization.

 

“Those things are going to trickle down through an organization in powerful and impactful ways,” she says.

 

 

Several strategies to lighten the burden of leadership

 

Delegation and empowerment

Many leaders fall into the trap of trying to do everything themselves, fearing that no one else can handle the responsibilities as well. However, effective delegation distributes the workload and fosters team development and growth.

By entrusting capable team members with tasks and responsibilities, leaders can free up valuable time and mental energy to focus on strategic decision-making and higher-priority matters. Delegation is not just about offloading tasks but also about giving team members the opportunity to contribute and grow.

 

Building a support system

Establishing a support system of mentors, advisors, or fellow business leaders can provide valuable guidance and emotional support. Sharing experiences and seeking advice from those who have faced similar challenges can be invaluable.

Additionally, leaders should foster a culture of open communication within their organizations. Encouraging team members to share their thoughts and concerns can lead to more collaborative problem-solving and reduce the burden on the leader.

 

Embracing technology and automation

Automation can handle routine tasks, data analysis, and reporting, allowing leaders to focus on strategic initiatives. Investing in technology solutions that align with the organization’s goals and processes can significantly reduce the administrative burden on leaders. Moreover, data-driven insights can aid in making informed decisions and staying ahead of market trends.

 

Setting realistic goals and expectations

While ambition is essential, setting achievable goals and expectations is equally crucial. Unrealistic targets can lead to stress and burnout, as well as erode team morale. Leaders should work with their teams to establish realistic objectives and timelines. This approach fosters a sense of accomplishment and helps prevent the exhaustion that can result from chasing unattainable goals.

 

Continuous learning and development

Continuous learning and professional development are essential for effective leadership. Leaders should invest in their own growth by attending seminars, workshops, and courses relevant to their industry. Also, encouraging team members to pursue their own professional development can contribute to the organization’s success and ease the burden on leaders.

 

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In the changing landscape of business, where uncertainty and rapid change are constants, effective leaders must adeptly manage chaos to ensure organizational resilience and success.

 

Navigating through tumultuous times requires a strategic and agile approach, says Linda Braga, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years.

 

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” she says, referring to issues that now exist in workplaces surrounding remote working, labour shortages and retention. “I think leaders are still adapting to managing the workplace and the whole side of leading and actually developing their people because we are successful through our people.”

 

Unfortunately, Linda says developing employees now often takes a ‘backseat’ as company leaders navigate these issues, some of which have been magnified by major shifts in the workplace.

 

“There are four generations in the workplace right now and each come with different attitudes and different viewpoints,” she says, noting older employees prefer having that ‘physical’ presence in the office while younger ones are looking for more of a ‘social’ connection. “It’s about leaders being flexible and adaptable, and having more of an open mind to solicit feedback from their people. Empathy is huge right now.”

 

However, this could prove to be difficult considering statistics show that at least 60% of small and medium-sized businesses owners are aged 50 or older and many will soon be leaving their companies, making it harder for some to adapt to these dramatic workplace shifts before they retire.

 

Self-care important

 

To manage the chaos effectively, Linda leaders should first look at how they manage and lead themselves.

 

“I think it’s important they are able to put on their own oxygen masks first because they’re very busy dealing with the day to day trying to keep their companies running and keeping their employees happy,” she says, adding ‘self-care’ is something they should take seriously.

 

Linda says often leaders have difficulty asking for assistance, especially from their employees.

 

“Just because you’re a leader or manager, or a company owner, doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers and know everything,” she says. “That’s what I feel separates really good leaders from managers is that they empower their people.”

As well, when it comes navigating uncertainty and rapid change, setting goals is key for leaders.

 

“It’s important for our leaders and managers to have crystal clear goals, which they need to communicate,” says Linda, noting there is a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. “They can be really good at being effective and doing things the right way. But are they doing the right things? Even as a leader, are you hitting your own goals? All leaders should be able to look at themselves in a mirror and be self-aware.”

 

 

Some key methods for business leaders to manage chaos:

 

 

Develop a Resilient Mindset:

Successful leaders should acknowledge that change is inevitable, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Embracing uncertainty allows leaders to respond with flexibility and creativity.

 

Establish Clear Communication Channels:

Leaders must provide regular updates, share relevant information, and foster a culture of open dialogue. Clear communication helps employees understand the situation, reduces anxiety, and builds trust in leadership.

 

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively:

Leaders must prioritize activities based on their impact on the organization's core objectives. Delegating responsibilities to capable team members ensures that tasks are handled efficiently, preventing overwhelm at the leadership level.

 

Encourage Adaptability:

Business leaders should encourage employees to embrace change, learn new skills, and remain agile in the face of uncertainty. An adaptable workforce is better equipped to navigate chaos and contribute to innovative solutions.

 

Invest in Technology and Automation:

Leveraging technology and automation can streamline processes and enhance organizational efficiency. Implementing digital solutions allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and minimizes the disruptions caused by chaotic events.

 

Build a Diverse and Inclusive Team:

A diverse team brings varied perspectives and skills to the table, enhancing the organization's ability to address challenges creatively. Inclusion fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel valued, increasing their commitment to overcoming chaos together.

 

Conduct Scenario Planning:

Business leaders should engage in proactive scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and devise strategies to address them. This foresight enables quicker and more effective responses when chaos unfolds, reducing the negative impact on the business.

 

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate uncertainty with empathy, providing support to their team members and maintaining a positive organizational culture.

 

Learn from Mistakes:

Successful leaders acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and apply those lessons to improve future decision-making. This adaptive learning approach contributes to organizational resilience.

 

Strategic Resource Allocation:

Business leaders must strategically allocate financial, human, and technological resources to areas that will have the most significant impact on maintaining stability and achieving long-term objectives.

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As technology continues to rapidly evolve, businesses are increasingly turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and gain a competitive edge. 

 

There is no question surrounding the benefits of integrating AI into business processes, but there remain legitimate concerns that accompany this technological leap.

 

One primary concern is the ethical implications of AI implementation. As AI systems such as ChatGPT, ClickUp, Copy.ai, or Kickresume become more sophisticated, they often require access to vast amounts of data to function effectively. This raises questions about privacy and the responsible use of sensitive information, as well as legal concerns surrounding the use of intellectual property.

 

“The question is fair use or is it a violation of copyright,” says Maura Grossman, Research Professor, School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, whose expertise centres on AI policy and ethics. 

 

She notes that an AI user can reference a particular article, book, or poem, despite it being copyrighted.  “It shouldn’t be able to do that because that’s a copyright infraction, but it can. The law hasn’t caught up with that yet but there are a number of legal cases now pending.”

 

Algorithms a concern

 

As well, Professor Grossman says bias in AI algorithms is another major concern. AI systems learn from historical data, and if that data contains biases, the algorithms can sustain and amplify them resulting in discriminatory outcomes and reinforcing existing social disparities.

 

“You’re going to find that in the language as well as the images. Open AI has spent a lot of time trying to remove toxic language from the system, so you get a little bit less of that with ChatPT,” she says, referring to the problems Microsoft experienced when it released its Tay bot in March 2016. The bot, under the name TayTweets with the handle @TayandYou, resulted in Twitter (now known as ‘X’) users tweet politically incorrect phrases and inflammatory messages resulting in the bot releasing racist and sexually charged messages in response to other users. Initially, Microsoft suspended the account after 16 hours, erasing the inflammatory tweets and two days later took it offline.  

 

“Most systems, like ChatGPT, are trained on the internet and that has its pluses and minuses,” says Professor Grossman, adding ‘hallucinations’ pose another big problem for AI users. “ChatGPT for example is trained to generate new content and to sound very conversational, so it uses what it has learned on the internet to predict the next most likely word. But that doesn’t mean it’s telling you the truth.”

 

Official policy needed

 

She says there have been instances of people using AI to conduct legal research and submitting bogus case citations in court. “I think the first case happened recently in B.C., but it has also happened all over the U.S.,” says Professor Grossman.

 

For businesses utilizing AI, she recommends drafting an official policy to outline usage.

 

“First they need to have a policy and then need to train who in the business is going to use AI because people need to understand what it does well and doesn’t do well,” she says. “Your policy needs to say what permissible uses are and what impermissible uses are.”

 

Impermissible uses could include creating a deep fake video in the workplace.

 

“Even if it’s a joke, you don’t want employees creating deep fakes,” she says, noting the policy should also outline what workplace devices can be used for AI. “If you need to save something because you’re involved in a lawsuit, then you don’t want to it be on an employee’s personal device because you won’t have access to it.”

 

Employees require training

 

As well, Professor Grossman also recommends employees clearly know what AI tools are okay to use and which are not and ensure they are fully trained.

 

“You don’t want them violating intellectual property rules or other privacy rights. You also don’t want them putting into a public tool any confidential or propriety information,” she says. “Some companies have turned off the ability to use these AI tools because they are terrified employees will put propriety information out there while asking a question about a problem they are working on. If you’re using one of these open-source tools, it’s like Google or anything else; it’s free rein.”

 

Professor Grossman says rules and regulations around AI will be gradually strengthened, noting a new regulation coming into play in B.C. pertaining to issues surrounding intimate imagery is just one example.

 

“As soon as this starts making its way more into politics, we will start to see more effort into creating regulations,” she says, referring to a recent ‘deep fake’ image that surfaced of U.S. President Joe Biden.

 

Despite these issues, Professor Grossman says AI is something more businesses will become comfortable using and should embrace this new technology. 

 

“It will save on efficiency,” she says, noting AI can greatly assist in the creation of marketing material. “Companies need to explore it and learn about it but learn about it in safe ways and understand where it can be beneficial and not just let people experiment on their own because that’s going to lead to a lot of trouble.”

 

 

AI hurdles in business

 

  • Data Quality and Availability: AI models require vast amounts of data to learn and make accurate predictions. However, businesses often struggle with data quality issues, such as incomplete, inaccurate, or biased data. Additionally, accessing relevant data across various sources and systems can be challenging.
  • Data Privacy and Security: With the increasing emphasis on data privacy regulations businesses must ensure that AI systems comply. Protecting sensitive customer and business data from unauthorized access or breaches is crucial.
  • Lack of Skilled Talent: There's a significant shortage of professionals with expertise in AI and machine learning. Hiring and retaining skilled data scientists, machine learning engineers, and AI specialists can be difficult and expensive.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrating AI solutions with existing business processes, legacy systems, and IT infrastructure can be complex and time-consuming. Compatibility issues, scalability concerns, and resistance to change within the organization can hinder successful integration.
  • Interpretability and Explainability: AI algorithms often operate as "black boxes," making it challenging to understand how they arrive at specific decisions or predictions. Lack of interpretability and explainability can lead to distrust among stakeholders and regulatory compliance issues.
  • Ethical and Bias Concerns: AI systems may inadvertently perpetuate biases present in the data they were trained on, leading to unfair outcomes or discrimination. Ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in AI decision-making processes is essential.
  • Cost and ROI Uncertainty: Implementing AI solutions involves significant upfront investments in technology, infrastructure, talent, and ongoing maintenance. Businesses may struggle to justify these costs and accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) of AI initiatives.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Legal Risks: AI applications in business must comply with various industry-specific regulations and standards. Failure to meet regulatory requirements can result in legal liabilities, fines, and damage to the company's reputation.
  • Change Management and Cultural Resistance: Introducing AI into the workplace often requires significant cultural and organizational changes. Resistance from employees, fear of job displacement, and lack of understanding about AI's potential benefits can impede adoption efforts.
  • Performance and Reliability: AI models may not always perform as expected in real-world environments due to factors like changing data distributions, unexpected scenarios, or adversarial attacks. Ensuring the reliability and robustness of AI systems is crucial for business applications.

 

 

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The holiday shopping season has begun, and retailers are hoping for the best despite the fact consumer indicators have been painting a less than perfect picture of the weeks to come. In fact, according to Deloitte Canada’s 2023 Holiday Retail Outlook, Canadians are expected to spend at least $1,300 over the holidays representing an 11% drop from last year. 

 

But how these dire predictions will affect them in 2024 remains to be seen.

 

“I think in 2024 retailers will be facing an awful lot of pressure on inventory management and cashflows just because of the interest rate problems,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “I think retailers are going to have a real deal seeking consumer base who are going to want deals, and that again cuts into their margins and can play havoc with inventory turnover.”

 

He says like the past couple of years, effective retail management will be required noting that consumers, in general, don’t really pay attention to consumer indicators.

 

“We’re not very good a judging what is a good deal or what is good value,” says Brad, noting that many consumers are very susceptible to perceived ‘sales’. “We have this whole apparatus that is designed to stimulate impulse purchasing.”

 

To encourage more in-store shopping, which has been facing turmoil as anti-theft measures and store closures detract from the customer experience, retail experts insist consumers must be provided exclusive products and deals or fun, and experiences they can’t find online. 

 

However, Brad says the true definition of what that special ‘customer experience’ is can be hard to pinpoint.

 

“Experts can never seem to quite define what this is,” he jokes, adding a positive in-store environment with expediated delivery and payments, and return policies should play a role. “We used to just call it good customer service. But for most consumers, when you talk to them about what they think is a good experience it’s ‘Can I find stuff easy?’, ‘I want to be able to check in and out fast’, ‘I don’t want salespeople bugging me unless I need help’. It’s sort of fairly basic.”

 

He says customer mapping is also something to consider, noting that online searching can lead consumers to physical stores. Industry experts often refer to the omnichannel approach where consumers may start their search in one place and make their purchase in another and encourage retailers in 2024 to learn where their audience is discovering products and where they are buying them.

 

“There is still a huge social component of shopping in a mall, particularly with younger generations,” says Brad, noting that humans still crave that ‘tactile’ physical encounter. “You have a generation of young people who is always going to gravitate to that sense of immediate gratification.”

 

He says the key for retailers going forward is to remain flexible in their approach to conducting business.

 

“Something that worked before and got you where you are now does not mean it’s going to get you where you need to go next,” says Brad. “Things are just happening so fast in multiple directions, and you have to be open to rethink and revisit what you thought was truth before.”

 

 

Released this past fall, the 6th annual RCC X Leger Holiday Shopping Survey from Retail Council of Canada (RCC) unveils the evolving shopping patterns of more than 2,500 Canadians: 

 

A few findings:

 

  • Savvy Shopping in Spotlight: Economic apprehensions, including inflation and rising living costs, weigh on many. Accordingly, 88% (vs 83% in 2022) of Canadians are turning to proactive holiday shopping tactics, most notably hunting for sales (52%), preparing in advance (41%), and adhering to a precise budget (40%).
  • Retailer Selection: To help shoppers decide which retailers to buy from this year, Canadians are prioritizing holiday sales/promotions (66%) and free shipping (55%). They are also looking for in-store exclusives (48%) and distinct online promotions (60%) to provide additional value.
  • Shopping Experiences Enhancers: In-store shopping will benefit from value bundles (26%) and product sampling (25%). Conversely, online shopping will be amplified by unique product offers and extended return policies, both at 33%.
  • Lead Spending Categories: Clothing emerges as 2023’s frontrunner, constituting 17% of the holiday budget, followed closely by home entertainment and essentials like food and alcohol grabbing 16% of the planned spend. 
  • More Gift Cards:  45% of shoppers are leaning towards purchasing gift cards for others this season, with a notable 37% of Canadians (up from 32% last year) expressing a preference for receiving gift cards over traditional presents. Dining gift cards top the charts (42%), while big-box retailers come in at 33% and food outlets register at 27%.
  • Local Shopping Upswing: Supporting local businesses this holiday has seen an increase in intent, with 82% of Canadians accentuating its importance, a leap from 74% last year.

 

Source: Canada News Wire

 

 

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Our Chamber of Commerce over the years has not only learned how to pivot, but how to address the concerns, issues and needs of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community.

 

The events of the last few years have only strengthened our reason for being. We not only champion small and medium-sized businesses but are a source of information, guidance, and the most powerful connector there is.

 

We have now taken that connection to a new level thanks to ‘The Link’, a place where YOU, an SME business owner/manager can source solutions in a one-stop shop atmosphere. And since this is Small Business Week (Oct. 15-21), it's very important to always remember and celebrate the contributions SMEs make to our economy.

 

For the last seven months, our Chamber has undertaken this huge project (for us). To say we’re excited is a dramatic understatement because for you, we’ve invested and created an exciting, inspirational space that will not only knock your socks off but provide a place where you can share your troubles and find connections to help you navigate those issues that sometimes surface for every business.

 

At The Link you can source HR solutions, legal forms and information, access grant writing, and discover business services of all types that help you streamline, or even eliminate operational costs, and yes, of course, we also have direct access to financial resources only for business.

 

Another aspect to this renovation project is the creation of additional meeting spaces. We can now offer two boardrooms, one that can seat more than 20 and the other between eight and 10, plus a more informal meeting space for five and a private soundproof meeting “pod” also for up to five people. As well, have casual conversation areas and provide a wonderful coffee service.

 

The Link is modern, accessible, and a great place to have a coffee and share conversation all contained in little over 2,220-square-feet of prime real estate at Highway 401 and Hespeler Road.

 

Along with this incredibly cool and unique space comes some unbeatable programming to help you and your team get onside, get ramped up, and get excited for what comes next.

 

Programming at The Link has already been released and space is very limited, so you need to get in early and make sure there is a seat for you. Our Program Manager, (Amrita Gill), is already developing new and different ways for us to connect with meaning, with passion, and as always, with inspiring ideas.

 

The doors opened Oct. 1 and we already have some committed entities ready to set up shop at The Link, but there may still be room for you and your organization. Do you serve only small and medium-sized business? If so, send me a note and maybe, if all the checkmarks are in place, we may just have a spot for you at The Link, but you need to hurry. Yes, there is a cost because we are not a “funded” organization and our support comes from our membership.

 

Speaking of membership, did you know the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has NOT increased its membership fees in more than 25 years? Talk about an inflation stopper, wow! That is what serving business means to us. We will always find ways to support you and now we are looking for your support to continue the work we do.

 

So please share your expertise with us and book a pod at The Link, or come in and get help from organizations and businesses that are here for you. Even better, drop in and enjoy a coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso, or my personal favourite, a mochaccino. Hey, I might even buy you one. See you soon at The Link, 750 Hespeler Rd., the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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A tidal wave of business ownership change is coming, and many business owners should be preparing now, urges Carson O’Neill, Managing Principal of Rincroft Inc., a Waterloo Region-based company which facilitates the sale of small and medium-sized businesses.

 

His firm has completed the sale of more than 50 family-owned businesses, many of them in Waterloo Region.

 

Carson most recently penned a book for business owners entitled The Road to Enterprise Value.

 

He confirms that most owners of Canada’s 1.2 million SMEs are now in their 50s and 60s and looking to sell their businesses over the next five years to fund their retirement.

 

“The owners are capable in running the operation. They’re down to earth, salt of the earth people and smart,” says Carson. “But most have never been down this path before. For many of them, it’s unchartered water with a lot of money on the table.”

 

Carson adds that the process is complicated and can last six to nine months.

 

“There are many issues above and beyond agreement on purchase price. Who’s going to pick up the employees? What about the future of the manufacturing facility? What about the leases? What about the intellectual property? It can be complex and multi-dimensional.”

 

As entrepreneurs, he says business owners often are often inclined do everything themselves which runs the risk of them receiving much less than what their business is worth, in turn resulting in a less comfortable ‘nest egg’ for retirement.

 

“The buyers are typically aggressive and want to get the price down,” says Carson. “They’re professional buyers, many of whom who’ve bought many businesses before, so they want to work with a business owner who unfamiliar with the process.”

 

 

To better understand the process of selling a business and some of the factors that drive business owners to sell, we discussed several questions:

 

Q. What would you recommend be the first steps a business owner should take when it comes to selling?

 

Carson: Delay if you possibly can and get the business in good shape. The business owner should step back, assess the state of the operation, and take steps to strengthen it any way possible. They should not be in a hurry to go to market; our company sometimes takes months working with owners to build the business up before the divestiture process even begins. The best defense is a good offense. Don’t go into this defensively, thinking ‘oh, we have to retire now’. You need to make sure the business is fundamentally strong to secure top dollar.

 

Q. What are some of the misconceptions a business owner may have when it comes to the process of selling?

 

Carson: Having never been through the process before, many owners think selling a business is like selling a house. The process is far more complicated and takes much longer. The valuation is far more complex, the information package is far more extensive and there are multiple conditions which need to be met before the funds are wired. Is there inherent value in the business? Does the business have unique capabilities so it can be sold? Where is the ‘secret sauce’?

 

Q. Other than impending retirement, what are some other reasons a business owner may decide to sell?

 

Carson: There are usually three other reasons: health problems with one of the owners; shareholders issues with at least one shareholder in need of cash; or the business has plateaued and is going south and that is never a good time to sell a business. Other reasons can include major players are entering the market with vast resources to spend to build market share and the owners are justifiably concerned they will have difficulty competing. They may not yet have reached retirement age, but they are concerned that the value of the business may well go down in the years ahead, so they are better off to sell now.

There is also the possibility of a pre-emptive offer. It is not uncommon for a buyer to approach an owner to buy even if the business is not being sold. This happens with very strong businesses. Sometimes millions are put forth, well over the assessed value. Owners may not have ‘planned’ to sell but many will seriously consider if the price is right.

Finally, the next generation has made it clear they have no interest in the family business. The owners may be in their late-40s with the second generation in their early-20s but that serves as a valuable wake-up call that it is inevitable the business will change ownership. With the emergence of the digital economy, at an early age, many in the next generation have absolutely no interest in ever taking ownership of the established family business.

 

Q. How has the pandemic affected the sale of businesses?

 

Carson: Not really. In the early months of the virus there was a period of adjustment, but people realized there was very little need to meet to complete the transaction. Our business did not miss a beat; actually, it got stronger. The change in ownership in Canada will continue relatively unaffected by the ebb and flow of the economy.

The reality is many owners have too much money locked in their business – they usually need it for a comfortable retirement. That has remained the primary reason why they sell, whether the pandemic is here or not. Canadian business owners are getting older. You can’t stop ‘Father Time’.

 

Q. How has the process of selling a business changed?

 

Carson: It is now more complicated due, in part because due diligence has become much more rigorous. We live in an age of increasing importance of transparency and full disclosure. No stone will be left unturned. Buyers will look at everything.

Did someone slip on the ice outside your business? What insecticides do you use on the grass and plants? Do you have an alleged harassment situation happening? If one is pending, it must be dealt with because the buyer doesn’t want any liabilities and will walk away. Due diligence and purchase agreements alone can now take three months.

 

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Quiet quitting, thanks to viral posts on social media, has become a term very familiar in workplaces worldwide.

 

It describes the phenomenon of employees who no longer go above and beyond by doing only what is expected in effort to maintain jobs that may no longer interest or inspire them.

 

This disengagement from work has grown exponentially since the pandemic. In fact, the 2022 State of the Global Workplace report from Gallup shows only 21% of employees are engaged at work.

 

“We’ve come through such a crisis over the last couple of years. To some extent, I think we’re over it now, but it has forced people to make different decisions about work, especially if they were burnt out already,” says Frank Newman, CEO of Newman Human Resources Consulting, who will explore quiet quitting at a Cambridge Chamber of Commerce webinar Dec. 1 entitled Is Your Team Quietly Quitting?

 

He will not only touch on some of the top reasons why employees quietly quit as well as the warning signs but provide insight on how employers can alter their work environment so they can not only attract but, more importantly, retain employees.

 

“You want to make sure you create the best work environment as possible,” says Frank, acknowledging the existence of an “employees’ market” due to labour shortages.  “That really means taking a very critical look at your work environment. Do you know what people need? Is it benefits? Is it better management? This is the ideal time to do an employee survey or workplace assessment to provide you with some sort of tool you can use to get a fix in terms of what are you going to fix first.”

 

He says this process may not prove to be a comfortable experience for some workplaces, however, insists this information can go a long way in assisting an organization set benchmarks regarding branding, image or even compensation.

 

“There are so many changes happening right now and if you don’t understand where you’re going or where you’re at, it’s pretty hard to make any progress,” says Frank.

 

He also recommends employers conduct exit interviews, formally or informally, to get a sense of why an employee has decided to leave.

 

“Make sure you understand what people are feeling. Also, spend some time with your newest employees and ask them what attracted them to your organization.”

 

Frank says in the age of social media, it’s important to encourage people who leave to remain an ambassador for the organization adding that bad reviews tend to get more traction than good ones.

 

“Organizations need to think about that as they manage those who are quietly quitting and those who suddenly walk out the door,” he says. “I always encourage my clients to search various job boards to see what’s being said about them.”

 

Frank admits it’s a tough time to be a manager right now, noting that employees have become much more critical on how their companies are managed than they were in the past.

 

“People looking for work have so many options out there now, and if you’re a hiring manager, it’s putting more pressure on management to get work done with less resources,” he says, noting the difficulty this causes employees who are now required to pick up the slack due to staffing shortages.

 

However, Frank says he’s optimistic as the economy continues to readjust following the pandemic there will be less quiet quitting.

 

“As companies get smarter in managing their businesses and people, I think you’ll see less of that," he says.

 

Work Trends Facts:

  • Burnout is a big risk in the workplace, especially amongst younger Gen Z professionals aged in their 20s, research shows. A survey of 30,000 workers by Microsoft showed 54% of Gen Z workers are considering quitting their job.
  • In its 2021 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum ranks “youth disillusionment” as eighth of 10 immediate risks. Findings include deteriorating mental health since the start of the pandemic, leaving 80% of young people worldwide vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and disappointment.
  • Workforce data from organizations including McKinsey & Company suggests 40% of the global workforce are looking to quit their jobs in the next three to six months.

Source: World Economic Forum website

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The decision by CTV’s parent company Bell Media to abruptly end its contract with its lead national news anchor Lisa LaFlamme this past summer sparked public outcry.

 

While touting the move as a ‘business decision’, accusations of sexism and ageism surfaced after the esteemed journalist let her hair go gray brought these issues into the spotlight and has sparked much conversation in the business world.

 

“It definitely has raised awareness and discussion and debate as some companies have been doing things to promote gray hair,” says Jessie Zhan, Associate Professor, Department of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management, Wilfrid Laurier University, referring to Dove Canada’s ‘keep the gray’ campaign launched in wake of LaFlamme’s dismissal.

 

As a result of the publicity surrounding LaFlamme’s departure, Helen Jowett, President and CEO of McDonald-Green, a Cambridge-based HR Consulting Firm, says that Bell Media’s decision has left many in the business world questioning things about gender and ageism, noting the sudden end of the news anchor’s contract overshadowed the fact she was not given any real opportunity to have her long career celebrated.

 

“As a sixty something female, I too was disappointed that she had not been given the same respect that her male counterparts had been afforded,” says Helen.

 

Professor Zhan’s says issues surrounding sexism and ageism in the workplace aren’t new but have probably become more noticeable because of the whole demographic shift in the workplace.

 

“The population and workforce are aging and at the same time, in the workplace different age groups and generations are working together on a day-to-day basis and that makes ageism more noticeable,” she says, noting these issues, along with racism, make up the three main issues facing many workplaces and has been working with one of her students to investigate the intersectionality of sexism and ageism.

 

“In the literature, gender and sex and age have been studied separately but they’re not separate issues,” says Professor Zhan, adding that younger men and women in today’s workplaces do not seem to represent the stereotypical interpersonal perception of those older in which men are often perceived as being more dominate while older women take a more ‘supportive’ or ‘motherly’ role in the work environment. “The younger generation really tries to protect their gender equality in the workplace or making those gender differences less noticeable.”

 

Helen agrees, adding having various generations working together can also result in valuable mentoring opportunities.

 

“Many cultures revere the wisdom of age and I’m encouraged that the young leadership demographic rising today are embodying the desire to accept the benefits of diversity in relationships.”

 

Professor Zhan says in the workplace, age is the one constant noting that every worker will age and eventually become part of another work demographic.

 

“At different ages, people will belong to different age groups throughout their work career,” she says.

 

 

How to identify potential issues in the workplace

 

When it comes to identifying potential issues surrounding sexism or ageism, Professor Zhan says awareness is always key.

 

“It can be difficult to tell a person’s attitude,” she says, adding there may be observable behaviours in the workplace that may indicate an issue exists. “Are people interested in making friends outside their age group? Do you see people from different age groups talking to one another? Do you have the sense people feel comfortable working with others from a different age group?”

 

Helen says potential signs could also include something as simple as dismissing or exclusion of input, right up to psychological bullying.

 

“Leaders must be clear about the behaviours that they themselves model, reward and tolerate.  Early detection of out of sorts relations should be addressed with empathy, understanding and encouragement to resolve conflict,” she says. “Certainly, policy and process for safe communication of escalated behaviours should be well communicated, reported and disciplined.”  

 

 

What can be done when an issue is discovered?

 

There are laws and regulations in place when it comes to gender equality, including the Employment Equity Act, Pay Equity Act, Canadian Gender Budgeting Act, and the Canada Labour Code. At the provincial level, the Ontario Human Rights Code protects people from age discrimination.

 

However, Professor Zahn says taking a good hard look at those in your workplace is the best first step before taking any further action or implementing new policies.

 

“If you spend time with your people, you will be able to tell whether those from different age groups actually want to work together,” she says, adding positive contact between intergenerational employees can reduce stereotypical perceptions.

 

Helen says encouraging and celebrating the information exchange between employees can go a long way to setting the tone for inclusivity of all people and preferences.

 

“Raising awareness of the strategic benefits of understanding differences should be spoken of often and openly,” she says. “There will always be something to be learned from someone else if we can embrace the learning offered.”  

 

And if policy changes are required, Professor Zahn says implementing age specific ones can be a benefit and could include providing training or mentorship opportunities to older employees or creating a clearer path for younger workers to switch to a role they may find more challenging and meaningful.

 

“Traditionally, when people talk about HR practices, they are age universal. People rarely talk about whether certain HR practices have the same impact for people who are younger versus older in the workplace,” she says, noting each age group values different things. “Most findings have shown age specific HR policies/practices that keep age differences in mind have a positive impact on employees.”

 

But Professor Zahn is quick to note there can be a negative side also to such policies and practices, explaining by highlighting these age differences may make some employees feel they are being treated ‘differently’ than others.

 

“It could hinder their performance or lower their self-esteem,” she says, adding there is a new stream of research being conducted highlighting benevolent sexism and racism in the workplace where ‘over accommodating’ employees can be just as harmful. “These actions and feelings are not always coming from the intention to harm.”

 

 

Are workplaces getting better at curbing sexism and ageism?

 

There is no real clear answer to this question, however, Professor Zahn says there is clearly more discussion going on centred around age in the workplace.

 

“When it comes to ageism, older people are not the only targets. Younger workers are targets as well,” she says. “They can often be perceived stereotypically as less reliable, and they may not get the opportunities to be promoted to certain advancement programs.”

 

As a result, it’s imperative to celebrate the multicultural and multigenerational perspectives found in workplaces and try to do things in different ways.

 

“Hopefully, we can value and celebrate that and enjoy the positivity,” says Professor Zahn. “The first step is always becoming aware of the problem.”

 

Helen says while most organizations are capable of recognizing differences in people’s gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference and many other observable differences, there are still strides to be made.

 

“Without oversimplifying, we must get better at recognizing and appreciating the strength of sameness and differences for peaceful coexistence,” she says. “Successful organizations learnt early that harnessing employee differences in a respectful way can actually be a strategic imperative resulting in improved support for their customers, suppliers and employees.”

 

 

A few steps to creating an open and equitable workplace:

  1. Public profile. It begins with simple things like the website – ensuring that photos of employees not only demonstrate racial diversity but generational diversity as well.
  2. Training and development. Training and development opportunities need to be communicated to all employees and seen as being fair to all ages and all levels. 
  3. Manager training. They often inadvertently display biases. For example, they often request younger workers as hires and seeing them as more likely to stay (false), less likely to get hurt than older workers (false), and more malleable.
  4. Promotions and new hires. Organizations must demonstrate their commitment to an age-inclusive workplace by promoting the most qualified and most capable candidates.
  5. Workplace programs. Workplace activities must be seen as inclusive, targeting all age groups,
  6. Encourage key older workers to stay past retirement. Hanging on to older and long-term employees will be vital in the talent-scarce future and organizations need to find ways to encourage their 50-plus employees to stay on and lure retired workers back.
  7. Fair downsizing. In times of business downturns or corporate takeovers, it’s often younger workers who are redeployed, while mature workers are given the stark choice of being laid off or accepting early retirement packages.

Source: Monster.ca

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