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The Canadian tourism sector has experienced a brisk recovery since the initial pandemic lockdowns, according to economic experts. But that recovery pace has been easing due to higher interest rates, a slowing job market, and broader cyclical slowdown in the U.S. and abroad. In Ontario, many tourism operators continue to face a great deal of debt caused by the pandemic, prompting many to worry about what the future holds. 

 

Locally, tourism in 2024 is expected to continue to do well, despite the ‘economic crunch’ that may prompt travelers to adjust their plans in the coming year. 

 

We reached out to Explore Waterloo CEO Michele Saran to get her take on what the local tourism sector can expect in the New Year:

 

 

How is local tourism shaping up for 2024, considering the economic realities many people are dealing with?

 

Tourism in Waterloo Region is expected to continue doing well into 2024.  We are beating 2019 pre-pandemic; hotel occupancy numbers and campaigns are driving keen interest in our offerings.  Yes, the economic crunch is impacting everyone and may result in visitors spending a bit less but not completely abandoning all vacation plans.  People consider travel a priority and have been shown to spend less in other discretionary areas to afford some kind of getaway with family and friends. Waterloo Region’s main market is the GTA, and we really lean into the concept of being the perfect road trip destination.  This type of travel can be as budget conscious as one wishes.  There are so many affordable options for fun.

 

 

Are local tourism operators feeling optimistic about what is in store for 2024?

 

The operators I speak with are all quite optimistic about a strong 2024, despite concerns around inflation and its impact on visitor spending.  In addition to leisure travel, we are also seeing incredible interest in the region for meetings, conventions, and sporting events.  The tourism industry is nothing if not resilient. Having come out on the other side of a worldwide pandemic that shut everything down completely, we now have the gift of perspective.  

 

 

What are some of the hurdles do local tourism operators face in the coming year?

 

One of the biggest challenges facing tourism operators everywhere (not just in Waterloo Region) is rebuilding the workforce.  Hospitality workers left the industry during the pandemic, and many did not return.  Industry advocacy organizations are working to address this issue from many angles, from working with government to ease immigration barriers to marketing the industry to students as a career choice. Finding affordable housing is a big hurdle for those in the service sector.  Many of the destinations that are the most popular with visitors are also very expensive places to live.  People want to live in the same area where they work, and this presents another labour-related challenge for the tourism industry as well as many others.

 

Despite optimism for next year’s visitation potential, a very significant issue is the amount of debt tourism businesses incurred during the pandemic just to stay afloat and survive.  According to the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, 55% of operators say they lack confidence they will be able to repay their debts in two years and 45% risk closure in three years without government intervention.  Thirty-three percent of tourism businesses indicate that they hold more than 250K in outstanding debt. This is a serious issue and one all tourism advocacy organizations continue to push with government for solutions.

 

 

Is talk of the pandemic a thing of the past?

 

I recently returned from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s Annual Tourism Congress.  The conversation was around the legacy effects of COVID cited above but I think the entire industry is ready to put the pandemic itself in the rearview mirror and focus on what we do best – welcoming visitors and showing them why our area is fantastic.   

 

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Following a barrage of pandemic lockdowns and closures, restaurants in Canada are still not out of the woods, despite the fact mask mandates have long since been lifted and life has seemingly returned to ‘normal’.

 

According to a recent report from Restaurants Canada, over the past year restaurant closures have outpaced openings by 43% and inflation-adjusted food service sales will be around 11% below 2019 levels by the end of this year. The report also indicates traffic in full-service outlets is down nine per cent, and approximately down five per cent for quick service ones. However, according to the report sales could still surpass the $100 billion mark, which is encouraging.

 

But getting to that level could be difficult say restaurant owners, taking into consideration ongoing labour shortages and supply chain issues.

 

“If I were to sum up state of the industry in one word, it would be ‘tired’, especially for independently owned and operated restaurants like my location,” says David Kroeker, owner of Zoup! on Hespeler Road in Cambridge. “It’s been a struggle and it’s kind of come in waves as well.”

 

Matt Rolleman, co-owner of Thirteen at the corner of Water and Main streets in Galt, agrees and wonders what the impact COVID-19 will have in the next few months, especially for the Christmas bookings he already has in place.

 

“In the back of my mind and for a lot of business owners in general is we’re hoping there won’t be another wave like before,” says Matt, noting he’s optimistic vaccines and boosters will lessen the severity of any potential impact. “But it might be a wave of staffing issues with staff getting sick with COVID. I think we’re still in this really precarious situation and are worried about COVID-19, even though people are treating things like it’s all back to normal.”

 

Staffing levels an issue

 

When it comes to current staffing levels, restaurants nationwide are finding that retaining staff continues to be a major hurdle. Restaurants Canada estimates the sector has had between 150,000 and 170,000 vacant positions for some time and currently employs 271,000 fewer people prior to when the pandemic hit in 2019. This has resulted in many restaurants to alter the way they operate, perhaps opening fewer days a week or closing earlier.

 

“Staffing retention is a huge thing right now that all businesses, and especially restaurants, have to look at,” says Matt. “But restaurants are pretty much drawing from a very similar pool of people and there’s all these restaurants vying for the limited staff that’s available.”

 

David agrees and says even the recent minimum wage hike to $15.50 won’t really help the situation.

 

“At the end of the day we’re not helping our employees because everyone is jacking up their prices and everything is costing more,” he says. “It’s a vicious circle.”

 

Supply chain problems

 

Like most restaurant operators, David says supply chain issues also remain a big concern. As prices on the menu increase with inflation, the number of food choices has decreased in some restaurants resulting in them offering only a few dishes on any given day to provide more predictability for the back-of-house staff.

 

“The supply chain has essentially fallen apart in my opinion,” says David. “I spend at least five to 10 hours a week just looking for alternative products so we can keep a full menu.”

 

He says customers service has remained his No. 1 priority and says it can be difficult having to explain to patrons about the challenges he faces if something they order is not available.

 

“I’m so grateful for our client base because 99% of our customers are absolutely fantastic and they get it,” says David, adding the solution needs to come from all levels of government, especially when it comes to custom issues at the border.

 

“At our distribution centre there is so much backlog right now they have to make reservations for trucks to show up to receive goods,” he says, noting the Bank of Canada’s decision to increase the prime lending rate to combat rising inflation and the Province of Ontario’s minimum wage increase are working against businesses.

“It’s different levels of government not working together, and they are actually impacting the long-term situation in Ontario,” says David.

 

Impacted by loans

 

Like many restaurant operators, both he and Matt utilized the Canada Emergency Business Account during COVID-19 and while that may have assisted during the cycle of lockdowns and re-openings, they worry about the overall financial impact.

 

“We took on some stuff that we never would have done before,” says Matt, adding business was ‘rolling’ before the pandemic. “I had never planned on taking those extra loans. There’s a lot of businesses that have taken on loans so hopefully when winter hits we don’t see a big recession because it’s going to be hard on a lot of businesses.”

 

He says having Main Street closed to traffic during the summer was great for his outdoor patio and is optimistic that come next year people will continue to look at staying closer home due to higher costs.

 

However, Matt expects that people’s dining habits will change.

 

“Restaurants are a luxury. I’m anticipating that people who dine out once a week may switch to once a month, and those who come once a month might switch to once every two or three months,” he says, adding there is little that restaurant operators can do when it comes to combatting supply chain issues and rising interest rates. “It’s a little daunting for sure.”

 

  •  With files from Troy Media
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A stroll down the red carpet provided a glamorous welcome to local business and community leaders entering the grand foyer at Tapestry Hall for our recent Business Excellence Awards.

 

The in-person awards event, held virtually the past two years due to the pandemic, brought out approximately 300 people the evening of May 26 to celebrate the achievements and resiliency of the Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries business community.

 

“After the last two years, having the chance to gather together and acknowledge the hard work of our businesses meant a great deal to many people,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “And hosting our awards event at such an impressive venue as Tapestry Hall just added to the night.”

 

Below the spectacular glory of Meander – Tapestry Hall’s ‘living’ sculpture – guests were provided with time to mingle prior to a delicious meal and the awards ceremony, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

 

Local radio personality Mike Farwell, host of The Mike Farwell Show on CityNewsKitchener, was the perfect emcee for the evening which kicked off with a $2,000 donation from the Chamber to his Farwell4Hire campaign that raises money for cystic fibrosis research.

 

This was followed by a special presentation from Ontario Chamber of Commerce CEO Rocco Rossi, who handed that organization’s prestigious Chair’s Award for Innovation Program and Service to Greg and Ian McLean, President and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, for creating the rapid screening kit program. The pilot program began here in April of 2021 and was quickly adopted by Chambers provincewide. To date, more than one million kits have been provided free of charge to Waterloo Region businesses and more than 60,000 given to businesses across Ontario through the Chamber network.

 

“The continued success of the program is just another example of how the Chamber network can make a difference when businesses need us the most,” says Greg.

 

Here’s a look at the award recipients:

 

Chair’s Award: Eclipse Automation

Eclipse Automation has become an international company with a global reach employing more than 750 people. But despite that success, it has never lost sight of its ties to Cambridge by remaining a true community supporter. This was very apparent when the pandemic hit and this company, which builds automation systems for some of the largest manufacturers in the world, turned its operation completely around to assist in the battle against the COVID-19 virus by creating face masks and N95-style respirators to address Canada’s critical PPE shortage. This important donation empowered hundreds of these small businesses after the lockdowns and helped prevent even further economic hardship.

 

Community Impact award: Scott Higgins (Hip Developments)

Born and raised in Cambridge, Scott has spent a career truly making our community the best it possibly can be through his passion for not only helping others but trying to make a positive difference that will affect the lives of generations to come. Fearlessly, he has stood by his vision and dream of adapting old buildings into viable realities full of attractive amenities. But he’s more than just a ‘condo’ builder - he’s a community builder who champions the creative entrepreneurial spirit that exists in Waterloo Region. He not only coined the catchphrase the ‘Creative Capital of Canada’ but recently expanded on it through the creation of the Youth Creativity Fund. Working with the Business & Education Partnership of Waterloo Region, this new initiative aims to nurture and share the creative ideas of Grades 5 to 12 students in Waterloo Region – setting the stage for the next generation of local entrepreneurs.

 

WoW Cambridge: Bankim Patel (Baba Bazar)

The kindness continuously shown by Bankim Patel has not gone unnoticed by the loyal customers of his well-known Asian grocery store. Customers to his store have known for a very long time they can count on the owner when needed – even if it that includes driving a customer home because she felt unwell and staying with her until she felt better.

 

Spirit of Cambridge: SM Marketing & Management

When it came to assisting other businesses during the pandemic, SM Marketing & Management didn’t hesitate to reach out and help businesses develop eye-catching social media content to promote themselves. As well, this company also managed to raise money for essential workers who did not receive any bonuses during these tough times through the creation of the ‘In This Together’ campaign. This campaign saw a variety of apparel, including hoodies and t-shirts, featuring logos of local businesses sold with 100% of the proceeds going to those essential workers in need.

 

New Venture of the Year: Drayton Entertainment – The Backstage Pass Program

While the expression ‘pivot’ quickly became commonplace for business leaders everywhere, Drayton Entertainment took this concept to a new level. Recognizing that a ‘return to normal’ would be a multi-year process, it began offering a specialized online subscription service to ensure its patrons would continue to be well taken care of and partnered with hospitality businesses to offer these loyal clients not only a more unique experience, but much-needed support to others in a time of great turmoil.

 

Business of the Year 1-10: Air Power Products Limited

This company always made a conscious effort to not only provide support to many charitable organizations but have strongly done all they can to promote energy conversation and environmental sustainability when organizing their manufacturing processes. For more than 40 years, they have constantly been upgrading to ensure they can offer their clients the best solutions possible. This continued in 2020 when they added Nitrogen and Oxygen generation systems to their portfolio, an innovation that has provided much-needed assistance during the pandemic. This work has kept their employees very busy throughout the pandemic as the company experienced double-digit growth.

 

Business of the Year 11-49: Unified Flex Packaging Technologies

This company has a very specific goal in mind as a good corporate citizen, and that is to produce higher standards of living and quality of life for the communities that surround it while still maintaining profitability. Not only do they hire locally, but they also buy locally through the procurement of components from area vendors contributing to the local business ecosystem. As well, Unified Flex Packaging has used technology through the creation of an easy-to-use customer service portal to ensure they are providing their clients with the best service possible.

 

Business of the Year (Over 50 employees): Collaborative Structures Limited

Besides supporting numerous charitable organizations, Collaborative Structures Limited also continuously strengthens its social responsibility by encouraging and supporting its employees to improve their own socially responsible endeavours and community awareness. They know how employee retention promotes the health and success of the company and are quick to celebrate the hard work and dedication of their staff. As well, since its inception this company has provided exceptional and innovative services to its clients and has been committed to exploring new avenues of business and better building practices that sets it apart in the industry.

 

Outstanding Workplace: BWXT Canada Ltd.

People and innovation form the foundation of the recruitment strategy for BWXT Canada Ltd. Working diligently to attract a diverse and skilled workforce that is reflective of the community that surrounds them has been key to its success. BWXT has created several committees to foster a more welcoming and respectful work environment when it comes to issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. The recruitment strategy at BWXT is both internally and externally focused and is accompanied by ongoing training and development to encourage employee growth and leadership potential. This company believes in its employees and has created a bonus program based on its financial and safety performance

 

Young Entrepreneur: Elisia Neves (Fabrik Architects Inc.)

Talent and devotion to the success of the community are two qualities that are synonymous when describing Elisia Neves. Establishing her business in 2017 through design collaboration and with more than 20 years of industry experience, she is the perfect example of how one young professional with an entrepreneurial spirit can make a difference. She has taken the lead on many successful projects throughout Waterloo Region and Ontario, while at the same time acting as a mentor to other young female professionals and giving back to the community. She has also become a leader in Pandemic Responsive Building Design through research and practice and is a shining example for young girls, new immigrants, students, and young business leaders of today and tomorrow to look up to.

 

Marketing Excellence: Red Bicycle Paper Co.

When the first lockdown hit, Red Bicycle Paper Co. implemented a ‘promise to re-print at no cost’ program for clients which stayed in place until the company’s last client was finally able to wed in February of this year. Using Instagram to its fullest potential as well as investing in a new and a very streamlined website using a local web designer, helped Red Bicycle Paper Co. remain in the minds of couples looking to tie the knot. The company also managed to move to a new studio space that reflected a warm and welcoming space for clients to be inspired and feel excited again, promoting it via an email marketing campaign.

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A decision by the Government of Ontario to lift vaccine passport requirements on March 1, 2022 came as much-needed relief to many and a positive signal to businesses that better times may finally be ahead.

 

But it’s a move that may be fraught with questions and concerns since Ontario’s current Roadmap to Reopen Plan indicates that certain high-risk settings are required to have vaccination policies, or proof of vaccination requirements, in place.  Further, under the current rules, other settings, can “opt in” and choose to continue to require proof of vaccination, even though they are no longer legally obligated to do so. 

 

We discussed these changes, and related issues, with Tushar Anandasagar, of Gowling WLG’s Employment, Labour and Equalities Group.

 

Mandatory Workplace Vaccination Policies (Employees)

 

On February 17, 2022, the province announced that it was considering the elimination of mandatory workplace vaccination policy requirements that are currently in place in various high-risk sectors. When these requirements were first introduced, the province stipulated that policies would meet the compliance requirements under law if they allowed employees to choose between proof of vaccination and/or proof of a medical exemption, or submitting to an education campaign and undergoing regular Rapid Antigen Testing.

 

According to Tushar, a business that complied with provincial proof of vaccination requirements is unlikely to face legal consequences. “If the employer implemented a bare minimum statutory compliance policy that gave the employees all the options stipulated by the Province - like saying the speed limit is 100 and go do the speed limit - I don’t think an employer is going to be penalized for having done the speed limit."

 

However, if the province eliminates mandatory vaccination policy requirements after March 1, businesses could face additional legal exposure, particularly if the business implemented a policy that went beyond the provincial requirements for employees.  “If the provincial requirements fall away, businesses in the high-risk sector that choose to maintain their policies could face additional legal consequences because they will be exceeding the provincial requirements.”

 

Proof of vaccination issues (Customers / Patrons)

 

The province eliminated proof of vaccination requirements that were previously in place for restaurants and similar settings, earlier this month.  However, the current rules provide certain businesses that were previously subject to vaccine passport requirements with the ability to “opt in” to require proof of vaccination on a day-by-day basis, if certain requirements are met.

 

“At this stage, it is unclear whether the province’s announcement will affect the current ‘opt-in’ rules beyond March 1, 2022,” says Tushar.  “On a purely theoretical basis, I don’t think the province will completely eliminate the proof of vaccination system that was developed at great expense just a few months ago – even though the (COVID-19) numbers are dropping.”  Tushar adds, “rather than eliminating this option, we could see an expansion of the current Stage 3 opt-in rules, which could make this protocol available to businesses outside of the limited sectors noted in Regulation 364/20.”

 

Even though there is currently an opt-in protocol for certain businesses, those that choose to opt in could face legal challenges from customers.  “Ontario has a free and open court system – so there is always an element of ‘use at your own risk’,” Tushar says.  He adds, “However, I think a plaintiff would face an uphill battle based on the current rules, since there is currently a legislative provision that allows for this, assuming the business is eligible and meets all of the province’s opt-in requirements.”

 

Tushar says the more expected risk for businesses who decide to keep proof of vaccination requirements in place will likely relate to managing public relations, including negative feedback popping up on social media. “That has been an ongoing concern that businesses have been dealing with since Day 1 of the pandemic,” he says.

 

Tushar and his team at Gowling WLG continue to diligently sift through the latest legislative changes as restrictions around the pandemic in Ontario ease.  We will be working with the legal team at Gowling WLG to bring you updates on a variety of issues over the coming weeks. 

 

For further information or specific questions about the recent changes to Ontario’s Reopen Plan, please contact Tushar directly at [email protected].

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While working remotely has created new opportunities for many businesses since the start of the pandemic it has also put a spotlight on some concerns employers must now address as they continue to adapt to the seemingly relentless presence of COVID-19.

 

Among these is time theft, an issue which human resource experts say was already well known in workplaces but has become more apparent since employees began working at home.

 

Time theft occurs when an employee receives payment for time that is not spent doing their work, which could include conducting personal activities during work hours or taking long lunch breaks without telling their managers.

 

While there doesn’t appear to be any clear financial amount this type of activity costs Canadian employers, according to the accounting software site QuickBooks, in the U.S. time theft costs employers at least $11 billion annually.

 

“In certain scenarios, where trust was not there to begin with when employees were in the office and proper procedures were not in place, this remote element has just amplified the gaps between employers’ expectations and employees’ responsibilities,” says Kiljon Shukullari, a Certified Human Resources Leader at Peninsula Canada. 

 

His colleague, Peninsula Canada Account Manager Victoria Vati, agrees.

“For real time theft to occur the action must include an overtly fraudulent act, such as altering a timecard, punching in for each other, failing to record or falsely recording hours on an attendance management system,” she says, adding much of this type of time theft can be alleviated by software and refers to a system from BrightHR her company relies on.

 

This system, which does have a ‘check in and check out’ component, also includes an array of features to assist employees and employers regarding scheduling and accessing various documents. “It’s software that can assist in everyday HR related practices,” she says.

 

But there are a variety of aspects to consider when it comes to time theft, which requires setting out proper remote working policies.

 

“Other activities, such as surfing the internet too much, to running errands during the day can be alleviated by proper oversight from management and setting proper expectations in terms of production from employees,” says Victoria, adding after nearly two years into the pandemic many employers should now have these policies in place. “But it’s a matter of how you monitor that without micromanaging because that trust goes both ways.”

 

She says transparency is key when it comes to creating policies to manage a remote workforce.

 

“If that wasn’t there to begin with, now is a good opportunity to implement them,” says Victoria.

 

Kiljon agrees and says establishing those ‘core’ documents – including contracts and employee handbooks – form the basics of a good working relationship which could reduce the threat of time theft.

 

“It’s easier when an employer and employee start a relationship. It’s a lot harder when employees are already part of the business,” he says. “Existing employees is where we spend a lot of our attention to begin with because for a new employee and employer they are already starting on the same page.”

 

Kiljon says when it comes to introducing new work policies, communicating them well and acknowledging potential concerns from employees is a good approach. 

 

“The employer needs to be open to that two-way conversation with their employees and then the policy can be updated because at the end of the day, the employer does have the legal right to introduce any type of policies,” he says, adding some may be more straightforward, while others could appear harsh. 

 

Whatever the policy, Kiljon says being open to questions from employees and setting the right expectations and clarifying what the outcomes are for non-compliance can go a long way.

 

“Those are key things,” he says.

 

Trust, says Victoria, is at the core of the employment relationship.

 

“A company should start with the position of trusting their people,” she says. “It’s all about fairness and consistency in how employers treat their employees.”

 

To help the situation, both say providing the necessary supports to employees who may be struggling working remotely is a great way to build a better and more productive working relationship. This could include helping them setup a backdrop for virtual meetings, or ‘recreating’ their office space at home by providing them with more equipment, such as a second computer screen.

 

“Employers need to be aware of the contexts their employees are working in at home,” says Kiljon, adding encouraging employees to communicate via video rather than an email or text is a good way to maintain a more personal approach to contact. “Also, congratulate them for their achievements and help them through their difficulties and always keep an open-door policy. These are things that will help.”

 

For employers looking to introduce or revamp work policies, Victoria recommends using the services of an expert will help them in the long run.

 

“Employers are expected to be HR and health and safety and labour law experts, and it’s next to impossible,” she says. “If you can get free advice that’s great, but ultimately if you want to make sure your business is 100% protected it’s best to speak with a professional, even if It’s a consultation.”

 

For more information on Peninsula, visit https://peninsulacanada.com

 

Tips to prevent time theft: 

  1. Install time and attendance software 
  2. Keep open lines of communication between all staff
  3. Improve accountability at work
  4. Be understanding
  5. Do away with paperwork (handwritten timesheets) 

 

A few facts from Benefit Canada:

  • A study by Aternity Inc. found overall productive decreased 14% between Feb. 3 to July 9, 2020, as high levels of remote work were maintained due to the pandemic. 
  • According to the 2021 Benefits Canada Health Survey of approximately 1,000 workers, 66% said they feel less connected to their co-workers and employers since switching to a remote system.
  • 73% of respondents said they weren’t satisfied with their jobs, while 74% said they have a high level of stress. 
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A ‘ding’ indicating a new text or email has arrived on your cellphone or laptop is often too tempting to ignore for most people, especially when it’s work-related and even if it’s outside of what’s considered regular work hours.

 

The creation of the Working for Workers Act, 2021 aims to change this by requiring employers to develop a policy related to the right for employees to ‘disconnect’ after work, as well outlines prohibition – with a few exceptions - on non-compete agreements. 

 

“Ultimately, it’s about mental health and making sure people can have that perspective on it and companies are supporting those decisions,” says Frank Newman, who operates Cambridge-based Newman Human Resources Consulting. “The end result is a more productive work environment, but we’ve got to change our habits because we’ve gotten so used to emailing or texting late at night.”

 

The new Act requires that as of Jan. 1 of any year, employers with 25 or more employees must have a written policy in place before March 1 of that year with respect to having workers ‘disconnect’ from their jobs. As it stands, employers will need to have a policy prepared by June 2 of this year.

 

“Most will start from scratch and there will be quite a few policies that can be impacted by this,” says Frank, adding employers could begin by examining any current hours of work, or overtime policies they may already have in place.

 

However, he says the process doesn’t have to be a daunting task and should begin with some clear discussion between employers and their employees around expectations, on both sides.

 

“This is a great opportunity to really have an open dialogue with employees and start working on the question of what can you do to increase their performance during office hours, and how do they feel about disengaging,” says Frank, noting it’s hard, especially for those working at home, from keeping close watch on their cellphones or tablets.  “This is not a ‘do or die’ policy that deals with laying off people or increasing wages. This is basically looking at the working environment to see if it’s productive and are employees happy and feeling comfortable after shutting down.”

 

He says many organizations are still trying to find their ‘groove’ in terms of hybrid working arrangements since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting there are simple steps they can take to improve productivity when it comes to managing a remote workforce.

 

“For example, look at the way we structure emails. Do you always put ‘urgent’ in the subject line? Do you copy all your co-workers in every email?,” he asks, adding some workplaces have created times during the week where no meetings are scheduled to give employees the chance to work, or encourages them to take breaks. “There is a whole bunch of productivity protocols that companies can look at as part of this. But companies need to be creative with this, otherwise people are just going to fall back into old habits.”

 

For starters, Franks says it’s imperative that companies define what are ‘regular’ working hours and the expectations they have for employees surrounding them. 

 

“But more importantly, it’s about how you define what those expectations are after working hours and during emergencies,” he says, adding this is especially important for companies with offices located in other time zones. “You also have to think about how you contact with people when they are on sick or maternity leaves, again, respecting their right to disengage.”

 

Also, Franks says companies must define if this policy will apply to everyone.

“For example, if you’re vice-president of finance you may not be able to disengage during off hours,” he says. “But obviously, the intent of this is to turn everyone off if you can which is very difficult in this day and age.”

 

In terms of setting up a policy, Frank says it should start with a shift at the management level explaining leaders of the company may have to try and curb themselves from sending emails or messages after hours.

 

“Even if they’re texting or sending emails among themselves at those times, that’s going to filter through the organization,” he says.

 

But ‘disengaging’ is only one aspect of the Act. Another is the banning of non-compete agreements that prevent employees from exploring other opportunities, apart from ‘C-Suite’ executives.

 

“This is a good thing,” says Frank. “But it could be a little challenging for companies because they could lose some of their talent to competitors.”

 

However, he says having a comprehensive policy in place could also become a valuable tool to entice new talent, a bonus considering the ongoing labour shortages in many sectors. 

 

“It’s also a positive way to be able to attract employees because many are looking for more time off and more flexibility,” he says. “Companies can develop these policies as a positive way to say this is our values and this is our work culture. There’s really no risk to this.”

 

However, Frank admits it remains yet to be seen how the Province can enforce this Act, noting it will probably fall under governance of Employment Standards.

“This is going to be a challenge,” he says. “Trying to get the government to respond at the best of times can be a challenge.”

 

For more, visit: https://bit.ly/3qtsMfP

 

 Working for Workers Act at a glance:

  • Require employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy about employees disconnecting from their job at the end of the workday to help employees spend more time with their families. 
  • Ban the use of non-compete agreements that prevent people from exploring other work opportunities in order to make it easier for workers to advance in their careers. Help remove barriers, such as Canadian experience requirements, for internationally trained individuals to get licenced in a regulated profession and get access to jobs that match their qualifications and skills. 
  • Require recruiters and temporary help agencies to have a licence to operate in the province to help protect vulnerable employees from being exploited. 
  • Require business owners to allow delivery workers to use a company’s washroom if they are delivering or picking up items. This supports the delivery drivers, couriers and truck drivers who have kept our essential supplies and economy going throughout the pandemic. 
  • Allow surpluses in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s Insurance Fund to be distributed over certain levels to businesses, helping them cope with the impacts of COVID-19.  
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For the first time since March of 2020, the Chamber hosted its first in-person Business After Hours event on Dec. 13 at Four Fathers Brewing Co.

 

It was a great opportunity for our Members to meet safely and reconnect with old friends and new ones.

 

We also took this opportunity to ask a few our guests the following question:

 

What will you remember the most about the pandemic?

 

 “Probably how well we can pivot. People can pivot and basically take a look at things and do things differently.”

- Tony Rossel, Best Version Media

 

 “I will remember missing community and just being able to meet with people and see faces and connect in-person,”

- Heid Brouwer, Galt Osteopathy

 

 “Endless Zoom meetings and learning how to facilitate meetings. It looks a lot easier than it really is. And that the number of kilometres I’ve driven has been cut in half. We’ve discovered some creative solutions and so much work is now being done at home.”

- Murray Smith, Blue Canoe Consulting

 

 “How poorly the government handled this. They contradicted themselves a lot initially with what you should do – wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, wear two masks, or get the AstraZeneca shot, or no you don’t need the AstraZeneca shot. They tried too hard without putting any thought into it and it just never seemed to work. I will remember that indecisiveness – everything’s fine, or no it’s not. They didn’t lead well, and I will always remember how poorly they led us through this.”

- Rick Gallinger, Top-Notch Concierge

 

 “I will remember how much I missed being around family and people. Sometimes it makes us realize how grateful we should be when everything is good because we take a lot of things for granted, and we really need to be more thankful and more aware and enjoy every moment that we can.”

- Maggie Herrington, Top-North Concierge

 

 “I just feel so fortunate that we were able to continue to stay open and look after our customers. I feel like we’ve been really lucky,

- Laurie Herald, Cambridge Tirecraft

 

 “The fact we couldn’t have in-person social events.  For me, I miss that interaction and I’m so excited that we are slowly getting back to reality. But the worst part has been looking at your family and friends losing jobs and having to stay at home. I have two stepchildren and the virtual learning was really hard for them. I think it was struggle for them and the teacher so I’m happy they are back in the classroom.”

- Stephanie Jane, Marketing Manager at Four Fathers Brewing Co.

 

 

 

 

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The ability for businesses to be flexible and creative is pivotal when it comes to finding ways to combat ongoing labour shortages, say local employment experts.

 

“Those who can bend will find they can sustain themselves and grow and those who will not bend, I think they’re going to find it very difficult to maintain their productivity and business size,” says Charlene Hofbauer, Executive Director of Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin. “I think growth will be a real challenge for them.”

 

Her organization promotes workforce development by working with the community to address issues surrounding labour market trends, such as the apparent disconnect between job seekers and potential employers.

 

“The longer we go through this (pandemic), the more I think we’ve entered a workers’ market,” says Charlene, noting many local employers are struggling to find employees. “There isn’t an industry right now that isn’t hiring.”

 

Although the unemployment rate recently dropped in Waterloo Region to 5.2%, she says there exists a ‘small pool’ of talent for jobs that are very specialized. And as of Dec. 3, just over 5,400 jobs remained vacant in our region, approximately 1,500 of those in Cambridge.

 

“That’s a lot of jobs,” says Charlene, noting poaching employees becomes an issue for those seeking specific talent.

 

She says there is a big need for frontline employees in industries that often rely on short term trained workers – including restaurants, manufacturers, healthcare, and construction.

 

“But our tech and engineering firms are desperate for more senior talent,” says Charlene, adding those with seven years or more of experience are in high demand right now. “They can easily find a junior person, but they can’t find a senior person.”

 

When it comes to finding talent, she recommends employers look at other avenues, rather than the more traditional ways they’ve relied on in the past.

 

“Even temp agencies are struggling to have a decent size pool of talent right now,” says Charlene, adding her organization can connect employers with potential sources that can aide in their search. “We can connect you to whoever we can think of that’s local to you and can work to connect you to a bigger network.”

 

Among these connections is Employment Services - YMCA of Three Rivers Waterloo Region, which can introduce employers to talent by utilizing mentorships, job shadowing and financial incentives providing they are willing to engage in on-the-job training.

 

“It’s critical to reduce the number of resumes that an employer will be looking at on a weekly basis,” says Van Malatches, Supervisor of Employment Services – YMCA of Three Rivers Waterloo Region, noting many companies are receiving between 25 to 200 resumes every week. “I don’t know how many employers have the patience to engage in that.”

 

He says his organization can help employers ease that burden by connecting them to viable candidates.

 

“We have a pretty good feeling of who we are referring and often have worked with that candidate from three days at the least, to three months at the most,” says Van. 

 

He believes employers who concentrate on the ‘soft skills’ and can provide training will have an easier time finding people, especially when it comes to hiring newcomers, rather than an employer who is simply looking for a ‘body’ to fill a position.

 

“Newcomers don’t want to be taken advantage of and want to have that opportunity. It’s understanding the cultural shock the newcomer may be facing, and being patient with that,” says Van, adding being authentic in their approach to acknowledging the issues a newcomer is facing will go a long way. “For a newcomer, they are so vulnerable with the experience and cultural changes they are facing. If an employer steps up for them, that’s what’s going to keep the retention and longevity.”

 

In general, Van says employers who can be more accommodating, not to the point where it’s compromising their business, will be successful at attracting and retaining employees.

 

“There is a lot of different nuances out there that have contributed to people ghosting employers because other options are coming up,” he says, adding transportation and childcare issues can play roles in the decision to changing jobs.

 

Given the opportunity, Van says he would like to see employers in various sectors work collaboratively when it comes to sharing potential talent.

 

“I would like to see those resumes pooled together somewhere where everybody could have access to them,” he says, adding the creation of a central ‘hub’ - taking confidentiality into consideration – would be beneficial to the overall job market.

 

As well, Charlene says connecting with local post-secondary institutions is another avenue employers can take when searching for talent and that even providing summer placements to high school students can also set the stage for future growth.

 

She believes a ‘multi-pillar’ approach is the best to solve our current labour shortage.

“We’ve got to do many different things,” says Charlene. “We can’t rely on any one thing as our solution.”

 

For more, visit https://www.workforceplanningboard.com or https://www.ymcacambridgekw.ca/en/index.asp

 

In terms of advice, Charlene says employers should consider the following:

 

1.  Check what you are paying. “When it comes to those key roles you’re stuck on and hire consistently for, know where you stand,” she says, adding local job boards can offer a great snapshot. “Figure out where you are on the spectrum for that job and know what ground you have to make up. And if you’re already paying well, maybe there’s something in the background you have to look at.”

 

2. Look at your job posting. “We’re seeing many job seekers who won’t apply because the posting is without any basic information,” she says. “Where is your company? What are the hours? What is the pay? What does the job look like? You would be surprised how many postings don’t answer these four basic things, so people don’t apply. I think what job seekers are looking for now from potential employers is openness, honesty and that transparency.”

 

3. Look at who is not coming through your door. “Be really honest with yourself. If you never see any women or newcomers apply, why is that? Who can you connect with so you can start seeing these applicants? There are so many local groups you can connect with.”

 

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The pandemic has created new opportunities for many workplaces.

 

The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘flexible’ have become commonplace as companies and businesses formulate plans for their staff to return to a work environment that’s going to be far different than the one many left when the pandemic first struck in March of last year.

But that return won’t come without its challenges.

 

“We’re seeing a ton of anxiety out there right now as more and more employers start thinking of having people come back to the office,” says Frank Newman, who operates Newman HR. 

 

A survey conducted by KMPG Canada in the spring as vaccinations began to ramp up showed that 81% of Canadian workers were worried their employers and managers were not equipped to handle a return to work properly, and nearly two thirds of those surveyed wanted to go back to their workplaces but COVID-19 remained their core reason for reluctance. In fact, 68% said that working alongside colleagues who may be sick or asymptomatic was a top concern.

 

People have gotten very comfortable and generally quite productive working at home,” says Frank, adding the comforts of home and no commuting have become big draws for many. “I would say people are 90% to 95% as productive as they were working in the office. But clearly, we’re missing some of those creative exchange of ideas that come from sitting next to someone or from random conversations.”

 

In effort to quell the concerns of returning employees, he has been recommending to clients they create an open dialogue with their team to identify their worries or fears.

 

“It’s a little like when an employee returns from a maternity or parental leave. We just assume everything is the same but what we don’t realize is that they have undergone a bit of profound psychological change and I think we kind of had that experience working at home,” says Frank. “Companies have to try and understand what might have happened in employees’ lives while they were away. Some of us may have had loss and some of us may have had catastrophic things happen.”

 

Therefore, he says employers need to create or enhance their Employee Assistance Plans, especially around access to counselling, financial or legal supports – not just health, RRSPs and dental benefits. 

 

“I think more companies have recognized how stressed people have been,” says Frank, noting some employees may be reluctant to access these supports fearing word may spread in the workplace. “These programs are run with the highest sense of ethics in place in terms that nothing gets shared, even with your HR department. There shouldn’t be any fear about utilizing an EAP program if you have one.”

 

As well, he says vaccination policies are a huge concern and appear to be ‘all over the map’ in some workplaces and stressed that whatever stance a company takes regarding its own policy, it should be clearly defined for the employees.

 

“You want to make sure you’re talking about why you’re doing a policy, regardless of what it is because people need to know,” says Frank. “We want to keep people feeling safe at work.”

 

He says optimism appears high right now regarding bringing workers back and expects to see even more people return starting in January.

 

“I’ve got clients in virtually every sector. And the most challenging time right now is in the restaurant and food services industry,” says Frank, explaining vaccination passports and the fact fewer people have been dining out are continuing factors hitting this industry hard.

 

Also, he says workplaces with an office and a production/manufacturing component also may see the natural divide between the two widen since the office workers likely were allowed to work from home during the pandemic.

 

“Companies have to be thoughtful about how they show appreciation to those people who’ve been at the workplace every day,” he says, adding celebrating the return of employees in a positive way would also be beneficial. “I like the idea of giving something tangible, like a gift card perhaps.”

 

Frank says connections must be cultivated as people return to their offices.

 

“What we’ve learned from this whole process is that finding ways to connect with people is so important,” he says.

 

For more information, visit Newman Human Resources or contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352.

 

Things for employers to consider as outlined by the Harvard Business Review:

 

Do:  

  • Ask - anonymously, if necessary – how people are feeling about returning to the office so you can respond directly to their concerns

  • Allow people to experiment with different ways of working so the shift to in-person or hybrid work doesn’t feel sudden. 

  • Continue to be compassionate — to your team members, and to yourself.

 

Don’t:  

  • Assume people are going to tell you that they’re feeling anxious

  • Neglect to make clear why in-person or hybrid work is beneficial to employees (not just to the company).

  • Make promises you can’t keep, such as assuring people their careers won’t be impacted by working from home or that they can do so indefinitely.

 

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The arrival of a third provincial shutdown could spell even more trouble to the food services sector, which has already been dealt a harsh blow since the pandemic began more than a year ago. 

 

According to a Statistic Canada survey (full survey: https://bit.ly/3t2CvbK) conducted from January to February of this year and released in March, nearly three-fifths (56.6%) of food services and drinking places were already anticipating their profits to drop between January and May of 2021 - even before this latest shutdown - compared to just over two-fifths (41.8%) of all businesses.

Tack these numbers on to the four-fifths (86.5%) of these businesses which already experienced a drop in revenue in 2020 compared to three-fifths (60.5%) of all businesses and it’s easy to see why those in this sector are feeling very frustrated.  

 

For Matt Rolleman, co-owner of Thirteen at the corner of Water and Main streets in Galt, learning to adapt to the roller-coaster of rules contained within the provincial COVID-19 Response Framework has been an ongoing challenge for him and others in the food services sector. 

 

“You don’t really plan for that,” he said, referring to the ‘up and down’ restrictions. “That’s been our biggest disappointment.” 

 

During the first lockdown last year, Matt said like many restaurants he was left with an abundant of product and nowhere to sell it. This included 22 kegs of beer which had been tapped and could no longer be sold.  

 

Like many other restaurant operators, he donated food to those in need in the community and had no choice but to dump the beer. 

 

“Since then, we’ve been more cautious when we bring in products,” he said, noting the introduction of a scaled-down menu which had been slowly increasing after the second lockdown ended in mid-February and Waterloo Region went into the ‘Red Zone’ allowing a maximum of 10 diners inside. 

 

In an interview just prior to this latest shutdown, Matt said he had brought back some additional staff and that a few above-seasonal days resulted in patrons enjoying the outdoors on Thirteen’s patio Main Street. In fact, he’s made an application to increase the restaurant’s patio along the Water Street side of the building.  

 

“Even being open in the modified Red Zone and business was good on the weekend,” he said, noting that patio season really won’t ramp up until the end of June.  

 

Add in takeout sales, something Matt said Thirteen did very little of before COVID-19, and he was seeing sales of up to 40% to 45% on a ‘good day’ of what he would have made prior to the pandemic. 

 

“But from that perspective, our business model wasn’t generated on the idea that we were going to do 50% to 55% less sales,” he said, adding utilizing the various support programs, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, are imperative to small business operators. 

 

“If there were no wage subsidies, we’d probably wouldn’t have re-opened, or we would have just been doing takeout at a very basic level because it just wouldn’t be worth it.” 

 

The survey shows that at their current level of revenue and expenditures, more than half (51.2%) of food services and drinking places are unsure how long they can continue operating. 

 

Fortunately, Matt said owning the building that houses the restaurant has helped but that many others are not in the same boat. 

 

“If I was a restaurant owner that had this much space that I was paying rent for I may have may have packed up my bags and went home for a while,” he said, adding that having cashflow on a busy day is helpful when it comes to paying the bills. 

 

“But the grant program (Small Business Support Grant) is crucial for us when we decide to increase our inventory and want to bring back more staff,” said Matt. 

 

He recommends SMEs like himself utilize as much government support as possible. 

“Just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks,” he said. “If you truly need it to help your business survive, then get at it. We’re all going to be paying it back anyways.” 

 

Matt, who describes himself as a realist, said he remains confident in his business but admits it’s difficult for him and his staff to stay optimistic, especially when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 safety protocols in addition to their regular work duties.  

 

“I think they’re just getting worn down,” he said, adding even seeing the framework return to the ‘Orange’ or ‘Yellow’ zones would boost morale. 

 

“I would love to see the Drayton theatre (Hamilton Family Theatre) open again but am not sure how that’s going to happen. It’s such a vital part of the downtown core just to bring people in.” 

 

But in the meantime, Matt said he finds hope in seeing more people being vaccinated and remains passionate about running his own business, which includes pitching in to help his staff as much as he can. 

 

“You need to go back to your grassroots of what you can do,” he said. “If that means I’m sweeping the floor and washing dishes, that’s life. It’s not necessarily where I saw myself being, but that’s what you do to keep your business alive if you truly believe in your business.” 

 

StatsCan survey at a glance: 

 

  • In 2020 nearly one-fifth (19.4%) of food services and drinking places made 30% or more of their total sales online, more than double the proportion that did in 2019 (9.1%).
  • Over four-fifths (86.5%) of food services and drinking places experienced a decrease in revenue in 2020 compared to three-fifths (60.5%) of all businesses.  
  • A decline in revenue of 40% or more in 2020 was a reality for over two-fifths (42.9%) of food services and drinking places, with those in Quebec (50.9%), Manitoba (47.9%) and Ontario (44.9%) most likely to see this level of loss. 
  • At their current level of revenue and expenditures, over half (51.2%) of food services and drinking places do not know how long they can continue to operate before considering closure or bankruptcy. 
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