Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

On a warm summer day, the patio at Thirteen in downtown Cambridge is a popular spot.

 

The pedestrian-friendly space created by the temporary closure of Main Street between Water Street South and Ainslie Street North has enabled the restaurant and its neighbouring eateries to create an inviting atmosphere for residents and visitors as Ontario’s reopening continues in wake of the pandemic.

 

But despite this great potential, Thirteen co-owner Matt Rolleman has only been able to operate the restaurant five days a week due to a staffing shortage.

 

“The staff we have is great and they’ve worked so hard, but I would have to put everyone into overtime all the time if we wanted to remain open seven days a week,” he says. “Right now, we don’t use our second-floor restaurant at all. We definitely don’t have the staff for that.”

 

He’s not alone. Many industries – from construction to manufacturing to hospitality – are having difficulty finding workers.

 

According to Statistics Canada, as reported by the Financial Post in early June, an estimated 632,700 positions – approximately 4.1% of jobs in Canada - were vacant in March. This translates, according to the article, approximately 100 basis points higher than pre-pandemic levels.

 

Matt says by the fall his ultimate hope is to be able to run the restaurant at pre-COVID-19 levels.

 

“But it’s going to be a struggle,” he admits, adding while searching the job site Indeed Canada looking for staff, he’s noticed many people working in local restaurants seeking opportunities in other establishments.

 

“There’s been a lot of upheaval. Some people who’ve been out of the restaurant industry for the past year have decided they are not coming back and that’s just the way it is.”

 

Canadian Tire owner Kerry Leroux has also found himself facing a few hurdles when it comes to finding employees.

 

“We are in a constant state of hiring. We’re always looking for people,” he says. “You’re also in a constant state of training as well which makes it very difficult on the other staff, so we have to get them trained as quickly as possible.”

 

He says some retail businesses will put new employees right to work on the floor with virtually no training which is something he doesn’t do at his store which usually employs about 150 workers (about 40% of whom are full time).

 

“That’s really not fair to the employee or the customers when you do that,” says Kerry, adding this is the first time he’s experienced an employment situation like this since taking over the operation of the Pinebush Road store 10 years ago.

 

Like many, he finds it difficult to understand why there are so many job vacancies, considering

Canada’s unemployment rate in May was 8.2% which translated in the loss of 68,000 jobs.

 

But Brendon Bernard, a senior economist at Indeed Canada Corp., was quoted in the Financial Post explaining that the natural push and pull between the number of people seeking employment and available jobs has been thrown into turmoil by the pandemic.

 

Factors in this ‘upheaval’, according to the article, include a spike in demand for products and services in sectors that were already struggling to find qualified workers and potential health risks frontline workers face being exposed to COVID-19.

 

Couple these factors with enhanced employment benefits from the federal government, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and the pressure has been reduced for people when it comes taking what are considered as lower-paid jobs.

 

“Once the CERB was announced by the Feds that really slowed down the number of people applying for jobs,” says Kerry, noting that providing the benefit to students during January and February which are the slowest months in the retail business also didn’t help

“It made no sense at that time of the year for the government to hand over $500 a week to a student living at home,” he says, adding the money might have had more impact if it had been directed towards their education costs instead. “I think they (government) looked at it in the wrong way.”

 

For Mehrzad Salkhordeh, part owner of dB Noise Reductions Inc., a Cambridge-based engineering company that offers a variety of noise reduction solutions, he says the CERB has made it difficult for many small businesses.

 

“I think for the younger generation - not to stereotype or categorize – it won’t hit them until it hits them,” he says, adding the tax implications of collecting the benefit will eventually be felt. “When they do their taxes next year, they will see the impact and then they will start looking for opportunities. For them, I think next year is going to be wake-up call.”

 

Currently, he too has had trouble filling positions and says ongoing border closures has resulted in fewer qualified immigrants entering the workforce as well as international students from taking part time jobs in many sectors.

“I’m hoping with the vaccinations and with better progress we seem to be having with COVID-19 that things will go back to being a bit more normal,” says Mehrzad, adding there is a need now for the government to motivate and accommodate small businesses.

 

He says offering higher wages seems like an easy fix but doing so will quickly impact the bottom line for most small businesses.

 

“I think $20 an hour is a pretty good starting point for someone with no experience who is starting fresh. But I know you can’t live off $40,000 a year and feed a family and pay rent,” he says. “As a person I understand that. But as an employer, if I want to pay this person $25 an hour, I must raise my pricing and servicing and will not be able to maintain the business.”

 

Kerry says offering incentives – such as profit sharing and good benefits - and promoting how his store is ‘different’ from other retailers is imperative when it comes to finding workers.

 

“There’s a lot of jobs out there and people are coming in with very specific questions on what this job can do for me, and that’s fair,” he says. “I want them to ask those questions because I want them to see the differences between one or the other.”

 

Matt agrees finding the right person is vital but says even without CERB, which is scheduled to end on September 25, hiring workers will remain difficult taking into account new and larger employers in our Region, such as the suspected Amazon facility in the works near Blair.

 

“These opportunities are great and will employ a lot of people in terms of secure jobs. But I look at them as an opportunity for me to lose some staff,” he says, adding at his restaurant COVID-19 fears have lessened among staff due to ongoing and strict safety protocols. “There’s enough going on in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge right now so if someone wants to leave a job and find another job, they can do it relatively quickly depending on what they are looking for.”

 

According to Statistics Canada in March:

  • 4.1% of jobs in Canada – roughly 632,700 – were vacant
  • Canada’s unemployment rate was 8.2%, with another 68,000 jobs lost
  • Hospitality sector posted a vacancy rate of 7.4% (roughly 68,400) unfilled jobs
  • Construction sector posted a vacancy rate of 5.8% (roughly 58,300) unfilled jobs
  • Transportation & warehousing posted a vacancy rate of 3.9% (roughly 30,600) unfilled jobs
  • Retail posted a vacancy rate of 4% (roughly 75,300) unfilled jobs
  • Healthcare & social assistance sector’s job vacancy rate was 4.8% (roughly 104,200 jobs)

 

Source: Financial Post

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Cloudy morning skies gave way to afternoon sunshine which paved the way for a fun day at our recent Golf Classic.

 

The annual tournament, the first ‘official’ large golfing event held at the Galt Country Club since the pandemic began, brought out more than 80 participants July 12, many of whom couldn’t wait to hit the links again and reconnect with others outside of a virtual setting.

 

“It’s so nice to see camaraderie and nice to actually see people and faces,” said Energy+ CFO Sarah Hughes, after taking a swing mid-course during the day-long event.

 

She had already been golfing for a couple of weeks with her women’s league prior to our event but relished the chance to golf with members of her corporate team.

 

“One of the gentlemen is new to our team so this is a nice onboarding. And another gentlemen on my team I haven’t seen in-person in a year and half,” said Sarah. “It’s just so great to be able to see people.”

 

That same sentiment was shared by many of the participants as they made their way around the 18-hole course, and visited the sponsored holes spread throughout.

 

“I find it very energizing to see people and reconnect,” said Kristen Danson, Managing Partner at Mitographics Inc./Swift Components Corp., adding the tournament is a great way for operators of the businesses that sponsored holes to network. “It’s neat for them to have the chance to engage with Chamber Members. A virtual setting is hard for small businesses, and they really need to be here in-person talking to people.”

 

Networking and having the chance to meet people was something Anthony Gignac, an Associate at Racolta Jensen LLP Chartered Accountant, said he welcomed as a first-time participant at the Golf Classic.

 

“It’s great to have the chance to socialize and say hi to new people,” he said, while finishing his boxed lunch after a busy morning of golf.

 

Lunch and a take home dinner ‘kit’ created by the talented kitchen staff at Galt Country Club were provided to all the participants in keeping with Stage 2 safety protocols regarding indoor dining. (Waterloo Region was scheduled to move into Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan on Friday, July 16).

 

In terms of the COVID-19 protocols, participants said they felt very safe.

 

“People are just so glad to be outside. I don’t think there’s as much apprehension or hesitation considering vaccination rates,” said John Tyrrell, Sales Manager at TD Commercial Banking.

 

Erica Tennenbaum, Wealth Advisor at RBC Dominion Securities, agreed and said she felt comfortable with people’s mask etiquette.

 

“It’s just so nice and refreshing and heartwarming to see everybody,” she said.

John echoed that same feeling.

 

“It’s just nice to be out of the office and see people’s faces again and golf is really the only thing you can do in a larger group setting, so it’s nice to see some familiar faces again,” he said.

 

Having the opportunity to not only reconnect with both familiar and new Members helped make the day a success said Cambridge Chamber CEO and President Greg Durocher.

 

“We’re thrilled we could provide our Members and their guests with the chance to not only meet safely but have a great time doing something that’s familiar and fun. We all can use it considering how tough the last year and half has been,” he said. “We also appreciate the support of our many sponsors for helping to create such a memorable event for everyone.”

 

Plans are in the works for our annual Fall Scramble, so please keep an eye on our Events calendar for more.

 

For a look at photos from our Golf Classic and a list of prize winners, please visit: https://bit.ly/3AEyTkB

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The news we heard Thursday from Waterloo Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang was extremely disappointing to us. Our Board of Directors adamantly encourages all businesses to practice within the law but also echoes your concerns and disappointment at this decision.

 

In fact, officially, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce does not support Dr. Wang’s recommendation to keep the Waterloo Region in Stage 1 of Ontario’s reopening framework, considering the rest of the province will be moving into Stage 2 on June 30, an estimated two weeks ahead of our Region. As such, we would have preferred this move to Stage 2 remain on hold until Waterloo Region can catch up.

 

In fact, our Region did its best to help the province in the early stages of the third wave through the redirection of vaccines to hotspots around the GTA to curb the spread in those communities which significantly helped, but in the end proved detrimental to us, so it seems only fair to suggest some courtesy be extended to the citizens of Waterloo Region.

The Region has been calling for a ramp up of vaccine allocations and while that has started to occur, it is in fact a case of too little too late.

 

We understand the worries surrounding a possible fourth wave if dramatic steps are not taken and are very aware of the threat the Delta variant poses, especially amid troubling reports of people who are not following the provisions of the law by gathering in groups which in turn are creating community and workplace outbreaks. Currently, we are now seeing COVID-19 patients being transferred to hospitals outside our Region due to capacity concerns.

 

This is all very frustrating and discouraging to think that people would intentionally break the rules, risk lives, and in the end hurt businesses.

 

Our local Public Health officials have determined that if we do not hold back a bit, we will very likely see a fourth wave that could easily spread provincewide resulting in not only another round of restrictions, but another potential lockdown.

 

Keeping this in mind, we are continuing our efforts to fight for added supports from both the Federal and Provincial levels of government and calling for more vaccines so we can protect our community and get things open sooner. The Chamber will continue to do all it can to support, guide and advise to the best of its ability until this crisis finally comes to an end.

 

Sincerely,

 

Greg Durocher

President/CEO

 

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Positive online reviews and endorsements can be very important for small to medium-sized businesses.

 

Unfortunately, unscrupulous competitors or those with an ulterior motive can sometimes try to use these tools to their advantage and sabotage these businesses by posting negative fake reviews.

 

The Competition Bureau Canada is an independent law enforcement agency that ensures that Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competition and innovative marketplace. And fake reviews and ensuring truth in advertising in our digital economy are on the Bureau’s radar.

 

“Generally, anyone who posts fake endorsements or reviews could be liable under the Competition Act,” says Josephine Palumbo, Deputy Commissioner, Deceptive Marketing Practices Directorate, Competition Bureau.

 

Enforcing the Competition Act is a key responsibility of the Competition Bureau, and the Act’s deceptive marketing provisions prohibit any business from making materially false or misleading claims to promote a product, service or business interest. A ‘claim’, which refers to any marketing material – such as any in-store ads, social media messages, promotional emails, and endorsements, among other things – is ‘material’ if the general impression it conveys leads someone to take a particular course of action, like buying or using a product or service. When determining if such a claim is false or misleading, the courts will consider the ‘general impression’ it conveys as well as its literal meaning.

 

The Bureau has previously pursued enforcement action related to fake reviews. In 2015, the Bureau concluded that Bell employees were encouraged to post positive reviews and ratings on the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store, without disclosing that they worked for Bell giving the impression they were independent and impartial consumers. The Bureau and Bell reached a consent agreement, putting an end to the practices, and sending a strong message that this kind of conduct is not tolerated.

 

And more recently, an investigation resulted in $5.8 million in penalties for FlightHub in 2021 after the Bureau determined the online flight-booking company made numerous false or misleading claims, even penning positive customer reviews to promote its services. Besides the penalties, as part of the settlement with the Bureau, FlightHub was required to remove any online reviews that were posted by or on behalf of the company but appeared to be from customers.

 

“Anyone who believes they have been misled by fake reviews or who has been approached with offers to post fake reviews, is encouraged to file a complaint with the Bureau using our online complaint form ,” says Ms Palumbo, adding the Bureau addressed the issue of fake reviews in a consumer alert in 2014 and in its Deceptive Marketing Practices Digest in 2015. Besides fake reviews, the Bureau recommends that SMEs contact them if they believe a competitor is engaged in price-fixing, bid-rigging or deceptive marketing. As well, they should be contacted if an SME believes a dominant business in the market is abusing its dominance to harm or discipline its competitors, or that a merger in their market would prove harmful to competition.

 

Besides fake reviews, the Bureau recommends that SMEs contact them if they believe a competitor is engaged in price-fixing, bid-rigging or deceptive marketing. As well, they should be contacted if an SME believes a dominant business in the market is abusing its dominance to harm or discipline its competitors, or that a merger in their market would prove harmful to competition.

 

“Enforcing Canada’s competition laws and advocating for increased competition in regulated sectors is good for all businesses,” says Ms Palumbo. “It promotes a level playing field where businesses have an equal opportunity to prosper based on their merits. Fair competition between businesses also drives them to innovate as they seek to attract consumers by offering better products and services than their competitors.”

 

The Bureau provides many resources to help SMEs comply with the law and avoid potentially devastating consequences of an investigation. These include guidance on establishing a Compliance Program.

 

In addition, the Bureau provides numerous tips and advice to SMEs to protect themselves from fraud.

 

To find out more,  please visit: https://bit.ly/3g9RBIH

 

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As vaccine rollout accelerates in Ontario, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) latest report offers solutions to support small businesses during economic recovery.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a cash flow crisis for many entrepreneurs and small business owners across Ontario who represent 98% of all Canadian businesses and contribute close to half the GDP generated by the private sector. Recognizing the critical role of entrepreneurship in Canada’s economic recovery, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and OCC’s latest report – Capital is Key:  Financing Entrepreneurship in Ontario After COVID-19 – offers practical solutions to support small businesses as they fuel Ontario’s economic advantage.  

 

“We know that Ontario’s economic recovery will largely be driven by entrepreneurs engaged in launching and scaling their enterprises,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Even in good times, small business owners encounter challenges at various stages of growth. Real progress can come from redoubling efforts to eliminate barriers and advancing creative solutions to improve access to capital and other resources.”

 

“Entrepreneurial diversity should be recognized as a powerful strategy for Ontario’s economic recovery and long-term prosperity,” said Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Manager, Ontario Chamber of Commerce “Equal opportunities for women, Indigenous, racialized, and other diverse groups in the entrepreneurial ecosystem is necessary for both their own recovery and that of the entire province.  For example, closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship alone could add up to $81 billion to Canada’s GDP.”

 

This latest policy brief identifies 14 policy recommendations to improve financing of entrepreneurship, from loan guarantees to tax incentives, capital market reforms, procurement policies, and more.

 

The report also addresses eight key challenges policymakers must navigate as they look for ways to improve financing options and access to capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses:

  • RISKY BUSINESS: Small businesses (particularly start-ups) are generally riskier to finance than larger ones because they have shorter credit histories, fewer assets, and lower survival rates.
  • SCALE-UP FIRMS: Although Ontario excels at producing start-ups, the province has been less successful at turning high-growth firms into global competitors.
  • DIVERSITY: Barriers to accessing capital are uneven across demographic groups, which limits opportunities for some entrepreneurs and undermines broader social and economic outcomes.
  • DEBT: Despite relatively low interest rates, debt is not always the right solution for small businesses, particularly those with less collateral and/or irregular cash flows. Loans often require personal guarantees, and not all entrepreneurs have sufficient assets to provide as collateral.
  • WORKING CAPITAL: Over the past decade, Canadian businesses have signaled a growing need for external capital to cover day-to-day operating expenses. Working capital is especially important for start-up firms that may lack adequate cash flows to reinvest in their businesses in the first several months. However, in Canada, most government-supported loans and grants are designed for other uses, such as technology adoption.
  • INDUSTRY BIAS: Private equity and venture capital investors tend to have more appetite for sectors that are considered knowledge-intensive, such as information technology and biotechnology. As a result, more traditional brick-and-mortar businesses (such as restaurants and retail stores) may have limited access to equity investments.
  • PANDEMIC PRESSURES: As temporary grant and loan programs expire, many small businesses will need access to new financing or refinancing to grow, restructure, or simply keep their doors open.
  • SUCCESSION: Ontario’s aging population has implications for small business succession. By 2030, the number of seniors aged 65 and over is projected to almost double to 23 percent of Ontario’s population.

Read the report:  https://bit.ly/3vnA0Cf

 

We would like to acknowledge and thank Meridian Credit Union and Innovate Cities for their collaboration on this policy brief.

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The concept of remote working was something many employers never entertained, or wanted to entertain, before the world changed in March of last year. 

 

“A lot of people didn’t think working from home would work so there was a huge amount of skepticism as people went into this,” says Frank Newman, owner of Cambridge-based Newman Human Resources Consulting. “People were pretty suspicious.” 

 

However, he says the fact what some considered to be an ‘experiment’ is working out so well has resulted in new issues. 

 

“People may be reluctant to go back to the way things were so it’s having an impact on companies, and even an impact on home sales as buyers ensure their house has a home office.” 

 

As well, after more than a year operating in this new reality many employers may have productivity concerns when it comes to managing a remote workforce and continue to look for ways to ensure staff is performing at their optimum best. 

 

“What I have told my clients first of all is that people are not going to be 100% as effective working from home. They are going to be subjected to certain amounts of distractions, or disruptions,” says Frank, adding 95% effectiveness is a more likely figure. 

 

He says there are ways companies can help employees achieve their goals, without monitoring emails or logins or using various types of tracking technology. 

 

“If companies are trying to manage their employees’ work each minute of the day that’s not going to be very successful,” says Frank. 

 

Instead, he recommends setting out clear expectations in an agreement. 

 

“Do they have clear performance expectations and what are they accountable for delivering on a daily, weekly or monthly basis,” he says. “For example, if an employee is working from home does the manager expect a response to emails within an hour or 24 hours? It’s important to create some service level of expectations so people can gauge their performance and also managers can ensure employees are accountable for those standards.” 

 

Regular communication is very important says Frank, noting that ‘blasting’ employees with emails is not the answer.  

 

“For managers, to worry about whether employees are checking their emails is not necessary,” he says, adding platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Slack are great tools to cultivate engagement. 

 

“This is really the time to make sure you’re connecting with your employees if you’re worried about productivity,” he says. “That (productivity) will be the first thing to go if people are not engaging. They’re going to ‘check out’.” 

 

Lack of engagement is one of many warning signs experts say can indicate an employee working remotely could be struggling. Others can include unusual errors, poor work quality, missed deadlines, increased sick days, or being withdrawn during team meetings, in some cases keeping their cameras turned off.  

 

“They may stop volunteering for things and that’s a key sign, especially if you have someone who was always keen in the past to put up their hand and volunteer,” says Frank, adding  

the occasional one-on-one meeting can be very beneficial for both parties as long as it’s not conducted in an intrusive way.  

 

“Make sure you’re checking in on your employees to see how they’re doing, not just from a work point of view, but to find out how are things for them at home. Are they struggling trying to work with their kids at home?” 

 

He says this could lead to talks about mental health – which should be documented on the part of the employer – and possible supports or tools that could increase their productivity, such as an additional monitor or a new office chair. 

 

Keeping a company’s work culture thriving is also very important which is why Frank says many of his clients are utilizing a variety of ways to ensure employees stay connected. 

 

“I have one client that holds a virtual reality ‘drink’ every week for its employees,” he says, adding another client hosted a very moving online memorial service to celebrate the life of an employee who had passed away from an illness. 

 

“I’ve also been encouraging my clients to provide a physical appreciation for their employees,” says Frank, noting a coffee mug or a gift card can go a long way to keeping the lines of communication open. “And include the spouse because for many of us, the spouse is the one who is seeing all the work that we do.” 

 

He says many employees working remotely may now be ‘re-evaluating’ their career choice, which could spell trouble for some companies. 

 

“People will remember how companies behaved during this time and if you’re not taking the time to connect, there’s going to be a price to pay at some point,” he says. “Once the pandemic ends, I suspect we’re going to see a huge spike in people who are discontented with their jobs and say now is the time to move on.” 

 

For information, visit https://newmanhumanresources.com 

 

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Working from home has become the norm for thousands of people since the start of the pandemic and many may wish to continue that practice.

 

However, the question of work location is just one of many items on a growing list of work-related issues that are likely to capture additional attention as more of us are vaccinated lowering the risk of the spread of COVID-19, allowing employers to begin to try to get back to “normal”.

 

“A key issue right now is for employers to review their employment contracts and policies,” urges Melissa Roth, a human resources, labour and employment lawyer at Pavey Law LLP in Cambridge. “It’s a very worthwhile investment.”

 

She says changes in general, with respect to termination provisions, as well as changes brought about since the initial shutdown in March 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have made it imperative for employers to revisit their employment contracts and policies.

 

“At first we didn’t have any plans for this in terms of a structure for what was going to happen when businesses were closed,” she says, referring to the laws that were in place in accordance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) at the time of the first lockdown. “At the end of the day, when you lay off someone you are terminating their position if you do not recall them back to work after a specific period of time.”

 

She says the introduction of the deemed Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) changed that from an ESA perspective, allowing those temporarily laid off under the ESA due to COVID-19 to be classified as being on a job protected leave.

 

“But if you didn’t have that right reserved in your employment contract, then this is still known as a constructive dismissal in the courts,” says Melissa, noting many employers are now facing potential legal claims from employees.

 

As well, the continued ability to work from home, like other aspects of the working relationship, is a function of the individual’s employment contract, job duties and other factors.

 

“You, as an employee might be excited about continuing to work from home and may want to keep doing that but if the employer tells you that you have to come back to work, you likely have to come back,” she says, adding employees, under certain circumstances, may be able to request to continue working remotely based on protected grounds under the Human Rights Code. These requests could centre around disabilities or family issues, such as children being too young to be left at home alone since changes to the Education Act have permitted parents to keep their children out of schools.

 

“There are a lot of factors that play a role in a request to stay home and continue to work from home,” says Melissa, adding if there are no human rights grounds to remain home and it was not written into the contract, there is likely an expected obligation that an employee will return to the workplace. “There’s a lot to consider and the answer is never a black and white issue.”

 

She says some employers already had telecommuting policies in their work contracts because working remotely was already part of their regular business, but that even these policies may need updating.

 

“As an employer, you are going to have to consider if it is essential for your employee working at home to be available during core hours or whether they can make up their time throughout the day,” says Melissa. “In turn, the employee will have to know what the expectations are when working from home.”

 

As well, she says the Occupational Health and Safety Act and WSIB concerns have to be taken into consideration when assessing the possibilities of continuing to work from home.

 

“A person may be working from home and an employer still has certain obligations to take every precaution that’s reasonable under the circumstances for the protection of their worker,” says Melissa. “All of these issues have to be taken into consideration.”

 

She also encourages these considerations be included in the contracts of new hires and in employment policies.

 

Melissa mentioned that employers should turn their minds to other issues such as rapid testing and vaccination policies as they pertain to the workplace.

 

“You should have this in writing,” says Melissa, noting businesses should provide their employees with clear messaging and embrace this time as the opportunity to update their policies and contracts. “I’m just speculating, but the next pandemic is likely not going to take 100 years so let’s be prepared for this to happen.”

 

For more, visit: https://bit.ly/3hnBb0b

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It’s been just over a month since the first batch of rapid antigen screening kits were distributed to Waterloo Region SMEs through a pilot program created in partnership with the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce and Communitech.

 

And since that time, close to 2,000 of these SMEs (under 150 employees) are now offering their workers the opportunity to screen twice a week, with more placing their orders via our ‘www.chambercheck.ca’ (recent winner of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Power of the Pivot Award) site every day as businesses continue to look for ways to navigate their way through this pandemic.

 

The program is now being rolled out provincially and nationally thanks to the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce who are currently working with other Chambers and government leaders to ensure all SMEs have access to this valuable ‘weapon’ in the fight against COVID-19.

 

“In my 20 years with the Chamber, I can’t think of another program in the Chamber Network that has had a much impact on business as this program has had,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “I’m so proud to be the Chamber where it started and was piloted because it gives me confidence in our ability to deliver national programs that are innovative.”

 

He says the need for rapid screening to identify those who are asymptomatic was first noted by members of the BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region) during the early days of the pandemic. The team, which Greg serves on with representatives from the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, Great Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, Communitech and Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation, was formed 13 months ago to assist local businesses address COVID-19-related challenges.

 

“We knew testing and more testing was key when it comes to controlling the spread and understanding its impact on people and the economy,” says Greg, who credits Communitech President and CEO Iain Klugman with procuring the kits from the Federal Government who were distributing them at the provincial level in long-term care facilities and larger essential workplaces only.

 

“They (Province) really didn’t have a mechanism in place to get them out to smaller and medium-sized businesses,” he says, noting the two local Chambers joined forces to assist once the Province approved that screenings could be conducted by non-healthcare providers since the procedure is not as ‘evasive’ as a PCR test. The Abbott Panbio Antigen kits provided through the Chamber program are more than 90% effective.

 

“We knew we were part of a pilot project to determine if this was feasible and acceptable and workable in every jurisdiction in Canada,” says Greg, adding bringing the screening kits directly to workplaces rather than have employees visit a secondary location to be screened, was clearly the best option.

 

He likens the journey to building an airplane during mid-flight.

 

“We kind of built the program in real time, not unlike on what’s happened during the pandemic,” says Greg, adding the Chambers have also developed a ‘playbook’ which is being used as a guide for other Chambers to help them set up their own programs.

 

Locally, orders are placed at www.chambercheck.ca and volunteers prepare the kits for pick‐up at the Cambridge Chamber’s office at 750 Hespeler Rd. A representative from each SME responsible for supervising the self‐screening collection onsite is needed for the initial pick‐up and receives video training to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of the used kits. Each SME is required to electronically submit their screening results and the accumulated data is reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly. If a screen results in a positive for COVID‐19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test at an approved Public Health Collection Site and await further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“This program is not intended for employees working at home,” says Greg, noting Ontario’s current Stay at Home Order clearly indicates even those employed by an essential business, must work from home if they can. “They’re already  safe at home, so they shouldn’t be coming into the workplace.”

 

He says rapid screenings are voluntary and admits that some employees, for personal reasons, may be hesitant to take part.

 

“But you could remind them that it’s not about them, this is about the people who work around them,” says Greg, adding when someone tests negative, they feel more confident and comfortable working around others and being around their own families. “We’ve noticed through this whole process that this has become more of a mental health tool as much as it has become a medical tool.”

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The importance of rapid screening in the battle against this pandemic has been seen as the preferred weapon of choice near the top of the wish-list of health experts and members of the business community since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected more than a year ago.

 

Thanks to the recent introduction of our pilot project that is seeing thousands of Abbott Panbio Antigen screening kits distributed to Waterloo Region SMEs (under 150 employees), many local businesses now have the capability to conduct rapid screening.

 

“If all businesses would jump on board with this process, then we would be able to keep a better eye on the virus as well as the variants,” says Cynthia Fernandez, owner of Accurate Auto Appraisal in Cambridge.

 

She is among at least 1,500 businesses in our region that have utilized the free kits through the www.chambercheck.ca website since the initiative was launched April 5.

 

The goal of the program, created through Health Canada and in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and Communitech, is to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals in effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

Volunteers prepare the kits for pick-up at Cambridge Chamber’s office at 750 Hespeler Rd. and in keeping with all the necessary safety protocols, a designate from each SME receives video training when they pick up their kits that explains how to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of the used kits.

 

“We know that rapid screening has always been the key when it comes to curbing the spread and having these kits is a great way to assist our SMEs get back on track after a difficult year,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. 

Cynthia agrees.

 

“It is a very nerve-wracking thing to still go to work (outside of the home) and know that it’s still a very real possibility,” she says, referring to the threat of contracting the virus. “Everyone who works for Accurate is very receptive of the screening and it provides a peace of mind for them and their families as well.”

 

Shimco President and CEO Peter Voss has discovered the same after utilizing screening kits for his staff.

 

“Employees have commented that they feel safer now coming to work, and they are more comfortable going home to their families now,” he says, noting they are conducting the recommended two sets of screenings every week.

 

In accordance with safety protocols, if a screen results in a positive for COVID-19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test at an approved Public Health Collection Site and await further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“Our employees see it as a positive addition to our already strict COVID cleaning and screening procedures,” says Sara Chamberlin, Human Resources Manager at Cambridge Hotel & Conference Centre.

 

At Swift Components Corp., Managing Partner Kristen Danson says having the kits has instilled confidence in her employees, including two additional hires the company made after she picked up her first order of kits the day the program was launched.

 

“Initially, when I said to them it was onsite work, they were quite cautious which is to be expected when starting in a new workplace,” she says. “(The kits) have really helped the new people to our organization see that we are taking this seriously and we have a process in place to control things.”

 

Besides helping employees, having a rapid screening process in place has also inspired more confidence for the clients of these businesses.

 

“For vehicle appraisal, it is very calming for the customers that we need to see in person to know that any of our appraisers that come out to see them are in fact negative, as well as vaccinated,” says Cynthia. “We are so very blessed to be able to have access to them; I feel that it has been a helping with anything that we need to see in person.”

 

The majority of those who’ve accessed the kits say the process is relatively easy to navigate in terms of ordering and administering them.

 

“You have to find a way that works in your system,” says Kristen, explaining how at Swift Components the first round of screenings were administered in a boardroom. “It took forever to rotate people through. But then we realized we have a cart with wheels that we were able to take out into the production area and literally do the screenings on the shop floor.”

 

She says this simple change expediated the process considerably.

 

“You just have to look at your process and space and figure out what works.”

 

Kristen says her company has picked up a second order of kits.

The initial orders provide businesses with two weeks of screening kits, but most are interested in obtaining more.

 

 “Should we use the supply we have been given, we will be requesting more as we continue to promote the benefits of the program to our team,” says Sara.

 

Peter feels the same.

 

“I know it’s not possible currently, but I liked to do the screenings daily if there was enough supply,” he says, adding his employees are screened before they even enter the building.

Each SME is required to electronically submit their screening results after each occasion and the accumulated data will be reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly.

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The pandemic has created many new shifts, especially when it comes to how millions of Canadians now spend a typical workday.

 

Even before this latest provincial stay-at-home order took effect April 8 requiring all those who can work from home to stay there, a recent Labour Force Survey indicated that 3.1 million Canadians were already working from home temporarily due to COVID-19 as of February 2021.

 

And for those working in their home office - which can translate into a spare room, the kitchen table or even the couch- trying to stay healthy can be difficult, especially when it comes to nourishment and physical activity.

 

“I think some people are working extra hard at home. They’re not having separation of home and work and don’t stop to eat, so they’re not nourishing themselves as well as they should be,” says Janet Jacks, founder of the highly successful Ontario-based organic food and supplement retailer Goodness Me! Natural Food Market. “And other people, because the food is nearby and there are little breaks, they go and grab something and are snacking a lot.”

 

Janet says there has been a shift from the when the pandemic began, and Ontario went into its first lockdown in March of last year.

 

“In the beginning, people were so anxious to eat well and improve. I really sense that people took an interest in eating better food,” she says, noting the popularity of the home baking trend last year. “But I feel like people are tired and although in their mind they know they want to eat better; they just feel like it’s not always easy.”

 

Shane Gray, owner of Rio Nectar Eatery in Cambridge and Guelph, agrees and says many people are even busier at home, whether with work or new hobbies, so eating healthy doesn’t appear to be an option.

 

“People are still grabbing fast food and choosing less healthy options because I’m also finding we’re getting fatigued quicker,” he says, adding the pandemic has left many feeling unbalanced. “As human beings, we need balance and we’re all off balance right now.”

 

That’s why scheduling is so important, says Ashley Viljoen, Regional Manager for Anytime Fitness.

 

“First and foremost, the best advice I can give someone is stick to a schedule just like you would on a workday,” he says. “If you normally work to 9 to 5, make sure you work 9 to 5. If you used to go to the gym from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., still make the time to get out and exercise and be active during that time.”

 

To ensure its members remain connected, Anytime Fitness has been offering online coaching to encourage them to keep up with their routines and stay in the best physical shape they can be, especially with the threat of COVID-19 variances. 

 

“We have a team of coaches that look after them and provide them with online workouts,” says Ashley, explaining it was something the company was looking at prior to the pandemic and expects will continue. “We’re trying to find a market that’s going to accommodate everyone at the end of the day.”

 

He says working out a home doesn’t require a great deal of equipment or space.

“You don’t need a whole apartment to enable you to do a workout,” says Ashely, noting even canvas shopping bags and water bottles or cans that can be adjusted for weight can work for an ‘at home’ training session. “All our workouts that we’ve based it on have been based on functional body weights and exercises.”

 

Staying active, says Shane, who is a parttime paramedic and fitness enthusiast, is vital and urges people to get out of their home office and move around.

“Go for a quick walk, do something,” he says. “It’s not just important for your physical health but overall mental health.”

 

But when it comes to eating, Shane suggests prepping meals ahead of time using non-processed meats like chicken or beef that can be quickly heated up is a great option during a busy workday.

 

“Most meals when you prep them can sit for about three days in the fridge, so now you’ve got something there you can throw in the microwave and eat,” he says, adding eating ‘clean food’ is important for a healthy lifestyle.

 

Janet, who opened her first store in 1981, couldn’t agree more and says eating healthy will manifest itself into being more productive at work.


“If we could feel more energetic and feel like we’re sleeping better and have more energy for other things it is more self-motivating,” she says, noting the staff at Goodness Me! can offer some great nutritional advice.

 

10 pieces of advice from Janet Jacks regarding healthier eating while working at home:

 

1. Create a hydration plan.

“When we are thirsty, we tend to sometimes misinterpret that as hunger and we’re eating when our body is really saying please drink something.”  She recommends keeping a container of green tea or ginger tea, or even lemon water around. Also, if water is too ‘boring’ try throwing in some cucumber slices. She says ginger tea is especially cleansing and very detoxifying. “Whatever it might be, we need a plan to keep us hydrated because will be more clear-minded and have more energy and our body will work better.”

 

2. Watch what you put in your grocery cart.

“When you’re shopping, stock up on real food options, use fresh whole foods.” This includes things like raw cheeses, avocados, nuts, olives, easy vegetables, Bok choy, naturally fermented pickles, tuna and salmon. She recommends sauteing some Bok choy or cabbage in a frying pan for a few minutes and enjoying it with a plate of vegetables is a quick and easy lunch.

 

3. Plan for leftovers.

“Some people are great at using leftovers, and others will see them languish at the back of the fridge and they will end up being thrown out. I think you should even plan for it.” She says leftovers quite often are good for one person, which is great for lunch. She suggests cooking some hearty crockpot or Instant Pot meals that will provide leftovers. Or at dinner, she says cook extra vegetables so you will have some left for lunch the next day. “You can eat these things cold and they are very good, or you could warm them up quickly.”

 

4. Keep boiled eggs handy.

“Just have some in a bowl in the fridge. They’re so hearty and so healthy. All you need is a little bit of salt and you’re good to go. They’re great for snacking or lunch.” Also, she says they provide a great source of protein.

 

5. Make or buy soup.

“I know we’re coming into warmer weather, but a pot of soup is like planned leftovers. Having a big pot of soup in the fridge actually improves with sitting and you can just take out what you need. It’s so fast and hearty. What’s not to like?”

 

6. Each meal should have balance.

“Every time you eat, try to avoid grabbing a cookie and think about I need protein and fat and some kind of vegetable. If I’m going to eat a cookie, it could for dessert as part of that meal.” She refers to this thinking as foundational nutrition and says meal portions are not as important as balance.

 

7. Utilize flexible hours.

“We have these flexible hours which are a great way to try intermittent fasting. It can be a very healthy mechanism. You eat your meals within a more compact window, rather than spread out.” She compares this to the way farmers eat breakfast after they finish their morning chores, suggesting people who work at home could eat their first meal later in the morning after they start work leaving only a few hours before they consume dinner. As a result, she says if they don’t snack in the evening, they could wind up with at least 10 hours or more between their next meal. “That way you give your body more chance to use what you’ve eaten and process everything. Often people feel better when they do this.”

 

8. When you eat, just eat.

Janet says taking the time while eating to stop and savour your food, is important for digestion.

 

“You allow your digestion to have more power. Take a breath and enjoy the colours and the flavours of your food. Sometimes we eat and don’t even know what we just ate.”

 

9. Focus on food with a function.

“Food should taste delicious, but also have a function in the body. Think about food as nourishment that lowers stress or builds immunity, or soothes and restores and rebuilds your digestive system, or keeps inflammation at bay because that’s the root of disease.” She says knowing what foods can help your body is important. “When you’re shopping, rethink food. Respect food and while eating it, think this is taking care of my body while I’m enjoying it.”

 

10. Remember and recall.

“Quality food speaks volumes, and you can feel the difference.”

 

For more information or tips, visit https://goodnessme.ca, https://rionectar.ca and https://anytimefitness.com

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