Category Archives for "Business"

Big Grocer is Watching you!

By Randall Orser | Business , marketing strategy , Retail

Did you know that grocers are using artificial intelligence to make shopping faster, easier and far more trackable?  The new technology that they are using will one day, (and that is not too far away) allow you to put your shopping in your cart, and go straight to your car, load up and head home with no human contact and without having to wait in the checkout line or tap your debit or credit card. Sound unbelievable? well it is already in place and depending on how you look at what is really happening here you might see it as a good thing or a bad thing.

The new smart carts being rolled out have their own scanner so that customers can scan the items with barcodes before putting them into the cart.  If items do not have a barcode the cart's sensors will weigh them.  In the future we can expect the carts to have cameras, artificial intelligence and machine learning to recognize items placed into them without the use of a barcode. This invisible checkout system has been used in Asia for several years and it is now getting more and more available in North America.  The Amazon Go Grocery outlet opened in Seattle this year and at some Walmart urban super centre locations where customers can use the My Walmart app to scan products as they shop, bypassing checkout lines.  They pay via smartphone using a credit card already registered with the store and then exit through Fast Lane checkouts. 

For the consumer this is an ideal way to shop, they have control over the time they spend shopping and can choose their own produce, still impulse buy, monitor their grocery purchases to stay within their budget, avoid line-ups, and avoid having to pay (at least until their credit card statement arrives).

Behind the scenes the advantages for the grocer is that they can gather data about shoppers and their habits.  They are already doing this when you use your "Save on More" or equivalent card they can see what you buy and tailor their advertising emails to you to suggest discounts on items that you normally buy.   Grocery stores generate around $7 billion a month in sales and this is still growing.  

It is hoped that this automation will not mean that many people will lose their jobs, but instead will be moved to the sales floor to interact more with customers and answer questions about products, however some job losses will be inevitable.

From an article by Charlene Rooke

Do Businesses Need Better Access to Rent Subsidies?

By Randall Orser | Business , Retail

Though the emergency wage subsidies that the Government of Canada put in place have been reasonably successful according to Laura Jones the executive vice-president and chief strategic officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program has been a failure.

When tens of thousands of businesses were forced to shut down at the start of the pandemic many of these were immediately unable to pay their rent.  Though most financial experts recommend having at least a three month rainy day fund most businesses did not have that luxury before the crisis and and definitely do not now after an extended period of lost revenue and reduced operating hours.  Now so far into the pandemic even the most established businesses have drained their rainy day funds.  Back in June a survey showed that 50% of business owners could not make their rent without government help and 22% feared eviction.

Financial experts do not see an improvement in the situation going into 2021 so government relief programs will be of the highest important to support small businesses.   The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program has been a failure even though on paper it looked like a good idea.  Tenants would get a 75% break on their rent with provincial and federal governments kicking in 50% that is paid to the landlord with the landlord agreeing to take a 25% reduction in the total rent, in this way the burden would be shared.

There were two problems with this program, firstly the landlord has to agree to participate but many landlords want full rent so have not signed up.  Secondly only businesses who have suffered a 70% loss of revenue are eligible, this high amount means that many businesses are not eligible.  From this information it is not surprising that the finance department only spent less than 10% of it's committed funding on the CECRA program.  

Now that the CECRA has ended it is hoped that the a new commercial rent relief program will be rolled out that will allow tenants to access the 50% of government provided rent relief with or without the participation of their landlord and reducing the 70% loss of monthly revenue eligibility to something more reasonable.  As we are now in the second wave of the pandemic these changes are needed for the present and the foreseeable future.

From an article by Ali Amad

Suffering from Pandemic Induced Burnout?

By Randall Orser | Business , Employees , Home Based Business , Small Business

Covid-19 related stress and the blurring of your work life as a result of working from home may have you feeling out of balance. This is the same for the millions of Canadians who have transitioned to working remotely. While most enjoy not having to make the commute to the office many fill the saved time with more work which along with household chores, caregiving and navigating this covid-19 world can easily lead to burnout.  If this is you, here are some strategies that you might like to consider to help you gain greater ease in your life.

1. Work Smarter - it is important to have a schedule and stick to it.  Start work at a set time, check in regularly with work colleagues and team members and have a firm end of work day time.

2. Develop a Resting Strategy - make sure you plan to take quality rest time, whether it is daily, weekly or longer-term this will help you to retain the energy to have a successful work day.

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique - this involves breaking work down into intervals separated by short breaks, traditionally intervals are 25 minutes but they can be adjusted as necessary.  Do some work then take a break, go for a walk or do some other activity to allow your brain to rest then restart.

4. Watch what you eat and make sure to stay active - eating a balanced diet is important to stay healthy and prevent burn out, the better the fuel that you give your body the better you will feel and exercising is a must.  Think about taking an early morning walk before starting work it will set you up for the day.

5. Practice Mindfulness - Use small activities such as brushing your teeth or washing your hands to focus on your breathing and centring your body and self connecting. Be aware of how you are feeling, are you hungry or thirsty?

6. Name it to Tame it -  If you become upset or anxious about something ask yourself whether your feelings are anger, concern or exhaustion.  Naming aids help you to be self aware and manage your feelings.

7. Be Grateful - Take the time a few times a week to write down three things that you are grateful for, this will have a positive effect on your happiness and help with burnout, work-life balance and depression.

8. Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing - This involves inhaling deeply by expanding the lungs downward rather than inhaling using the abdomen or rib cage alone.  This technique has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

9. Release the Pressure - The pandemic has added more pressure and demands to our lives from personal and work responsibilities. Instead of adding more pressure by thinking that you should be doing things "better" or "faster" be kinder to yourself by recognizing when you are doing your best. 

10. Trust your Inner Resilience - Most of us want certainty in life so the uncertainty associated with Covid-19 is difficult to deal with.  It is important to realize that you are more adaptable than you think and what we are going through will not last forever.

11. Focus on the Here and Now - Instead of thinking that you cannot deal with the pandemic for another year focus on today and what you can do to make your life better.  We have to be positive that our businesses will come out of the pandemic stronger.

12. Make the Most out of Working Remotely - Make a new work schedule that allows you time for more rest and relaxation.  Learn how to keep your boundaries with others.  Learn new skills such as remote tools like Zoom.  Learn how to work effectively with your team while you are all apart.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin

The Inevitable Second Wave – How to Prepare your Business

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Employees

Experts tell us that a second wave of Covid-19 is inevitable and in some places it is already here.  Now is the time for your business to review the lessons you have learned in the past few months, and prepare for future disruptions.  More people have safely returned to work but even though it seems more like normal there is still the threat of a second wave.  It is a tough prospect for businesses already suffering from the impact of the first wave but making plans for further disruptions are necessary if they are to survive at all.  Here are some things that companies should consider.

  • Make sure that all members of the response team who have been working non stop take some downtime to rest.
  • Make an honest assessment of the weaknesses experienced in the first wave.  Everyone was learning so use what was learned and plan what could be done differently and more successfully the second time around.  Areas of concern should be logistics and distribution of equipment for people working remotely.
  • The response team needs to continue to compile best practices for a return to work so that employees can do so safely.  Regular meetings and communications with employees is important so everyone stays in the loop.
  • Plan for the financial impact of reduced hours or closure.  The past few months have been devastating for many businesses even though they have been helped by government subsidies. The decline in business could be even greater the second time around so it is important to be aware of programs still in place to help.  Revenue may not be the same as it was before the pandemic so business plans should be made with this in mind, reducing unnecessary spending and creating a financial cushion are most important. 
  • Creating a phasing out plan so that non-essential employees who have returned to work can quickly pivot to working remotely again and plans can be made for more essential workers to phase out of the office if needed to minimize interaction.  The phase out plan should also include how the organization will continue to operate including supply chains and communications to clients or customers.  It also may be necessary for your company to stockpile supplies.
  • Probably the hardest part of planning for a second wave is preparing mentally.  Employees at all levels will suffer anxiety over a loss of wages in event of a partial or full shutdown while they are still trying to adapt to the new normal.  It is important to create a healthy work environment for employees and if possible the company should consider providing counselling for its workers to help them come to terms with the changes.

From an article by Ethan Rotberg

Business Continuity in a Crisis

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Retail

Unplanned events can have a devastating effect on businesses and the beginning of the pandemic was definitely no exception.  As consumers stockpiled goods, stores and their supply chains struggled to keep up and keep shelves stocked.  What came out of this situation is the need for senior decision makers to have risk-management and crisis planning strategies in place.

If a business is to survive in a crisis it is important to have:

  • A well tested business continuity plan already in place 
  • Strong leadership to ensure swift and decisive action in response to a crisis
  • Quick and honest communications with employees, shareholders and other stakeholders and where appropriate the media
  • Compassion for employees and customers impacted by the crisis
  • Being prepared to adopt alternative working, technological or communication systems, including changes to company operations, providing personal protective equipment, continuous sanitizing of workspaces and equipment, training staff in new protocols, and where appropriate facilitating remote working for employees.
  • Having access to financial and other resources to help absorb the costs of the crisis, an early and aggressive review of cash flow and the development of a cash management plan

Unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis unfolded without much warning so it was difficult for businesses to make preparations beforehand. It was and is important for businesses to take advantage of all the help available from governments and other organizations.  There the operations of the business should be continuously reviewed and changes made when necessary.  Everyone involved with the business should be kept fully apprised of all changes to business operations.  Managers must be given the resources to be able to act quickly, decisively and effectively and they should know how to access external help and advice.

From an article by CPA Canada

How Covid-19 has Impacted Offices

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Employees

The pandemic left many employers scrambling to provide a safe working environment for office workers returning to work.  Offices had to make physical changes to keep employees apart and personal protective equipment had to be provided for those office employees that needed it.  Workers now had to wear visors or masks, shared workspaces had to be shielded with plexiglass dividers and narrow corridors had to be converted into one way aisles indicated by arrows and if possible it was necessary to have more open doors into the office.

Washrooms had to be refigured, every other stall closed off and the number of employees allowed in the washroom at one time to be reduced.  In-office meetings would have to change format, they would be smaller and had to be held in larger boardrooms or in common areas with better air circulation.  Some companies invested in anti-microbial spray to coat surfaces and desks to protect from bacteria build-ups.  With all these changes offices would definitely look and feel very different.

The biggest change was the number of employees that returned to the office.  The two metre physical distance rule mean't that there had to be fewer bodies in the office at any one time.  Most offices had only had 20-25% of their employees return to work in the first phase of the return to work and Samantha Sanella from Cushman and Wakefield believes that up to 30% of employees will never return to the office without a vaccine.  

Sanella believes that there will be a return to the private walled in offices instead of the open concept style of office. Although these type of offices take up more space and are more expensive to build many companies will make the changes to keep their critical workers safer. As the overall office space will be smaller they will have some workers continue to work from home.

These changes in office format will result in prospective tenants changing their criteria when looking for new office space.  They are going to be more focused on the health certifications of the space and new office spaces may have a new look with more open windows and outdoor space.   

Despite these necessary changes experts believe that offices will survive.   Even though people are working from home they want to return to the office and have a connection other employees.  

From an article by Adrienne Tanner

Find the Right Balance for your Remote Workers

By Randall Orser | Business , Cloud-computing , Covid-19 , Employees , Technology

Is your business planning to keep all or some of your employees working from home once the pandemic is over?  Though many giant companies are planning to keep employees working remotely, whether your company should do the same will depend on varying factors such the type of industry the size of your company and your available resources. Here are four things you should consider if you are planning to keep your workers working remotely.

1.  The resilience of your company and your employees - it can be difficult to create a workable balance between how things were done prior to the pandemic and how they will be done under the new conditions, and adjustments will need to be made. Companies can create a plan where some employees work from home and some work in the office, but remote employees should still have some on-site presence.  Distributing a workforce has to take into account business functions, workplace characteristics and office culture and weigh it against the preferences of the employer and employees.  As these changes will have quite an impact on your employees it is important that they are resilient and able to adapt to the changes so that their mental health, productivity and health and safety do not suffer.  

2.  Setting up a distributed workforce will require some logistics - work premises will need to adhere to new health and safety measures including ventilation, proper distancing and limited use of common spaces, but outside factors also have to be considered such as the use of public transit and access to the building.  Outside factors particularly can make it very difficult for a company to isolate itself even though they have the proper rules in place within the workplace they cannot control what is happening outside the office and the building.  Logistics for remote staff will include the home office set up, providing the equipment and technology and security measures to protect the business and it's information.  Clear remote working policies will need to be set including confidentiality agreements and compensation terms, vacation allowances and expense eligibility. 

3. Aligning employer and staff - some workers will want to return to the office but there will be those who prefer to remain at home.  The company needs to take into account each employees risk tolerance and remote working environment.  Not all employee situations are the same and can change, so employers and employees should be willing to be flexible as needs change. 

4.  One of the upsides of having remote workers is the ability to choose new employees from a wider pool of candidates anywhere in the world.  However these workers also come with additional responsibilities for the employer including adhering to different labour laws, tax laws and employment benefit obligations so it is important that the employer is familiar with the rules in each country where employees are working.  It is the new reality that many employees have made the change to work remotely and are looking for work that allows them to do that.  Employers need to pivot to accommodate these workers if they want to hold on to their talent and acquire new staff.  At the same time companies need to create an inclusive culture so that everyone feels part of the work team and this can include attending meetings in the office from time to time to keep in touch as face to face contact is invaluable.

From an article by Sophie Nicholls Jones

New Practices you Should Adopt Before Re-opening your Business

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Employees

As businesses are slowly reopening employees who have been working remotely may slowly be phased back into the office.  To do this safely employers have to consider changes that make sense to protect their employees while still operating effectively.  A risk assessment should be done to look at all potential risks such as those that are hygiene related, safety related or involve staff scheduling and deciding what measures need to be put in place to reduce them.

Here are five best practices that employers should think about putting in place to create a safe as possible workplace.

Create a Task Force and a Contingency Plan - Establish a team to monitor the workplace.  They can create a response plan should workers test positive for workplace disruption and enabling the business to continue.  All contingency plans should be continually revised to reflect the current situation and should document all response lessons learned over time.

Communicate Effectively - Employers should communicate their return to work and safety plans effectively either through the task force or the health and safety representative.  Most employees will be anxious about the return to work and these anxieties need to be addressed by employers strongly communicating the safety plans to their staff.  Staff need to be kept up to date either weekly or even daily by email or conference call so that they know what practices are being put in place or revised to protect employees from potential risks or exposure and how these practices will affect their jobs.  It is a good idea to involve employees in conversations and safety plans.

Plan to have a slow return to work - Some companies are finding that having staff working from home is working successfully while for others it is a short term solution which is not sustainable. Phased returns, staggered shifts and different start and end times are a good way of reducing risk so that only a portion of the workforce is present at a given time.  Many companies are now used to working with a remote workforce so employers can decide who must return to work as soon as possible and who can be gradually called back.  Employers should be more flexible when considering the individual circumstances of employees such as those who are at a higher risk of serious illness or those who need to have child care in place.  

Maintaining Distance in the Workplace - Whatever the plans for the return to work employees should be returning to a set of guidelines to help them to continue physical distancing.  Working closely together is difficult to avoid in change rooms or manufacturing lines and even in offices there are challenges that arise in elevators, kitchens, washrooms and boardrooms.  It might be necessary to do some office re-design or create pods of workers to optimize physical distancing.  

Additional Guidelines;

  • How to deal with non-essential visitors 
  • Should employers be taking non-essential travel?
  • Guidance around self-isolation
  • Plans for workers who start to feel ill at work including who they should notify.
  • Implementing cleaning and hygiene measures including cleaning and sanitizing all common areas and providing hand washing and hand sanitizer facilities.

In BC employers can find help through the following resources:  

From an article by Ethan Rotberg

Tips for Pivoting your Business During Covid-19

By Randall Orser | Budget , Business , Covid-19 , Employees

In the past few months we have seen companies take amazing leaps to change the way they do business and manufacturing businesses retool to make new products to meet changed market demands.  From distilleries and hair product manufacturers making hand sanitizer, to clothing manufacturers making surgical gowns, other industries making ventilators and fine dining restaurants turning to take-out and delivery.

It used to take companies a long time to develop strategies to change manufacturing plans but during the pandemic it has been necessary for businesses to make new plans at lightening speed in order to stay in business and keep their workers employed.

However many companies are struggling to meet this new reality and need help to reinvent themselves.  Lior Zehtser from Connect CPA says that "To pivot, you really need to think outside the box and be comfortable with taking a risk and experimenting with a different or unique business model.  Your idea obviously has to take the friction away from close contact, so that anything delivery based or "contactless" would be a great start.

Here are some ideas that might help you to make some decisions:

1. Solving Delivery Dilemmas - the need for delivery especially in the food services sector is insatiable. An outside of the box way of shopping and delivering unique goods to customers is a good idea for a new business. It can be expanded from food to all kinds of products that people would like to have but are not shopping for if they are only going out for necessities.   

2. Going Back to Basics - instead of producing your whole range of products concentrate on the ones that are most popular to make best use of your resources.  Companies are listening to what consumers want the most and are limiting their production to those high demand products instead of producing their whole range of products.

3.  Provide Entertainment -  as families are spending more time together at home offering them a diversion to relieve the boredom is a great idea.  Specialty bookstores and game stores are offering delivery services which are successfully increasing their bottom line.

4. Add to your Product Mix - for example if you are a company that usually delivers drinks or snacks to offices pivot to making home deliveries and add other basics such as milk, eggs and bread and fruit and vegetables.  Many restaurants are doing this by adding many of their sauces and desserts etc to their menus so that people can cook at home with gourmet foods as well as having meals delivered.

5. Make a Product to Help to Fill Health Needs - many distilleries are making hand sanitizers and hand wipes and offering them for free or at a discount to essential service providers.  This is a way to give back to the community and builds brand loyalty.   Many clothing manufacturers have pivoted to making face masks and surgical gowns as well as fashion face masks for sale direct to customers.  

6. Take your Business Online - live streaming and video conferencing are the new ways to stay connected and do business.  By doing this you can keep in touch with your customers and suppliers but at the same time have the chance to acquire a completely new audience.  

7.  Join a Group of Other Companies Seeking Solutions - to build contacts and nurture ideas to help to create opportunities for your business and others.

8.  Get Inspired Globally - look online and find inspiration from what others are doing.  Learn how other businesses around the world are adapting and discover new inventions from companies and individuals that are helping in the pandemic.

9.  Support your Community - connect with charities in your area to see how you can help your neighbours.  Offer discounts on the purchase and delivery of your products, everyone loves a deal and it brings in customers which will help your bottom line.

10. Keep yourself up to date with the latest trends - no matter when the crisis ends the way that businesses operate has changed forever.  It is important to stay on top of changing consumer demands and have a flexible plan to allow your business to keep adapting to meet those demands.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin

Four Things Not to Do While Working at Home During the Pandemic

By Randall Orser | Business , Cloud-computing , Employees , Freelancing

Many people and businesses were already considering working from home prior to the pandemic, but once social distancing became a reality it accelerated the movement from office to home working.  This has been a massive and sudden transition for everyone involved and it has brought about a new way of working for many of us.

While many thought that they would easily embrace working from home, many also found that it has a set of challenges to overcome.  So whether you are enjoying this new way of working or you are struggling here are a few things that you could do to make your working at home experience more positive and productive.

  1. Don't be Overwhelmed by Small Details  -  Don't be stressed by the sounds around you such as traffic, children and pets which can make your working conditions less than ideal. Other people are also dealing with these distractions, so when you make video or phone calls make light of your less than ideal working conditions to relieve your own anxiety.
  2.  Don't wear pyjamas all day and don't take video or phone calls while still in bed or in the washroom. As much as possible remain professional in your interactions with clients and peers. Get into the work mindset, dress appropriately and allow yourself the usual breaks that you would take if you were in the office.  Try and keep your work routine as normal as possible.
  3. Don't go silent, make sure you keep lines of communication open with other work colleagues and team members.  Set up regular check in times and video meetings this will provide you with regular updates and keep you feeling like you are still an important part of the team.
  4. Don't work in uncomfortable conditions.  It is easy to set yourself up with your laptop in bed or on uncomfortable chairs at the dining table but this will result in aches and pains which will distract you from the tasks that you are trying to complete.  Even if it is only a desk and chair in the corner of your bedroom, set yourself up with a comfortable and ergonomic workspace.

From Dr Laura Hambly on Global News