Category Archives for "Covid-19"

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

Be Wary of Adding a Covid-19 Surcharge to your Business

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Retail , Small Business

As businesses reopen they have to try and make up lost revenue while at the same time having additional operating expenses due to Covid-19.  According to a survey in May by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) 70% of Canadian businesses reported a 30% drop in revenue and the other 30% reported a 40% drop.  On top of these losses businesses have had to cover the cost of the new health and safety protocols including social distancing, cleaning, sanitizing and personal protective equipment.

To try and offset these new expenses some businesses have introduced a Covid-19 surcharge a fixed amount or percentage which is added to the total bill.  While this surcharge is understandable because of the extra cost of dealing with customers during the pandemic, there are some considerations that should be made prior to passing these costs onto the customer.

1.  Consider the ways that you can make extra revenue - these could include making the surcharge optional or donation based, adjusting services or products offered or increasing prices.  The pandemic has had a greater impact on small businesses but they should still take time to consider what is the best way for them to adjust to this new norm and whether it will be temporary or permanent.  They should make sure that they have exhausted all government relief options before charging customers extra.   It should also be a time to focus on giving exceptional service to clients so as to not lose the ones that you have.  If you do apply a surcharge customers need to understand that it is due to the additional costs to reopen your business.

2.  If a surcharge is the right action for your business you need to decide to how you will calculate this additional fee - either as a percentage of the total bill or a fixed amount and it is important to remove it as soon as restrictions are lifted and your business goes back to normal.  Customers need to know that this surcharge is for a specific time and the cut off date will be honoured by your business.  The last thing that you need is for your clients to perceive that you are gouging in a time when everyone is going through financial difficulties.   It is important to inform customers of this extra charge in advance and explain why it is being implemented.

3.  Be upfront and honest with your customers - you need to clearly communicate to your clients the the surcharge is in place long before they reach your checkout.  Customers would rather know in advance so that they can make the decision whether or not to make the business transaction with you.  You should post on your website and social media, inform customers when they make an appointment or during phone calls, and make sure there is a notice posted on your store window or door.  

The response from consumers to paying a surcharge has been varied depending upon the industry type or products offered.  Once they understand why they are being charged extra most people are supportive especially if they know that there is an end date and they know that it is not an opportunity for the business to extra money.

From an article by Sophie Nicholls Jones

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

Recent and Outlandish Covid-19 Scams

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Personal Finances , Scams

During the pandemic fraudsters are endlessly devising new scams to trick us into parting with our money.  Jeff Thomson from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says that " Fraudsters are always targeting Canada with new and old scams.  In 2019 the CAFC received more than 20,000 fraud reports involving more than $43 million in losses.  

Some of the most outlandish scams that have hit the news include: 

  • Homeland Security Agents intercepting a number of fake Covid-19 tests inside a parcel.  Toronto police tracked down the the sender and charged him with fraud and possession of a forgery device.  
  • A Toronto resident received a text message inviting her to click on a link to claim $1375.50 in emergency relief funds and her personal information was stolen.  
  • A California actor who promised a $300,000,00 return on investment to anyone who invested $1 million to back his fraudulent coronavirus cures.
  • An American company offering a coronavirus protocol kit containing tea and cannabinoid tinctures.  The FDA stopped this company from selling a product that claimed to prevent, treat or cure the virus.

Here are some of the latest scams to watch out for:

  1. Social Insurance Number scam - Getting a call from someone pretending to be from Service Canada who says that your SIN has been compromised.  This is the latest variation on the caller id scam when fraudsters disguise the ID display on a phone to trick victims into answering the phone.  Do not provide any personal information to this person as you could be at risk of identity fraud.  If you get such a call hang up then call the number on your account statement or government website to verify.  
  2. Email money transfer fraud - Often seen as a safe and secure way to transfer funds there were 371 million e transfers in 2019 worth more than $132 billion according to figures from Interac Corp.  However the method is not foolproof, the anti-fraud centre received 163 reports in 2018 of bank accounts being compromised and money e transferred out.  
    • To protect yourself from this make sure your password is strong and do not share it with anyone.  
    • Use one password per website and continually change them, choose security questions that are not easy to guess.
    • Use filters to protect from viruses and spyware.
    • Look for strange passwords such as $ being used after the amount.  
    • If you accidentally fill out personal information in a link from a phishing scam change your online banking password and inform your bank immediately.
  3. Bank Investigator Scam - There are many variations of this scam but generally victims receive a call from someone posing as a store employee inquiring about a recent purchase on a credit card and are asked to call the number on the back of their card to verify the the validity of the call.  When victims believe that they have hung up, the original caller who has not disconnected redirects the victims to imposters. To protect yourself from these type of scams.
    • As most of these calls occur early in the morning often when a victim is still sleeping so it is important that you always stay alert when dealing with your finances.
    • Do not assume that phone numbers on your call display are accurate, it easy for scammers to use call spoofing technology.
    • Financial institutions will never ask you to transfer funds to an external account for security.
    • Never give remote access to your computer systems to unknown callers.
  4. Scams targeting lawyers and trust funds - In these scams fraudsters pretend to be a client or someone authorized to give instructions on a client's behalf.  In one case a company was tricked into transferring almost half a million dollars held in trust to a different account than the original set up for the client.  In this case the email used by the trickster was identical to the one used by the client.  To protect yourself:
    • As any client or lawyer's account can be hacked, lawyers or other financial professionals should ensure that any changes to payment instructions should be confirmed by direct contact with the client.
    • Due diligence protocols should are established for transferring funds and it should be ensured that all staff receive training and adhere to the rules.
    • Be on high alert for scams during vacations.  Arrange for a competent staff member to supervise your practice and provide your contact information to your staff.

Identity theft and fraud are big concerns for Canadians so it is important that everyone is aware of ways that they can protect themselves.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin

Why the Pandemic is Open Season for Scammers

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Personal Finances , Scams , Technology

Did you find that during the first few months of the pandemic you got a lot less scammer phone calls?  Now the scammers are back in full force exploiting people's fears about the pandemic.  Everything from free masks (you just pay the shipping), fake testing kits, miracle cures and even cleaning services claiming to rid your air vents of the virus.  Between March 6 and April 23rd the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre logged 643 fraud reports and 158 confirmed victims, though this is probably less than the true total as many people are too embarrassed to report that they have fallen for a scam.

The pandemic has created perfect conditions for con artists as people are alone, anxious, on-line, watching frightening news and worrying about their jobs, finances and relatives who are at high risk.  Jeffrey Thomson a CAFC criminal intelligence analyst says "It's prime time for fraudsters, an extortion scam is trying to create fear and anxiety in people to get them to react.  Now people are more likely to be constantly in that state."  

One of the most common scams is getting a text or email from someone claiming to be the government directing you to provide your SIN and banking information to claim the CERB.  As Thomson says successful scams are a game of numbers and as this one is going out in huge amounts it is taking more victims.

Phishing, extortion and emergency scams are also on the rise.  Most common are a brand offering you loyalty points in exchange for your banking information or someone impersonating a friend or relative stuck abroad and needing you to send money.  Here are some of the warning signs that you should be looking for to avoid getting scammed.

  • Be suspicious if you did not initiate contact and don't respond to unsolicited messages that sound a bit fishy.
  • Think twice before clicking any links in a text or an email from an unknown source.
  • If a friend messages via social media for financial help call them to confirm.
  • Verify any websites claiming to be the government.
  • Make sure the seller is reputable when shopping on line.
  • If a deal on Covid-19 products seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you do fall victim to a scam collect all the details and events in chronological order and report them to the police, the CAFC, the credit bureau and your bank and credit card providers.  Even if you cannot recover your own money you may help other Canadians to avoid losing theirs.

From an article by Sinead Mulhern

Will Covid-19 Change Grocery Shopping Forever?

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Retail

Before Covid-19 many of us enjoyed grocery shopping often making multiple trips a week to get fresh ingredients for a special meal.  Today, what was a simple chore has become a stressful challenge as many Canadians feel like they are preparing themselves for a battle wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, lining up to enter the store, following store aisle signage and keeping six feet away from other shoppers. 

Supermarkets have had to work hard to navigate Covid-19 and plan for the future.  From dealing with panic buying, empty shelves and customer complaints to the present foot traffic restrictions, taped markings on floors, dedicated hours for vulnerable shoppers to one way shopping aisles and plexiglas screens separating cashiers from customers.

Not only shoppers are nervous, store employees who have been designated front line workers have been at a heightened risk since the pandemic started.  Safety measures for them only arrived gradually and well after community transmission was underway.  As a way of recognizing the risk that their employees were working under, four of Canada's main grocery chains increased their hourly wages.  In addition the federal government announced it would allocate $3 billion to top up the wages of frontline workers and another billion came from the provinces.  However it is unclear how much will go to grocery workers and how long it will be for.  

The biggest change in the grocery market is that people have changed to buying on-line.  Many of us will remember at the start of the pandemic trying to order a food delivery and finding that all delivery slots were filled for an endless number of weeks. Before the pandemic only 4% of Canadians shopped for groceries on-line this has now jumped to 22% and grocery subscription and meal kit services are also booming.

Grocery stores have had to adapt rapidly on multiple fronts, expanding on-line shopping infrastructure, monitoring inventory more closely, and increasing health and safety measures for shoppers and employees.  They are also having to fend of competition from new players in the direct to consumer market from restaurants, food delivery services, farmers markets and individual markets.  Grocery store business could be forever changed by the change in customer preferences which may grow stronger rather than decline during and when the pandemic is over.

From an article by Rebecca Tucker

Benefits and Impacts of Deferring your Mortgage Payments

By Randall Orser | Budget , Covid-19 , Personal Finances

The impacts of Covid-19 have been felt by everyone in Canada, and many are struggling financially due to loss of work or decreased hours.  For those needing help there are financial relief programs that can offer much needed breathing room.

The ability to defer a mortgage payment is an option that has been offered by most lenders. It enables people to free up cash for the short term by deferring a significant financial obligation but it is not the right decision for everyone.   Here are some of the pros and cons of deferring your mortgage payments:

1. Being able to defer your mortgage payments can provide much needed peace of mind in these difficult times.  It will improve your monthly cash flow which will cover your urgent life expenses if you are experiencing a reduction of income .

2.  Don't just miss a payment as this comes with negative consequences such as your mortgage becoming delinquent causing a negative impact to your credit rating and risking potential foreclosure.  It is important to seek advice sooner rather than later to explore your options and make informed decisions.  Work with your mortgage lender to set up the deferral if you decide that this the best action for you to take.

3. When making the decision to defer your mortgage payments it is important to understand that the unpaid interest accrued during the skipping period will be added to the outstanding principal on your mortgage, which means that you will owe more on your mortgage in the long run than if you did not defer any payments.  Reducing your monthly payments will also lead to a longer repayment period and payment of more interest over time.

4. There are other ways to free up funds if you don't think that deferring mortgage payments is a good idea for you:

  • Refinancing your Mortgage - if you have equity built up in your property you may be able to access it to pay out other debts or create some cash flow.
  • Increasing your Mortgage Amortization - this will help you to lower your monthly payments but you will be spreading out your payments over a longer period of time.
  • Adjusting your Monthly Budget - staying at home will probably have decreased your monthly spending so it is a good idea to identify where you are saving money and make sure you allocate it to necessities rather than things that you don't need.
  • Look at other deferral options - you may be able to defer your property taxes, utility payments and payments on credit cards and loans these might be better options than deferring mortgage payments.

Deferring your mortgage payments can help your immediate financial situation but you need to carefully consider the potential future financial impacts.  You should speak with your financial advisor to determine if this is the best thing for you to do or if there are better options for you to free up cash to tide you over.

From an article by Diane Amato

Bubble Friendly Ways to Vacation

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Personal Finances

Industry watchers have called this summer "the summer fun forgot" and even though the economy is slowly coming to life again people are still being cautious when it comes to vacations and travel.  Even though countries in Europe and the Caribbean have opened their borders and there are some flight deals the federal travel advisory to avoid non-essential international travel is keeping people from travelling.  A recent Travel Week survey found that 42.7% pf respondents would travel within Canada even if global travel resumed tomorrow.

Frederic Dimanche director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University say that "trust" is the operative word this year.  "Vacationers will want to travel with p people that they know well, are likely to stick to small groups and their own bubble.  Many people will do road trips instead of flying and return to family camping trips or drives to the lake, back to holidays they experienced in the past."

Here are someways to make your vacations memorable:

1.  Head to Cottage Country - many will be looking to rent a cottage if they don't own one and will plan to visit people who do have a cottage.  

2.  Those who want to stay inside their bubble are travelling the open road in an RV or by car but most are not travelling too far from home usually remaining in their own province.

3.  Finding adventure close to home - those who love adventure think they need to look offshore to find it but this year they are exploring their own backyard.  Companies are ready to provide private and custom trips including backpacking tours in the Coast Mountains.

4. Communing with Nature - Camping has become very popular as a vacation option but campers are advised to still keep their groups small and not mix with other households.  All campgrounds have cautions and protections in place and advise people to prepare to be self sufficient and bring extra hygiene supplies, hand sanitizer, wipes, water and food.

5. Volunteering - Transfer your vacation into a learning experience by volunteering.WWOOF is an organization that provides opportunities to work on organic farms and learn about organic food and agriculture.

6 Hop on your Bike - Biking has become the number 1 pastime during the pandemic and is a good vacation choice for many as it allows you to keep fit while enjoying the scenery.  There are plenty of places to explore by bike especially on Vancouver Island.

7. Make it a sporting holiday while still physical distancing - two sports that are ideal for this are golf and tennis.  You could also consider fishing, or rock climbing or canoeing.

8 Find new entertainment while Staycationing - there are many activities that promote family bonding such as working on your family tree or writing your family history.  You can take a variety of classes including the ever popular on-line cooking classes.  Think about that project that you have been putting off for so long, now might be the time to tackle it that might include DIY home repairs or furniture restoration both of which help increase business at your local building supply centre.

Whatever type of vacation you choose this year, there is a good chance that you will save some money which is good for your budget.

From an article by Margaret Craig-Bourdin