London Inc. Weekly: Managing COVID-19

A Message to Our Readers:

Today, we are introducing a temporary change to our London Inc. Weekly editorial content. Nothing in recent memory has disrupted economic activity in our region and around the globe like the emergence of COVID-19. In order to help you understand the local impact and provide insight into how our city’s businesses are coping and managing, we have assembled a panel of six business leaders from a variety of economic sectors. Over the next few Fridays, they will provide a weekly update on their businesses, market conditions, actions and how they are navigating the vast sway of operational issues facing us all.

Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other, and whenever and wherever possible, support local businesses. 

— Gord Delamont, Founder & Creative Director, TreeTown Media Group


On Professional Services: Adam Jean, Chief Operating Officer, Harrison Pensa LLP

At your business, what’s the lay of the land at this moment? Constantly evolving. We continue to monitor advice from health agencies and assess appropriate responses. Our first priority remains the health and safety of our employees, clients, contacts and the broader community. The majority of our workforce, lawyers and staff, are being supported with temporary remote working arrangements at this time. This will allow us to continue to service clients, implement social-distancing measures and provide lawyers and staff the flexibility they need to support their personal lives. The firm remains open in order to support our clients and we are doing so primarily through the use of technology and remote communications.

Aside from ensuring the health and wellbeing of your staff and clients, what operational measures have you put in place? We have adjusted our operations in line with evolving government agency directives and enacted contingency plans to ensure our operations continue to support clients during this time. We have been busy putting these plans into action. Critical support systems of IT, accounting, shared services and administration are working behind the scenes to support a remote workforce by keeping essential services fully operational. The team has been absolutely amazing during this time and I cannot say enough positive things about their response and how thankful we are to have the team we do. This allows us to continue to provide the quality and dependable legal services our clients require and to help keep Canadian businesses, not-for-profits and personal lives progressing in the background while we fight this pandemic together. For those limited services requiring a presence in the office, we have implemented strict screening, sanitization, hygiene and social-distancing measures. We have halted all non-essential travel, deferred all non-essential meetings and have moved to phone and conferencing solutions in the interim.

Do you think the guidance and assistance measures received from various levels of government thus far have been sufficient? Initially, it was very difficult to find consistent guidelines and protocols amongst local, provincial, federal and global health agencies. It required the firm to implement measures based on the best available information available at the time from various levels of government. This was a challenge because the situation was changing hour by hour and our employees were looking for timely direction. We recognize this is an unprecedented time for government and that each region has its own unique considerations that requires variation in responses. That said, it would certainly be helpful if there were more specific guidelines for businesses on how to interpret and implement measures in line with government directives. I think this will come with time as conditions stabilize and the impact of initial measures taken is better understood.

Going into next week, what areas of your business do you expect will command most of your attention? I wish I could tell you for sure, but we will continue to monitor and respond as the situation evolves. Next week, I anticipate we will work to tweak and refine processes that we have put in place to support a remote workforce as our team will have more experience working under new conditions. Keeping our employees updated with changes to business measures or processes will continue to be key. Adapting to any new government measures may be needed. And, of course, managing the impact the pandemic is having on our people, both personally and professionally, remains a priority that will require ongoing attention in the coming days. Collectively, we must also not forget those in greatest need, who are particularly vulnerable at this time.


On Retail: Lisa Ferguson, Co-owner, Hangar9 and Accents

At your business, what’s the lay of the land at this moment? We are committed to doing everything we can for the well being of our clients and employees, therefore we have temporarily closed our stores.

Aside from ensuring the health and wellbeing of your staff and clients, what operational measures have you put in place? As we are closed to the public, we are working behind the scenes to secure the health and wellbeing of Hangar9.

Do you think the guidance and assistance measures received from various levels of government thus far have been sufficient? The government has made some promises, however it’s the execution that counts. Will employees that have been laid off be able to collect EI sooner than later? The screening at airports has been a disappointment, which is a government initiative. I am sure the government has no idea of the scope of this unprecedented event — COVID-19 has disrupted every industry and country at an unprecedented scale.

Going into next week, what areas of your business do you expect will command most of your attention? We are looking at every area of our business. We have reached out to our suppliers, bankers, landlords and all partners to start very difficult conversations. And we have done cashflow charts to see what it looks like for the next three to six months.


On Food & Beverage: Ian Kennard, Owner, Willie’s Café

At your business, what’s the lay of the land at this moment? I closed Willie’s Café at the end of business on Tuesday. All my staff have been laid off and received their final pay cheques with ROE’s yesterday. It was a very difficult decision. How do I balance social responsibility, the safety of my staff and our community and ensure the economic survival of Willie’s? In the end, the decision was obvious. Fridges were cleaned out and perishable leftovers were taken to Ark Aid Mission and the Men’s Mission. Unexpected effects everywhere: Ark Aid could not take all of my donations — they have been overwhelmed with all the restaurants looking for somewhere to donate so perishable goods do not go to waste.

Aside from ensuring the health and wellbeing of your staff and clients, what operational measures have you put in place? Leading up to the closure, we had increased our hand washing and cleaning protocols, monitoring updates from health organizations and the government closely. The provincial state of emergency ordering all restaurants and bars to close except for take-out seemed inevitable. Take-out was not economically viable for us, so after two days of agony and little business, the decision to close was made.

Do you think the guidance and assistance measures received from various levels of government thus far have been sufficient? For the most part, yes. I don’t believe the 10 per cent wage subsidy is even close to where it should be. I believe the proposed aid package for the self-employed is crucial, but I am concerned that the two- to three-week wait before it is available may be too late for many small businesses. Will the aid make it to us and will it make it in time is the big question. How easy will the government make it for small business owners to apply is another.

Going into next week, what areas of your business do you expect will command most of your attention? My priorities next week are checking in on staff to make sure everyone is okay, communicating with my financial institutions and the CRA, managing my social media accounts on a daily basis to stay connected with our customers, and creating a project list of things to be done at our location, such as painting, reorganizing, spring menu planning and welcome-back promotions.


On Consumer Services: Shannon Ruffell, Vice President, Heritage Renovations

At your business, what’s the lay of the land at this moment? If I had to choose one word to describe the energy, it would be ‘hustle’. We are pulling together to expedite our orders with manufacturers, secure extra deliveries and make customers aware that they can still make new purchases with us and have assurance that the product can be delivered and installed during this time period.

Aside from ensuring the health and wellbeing of your staff and clients, what operational measures have you put in place? We sanitized and closed our showroom, although clients can make appointments after meeting our wellness criteria. We have staggered employee contacts and have personal protective equipment and sanitation measures in place. We are asking questions before making appointments to go into client homes. We are running business as usual, with some exceptions in this unusual time.

Do you think the guidance and assistance measures received from various levels of government thus far have been sufficient? There is still a lot more to come, hopefully. The communication has been on-going and there is trust from organizations that we will all come through this together and that more supports will be put in place.

Going into next week, what areas of your business do you expect will command most of your attention? Sales. Our goal is to let customers know that interactions with Heritage Renovations employees are safe as we are doing constant wellness checks before entering your home. We can also do measurements from the outside and consultations by telephone.


On Business Services: Mark Malerba, Owner, Metropolitan Maintenance

At your business, what’s the lay of the land at this moment? It is a very busy time for our business. Metropolitan Maintenance is in constant communication with our clients and our employees regarding our response to date and our commitment to them moving forward. With respect to our employees, we have reinforced our training procedures to ensure cleaning processes are implemented properly. Specifically, common touch points such as door handles and knobs, levers, light switches, elevator buttons, push plates, washroom fixtures and other commonly shared surfaces are disinfected and sanitized with the continued use of a hospital-grade disinfectant. With respect to our clients, some have closed their sites and others have increased our scope of work to include additional disinfecting and sanitizing. This is an additional precautionary measure that has been implemented in an effort to keep their workplace safe and their own employees healthy.

Aside from ensuring the health and wellbeing of your staff and clients, what operational measures have you put in place? Metropolitan Maintenance has implemented certain measures from our pandemic preparedness plan, specifically related to our inventory levels. We have been proactive about maintaining sufficient levels of cleaning products, such as disinfectant, along with consumable products, such as toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap and hand sanitizer. We are fortunate to have strong relationships with our suppliers, and we have a responsibility to our clients to ensure that we maintain our service delivery to keep their worksites clean and disinfected.

Do you think the guidance and assistance measures received from various levels of government thus far have been sufficient? We are all in uncharted territory, and with this being a fluid situation any decision that any level of government makes during this time may be criticized and scrutinized. However, decisions are being made with the information that is available at that moment in time. Only time will tell if the guidance and assistance provided will be sufficient or not enough.

Going into next week, what areas of your business do you expect will command most of your attention? Going forward, it is my expectation that there will be additional clients that will close their sites and there will be additional clients that will increase our scope of cleaning. Metropolitan Maintenance will do its best to assist employees whose worksites have closed by offering them work at another site or by issuing them a temporary layoff. As a janitorial service provider, we have an important and critical job that cannot be done without the hard-work and dedication of our front-line team. We can’t thank our employees enough for the job that they do, and we thank our clients for trusting us to do all we can during this time of extra care and concern.


On Real Estate: Marcus Plowright, Partner, A Team Century 21

At your business, what’s the lay of the land at this moment? Our staff are working remotely from home as of March 17. We continue to list properties as planned at the request of our clients, with restrictions applied to viewings. We are going forward with listings because we can’t predict what the market will look like in two, four or six weeks. We are also taking small steps to control expenses and limit our losses should there be a market activity downturn.

Aside from ensuring the health and wellbeing of your staff and clients, what operational measures have you put in place? Open houses have been cancelled for the time being. When booking showings, we are ensuring there is only one group in the home at a time and no appointments overlap to limit exposure between groups. Any staff that can work from home are working from home. Our photo-video crew is still working. They are wearing personal protective equipment and ask that homeowners not be in the home when they come for their appointments. We are also using DocuSign and other electronic options to limit human interaction.

Do you think the guidance and assistance measures received from various levels of government thus far have been sufficient? We are very impressed with the response from all levels of government thus far; municipally, provincially and federally – the responses have been swift, appropriate and measured. We live in a country that respects authority; our culture is ideal for all citizens having to unite and work together towards the common goal of weathering this pandemic. The small business support legislation being proposed sounds appropriate and timely.

Going into next week, what areas of your business do you expect will command most of your attention? We truly believe our staff are our greatest resource. We must put their safety and that of their families first and foremost. With that in mind, we will do everything possible to provide services as requested to our clients. There may be buying opportunities that arise and we must be ready to act on behalf of our clients. We are giving consideration to the legal implications and clauses required in agreements of purchase and sale to reflect the risks that have arisen from this crisis. It is somewhat difficult to predict even a week out. There is general concern that real estate closings may be impacted if buyers’ jobs are lost in this emergency period. Availability of legal, accounting and government agents is a growing concern. If there is a [market] slow down, we will use that time to reach out to our clients, remind them that we’re monitoring the situation and that we’ll be here for them in the coming months. We hope to sow the seeds of fostered relationships that lead to business in the second half of the year.

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