London Inc. Weekly: COVID-19 Panel, Week 3

A Message to Our Readers:

Recently, we introduced a temporary change to our London Inc. Weekly editorial content. In order to help you understand the local impact and provide insight into how our city’s businesses are managing the COVID-19 crisis, we have assembled a panel of six business leaders from a variety of economic sectors. On 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

London Inc. Weekly: COVID-19 Panel, Week 3  COVID-19As we do each week, we’ll start with an overview of the current status of your operation. Has there been any changes to your business over the past week, either externally or internally? This week has been more consistent with the prior week in terms of how we are operating. The most fundamental change is the shift from short-term pandemic response management to implementing longer-term solutions for optimizing remote work arrangements and maintaining positive client experiences through social distancing. These changes are to assist us in preparing for a prolonged period of social distancing if required.

Over the past few days, we’ve heard new details about government assistance programs for businesses, including updates on the Canada Emergency Business Account and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Do you have plans to utilize any of the programs currently on the table? We have been monitoring various government assistance programs closely to support employees who are currently, or may not be, able to work for various reasons. It has been a challenge because the programs have been introduced rapidly, modified and released, sometimes without complete details on eligibility and process. This said, we do recognize that everyone is in the same situation. The government is implementing measures that may normally take months to develop in order to provide timely access. We appreciate what all levels of government are trying to do in order to support Canadians and Canadian businesses as the situation evolves. We do not yet know whether our business will qualify for some of the benefits announced but are assessing eligibility as details are released and will match programs where they benefit our employees.

The pandemic is fast-tracking the adoption of digital tools and platforms for many businesses. Has your business accelerated the use of existing or new technologies, and if so, how? On the business front, this has been one ‘bright spot’ of the pandemic response. We have accelerated the use of existing technologies. The appetite for adoption of digital tools and platforms has increased exponentially. The change management process in this area was achieved at light speed. In most cases, we already had the technology needed, but we are now expanding its use and capabilities. The earliest impact has been related to use of remote access technologies and expanded video conferencing solutions and features. This allows us to provide business as usual capabilities from our lawyer’s and staff’s home.

Situations like this are stressful enough on their own, but managing a business in the midst of the chaos can certainly amplify that stress. What are you doing personally to help bring balance to your life? Achieving balance through this period has been provided by my family ― they have been fantastic! I try my best to set boundaries between work and family life by dedicating focused time to both. It is a balancing act and is sometimes easier said than done particularly during a crisis management scenario when focus on business demands urgent attention. In my personal life, focused time spent with my family has been another ‘bright spot’ of the pandemic. It puts everything in perspective. Family reminds me that short-term sacrifices we are all making while the world is on a temporary pause will have lasting benefits well beyond today. Stressbusters include walks, shooting hoops and pucks, family movie nights, nightly boardgame competitions ―sometimes heated ― and spending quality time doing activities at home that we might not otherwise given our usually overscheduled lives. Tonight, I am scheduled to participate in my first virtual family paint night, should be interesting…


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

London Inc. Weekly: COVID-19 Panel, Week 3  COVID-19As we do each week, we’ll start with an overview of the current status of your operation. Has there been any changes to your business over the past week, either externally or internally? No change in status. Continue to maintain daily routine of going to Willie’s to check on things and look after social media postings. Have started going in the afternoons for a few hours to do some painting and freshening up. Have started following up with customers to collect on outstanding accounts in order to maintain some cash flow. I am being compassionate in my communication understanding that many of them are experiencing similar challenges, as well as communicating a message of hope for the future ― we will be back to look after your catering needs. Response has been incredibly positive and supportive. I am in regular communication with my commercial bank account manager who has been outstanding with his support.

Over the past few days, we’ve heard new details about government assistance programs for businesses, including updates on the Canada Emergency Business Account and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Do you have plans to utilize any of the programs currently on the table? Yes, the two key ones for me will be the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to look after my own personal financial concerns. As a small business owner, I do not qualify for EI benefits. Also, the Canada Emergency Business Account $40,000 interest-free loan for small business. This will be significant in maintaining cash flow to cover outstanding payroll and other fixed costs. The greatest concern is will it be available to us in time? A recent survey suggested 30 per cent of small business will not survive.

The pandemic is fast-tracking the adoption of digital tools and platforms for many businesses. Has your business accelerated the use of existing or new technologies, and if so, how? No, not really as we are closed. In my personal and volunteer life I am making greater use of Zoom. I am also taking advantage of this time to do two additional things: I’ve started working through the Facebook Blueprint tutorials to gain a better knowledge and understanding of how I can leverage content and ads to support business growth. I believe this knowledge will be crucial when we are able to start thinking about gearing up to reopen. In addition, I have asked one of my staff to research and plan how we can take full advantage of our Poynt POS system. We are currently using it to process credit card transactions. It has the ability to be a fully functioning POS system and replace my old cash register. Add-ons that we are considering include time card functionality, customer loyalty programs, online ordering, direct invoicing and collections and a Quick Books interface.

Situations like this are stressful enough on their own, but managing a business in the midst of the chaos can certainly amplify that stress. What are you doing personally to help bring balance to your life? Wow, so the first thing I did was tell myself last Monday morning that my two-week vacation is over, time to go back to work. What is helping me is establishing and maintaining a routine and establishing and maintaining connection with friends, coworkers and family. Getting up at the same time I would normally ― which also implies going to bed at a reasonable time. I am at my desk by 8 a.m. and working, I have a 9 a.m. daily check-in call with a friend who is still working in sales, daily social media posts done by 11:30 a.m., weekly email and calls to staff, weekly Zoom call with family, daily 4 p.m. walk with girlfriend, working on a puzzle during breaks and in the evening. My context in the morning: I am doing great! My context during the day: I have so much to be grateful for! Great and grateful! Balance and routine.


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

London Inc. Weekly: COVID-19 Panel, Week 3  COVID-19As we do each week, we’ll start with an overview of the current status of your operation. Has there been any changes to your business over the past week, either externally or internally? Heritage Renovations is still considered to be an essential business, so we are continuing to act with an abundance of caution in the best interests of our employees and customers. We want to keep our employees working so they have the financial means to support their families and we take this responsibility very seriously. We balance this by limiting our interactions between employees and customers while performing our work and being stringent in our protocols.

Over the past few days, we’ve heard new details about government assistance programs for businesses, including updates on the Canada Emergency Business Account and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Do you have plans to utilize any of the programs currently on the table? These programs are potentially very exciting to small businesses and have the best intentions, but unfortunately may not have the desired impact. Many small companies need cash flow now to sustain their operations ― companies will not be able to have the immediate cash flow benefit they need. Essential businesses won’t qualify because there isn’t an immediate reduction of revenue, but this will be coming in the near short-term as a direct result of the pandemic. These businesses, including Heritage Renovations, are going above and beyond to keep their businesses strong and their employees off Employment Insurance, but won’t qualify for this benefit. This means that these businesses that are currently hanging on with moderate success could be forced into the very situation the programs are trying to prevent. There is more support needed for small business as this pandemic continues to extend.

The pandemic is fast-tracking the adoption of digital tools and platforms for many businesses. Has your business accelerated the use of existing or new technologies, and if so, how? Heritage Renovations was already in the process of setting up VPN access for remote work, so we didn’t have to start that process from scratch and figure that out while still running the business during this unusual period. We already had all phone messages emailed to us, so we are in a great position to remotely assist our customers and continue to work no matter what happens from this point.

Situations like this are stressful enough on their own, but managing a business in the midst of the chaos can certainly amplify that stress. What are you doing personally to help bring balance to your life? As a family business, we are fortunate to be able to lean on each other and have that source of strength. Personally, I am enjoying the extra time I have with my husband and children. With all of their activities and sports suspended, we have bonus family time and we have been enjoying the outdoors while social distancing. This time with my family is the best stress relief in the world and they continue to inspire me to do better and reach higher every day.


On Business Services: Mark Malerba, Owner, Metropolitan Maintenance

London Inc. Weekly: COVID-19 Panel, Week 3  COVID-19As we do each week, we’ll start with an overview of the current status of your operation. Has there been any changes to your business over the past week, either externally or internally? Over the past week, we have continued to accommodate and adapt to our clients’ changing needs. There are clients that have added extra cleaning services and there are clients that have had to reduce services. At our office, we have implemented further controls to restrict visitors from entering our building. We have limited office personnel to allow for physical distancing, while the rest of the office team works remotely. This situation has been constantly changing and I’m proud of the way our frontline employees and management team has risen to the occasion day after day.

Over the past few days, we’ve heard new details about government assistance programs for businesses, including updates on the Canada Emergency Business Account and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Do you have plans to utilize any of the programs currently on the table? We are in the process of reviewing the government programs that are available. We will utilize whatever options we may qualify for to assist our business and employees.

The pandemic is fast-tracking the adoption of digital tools and platforms for many businesses. Has your business accelerated the use of existing or new technologies, and if so, how? Most of our office team is working remotely to allow for physical distancing. This is also a strategic measure in the event one of our team members were to become ill. We have always had the ability for office personnel to work remotely utilizing digital tools, but this is the first time that we have utilized this avenue for multiple employees. There have definitely been a few adjustments we have had to make and challenges to overcome, but overall, we have transitioned well to this working arrangement.

Situations like this are stressful enough on their own, but managing a business in the midst of the chaos can certainly amplify that stress. What are you doing personally to help bring balance to your life? Over the past three weeks, I have had much less balance than I typically experience. I have been working from home and my phone hasn’t stopped dinging with emails. It is very easy to neglect your physical and mental health, especially during a time like this, so we will go for a family walk at least once a day or spend some time in the backyard. I’ve also implemented ‘walking meetings’ to be able to get away from the screen but still continue the conversation. Despite being unable to physically get together with family and friends, I make sure to reach out on a daily basis to check-in on how they are doing as well. I celebrated my birthday virtually with family and it was an experience that I won’t forget. We laughed, shared stories, they sang Happy Birthday and the best part was when it was all over, we didn’t have to clean up anything! As my almost-95-yea-old Nonna always says, you have to find a way to smile every day, no matter what is going on.


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

London Inc. Weekly: COVID-19 Panel, Week 3  COVID-19As we do each week, we’ll start with an overview of the current status of your operation. Has there been any changes to your business over the past week, either externally or internally? The entire team is meeting virtually every week. A smaller group involved in a special project are meeting virtually daily. We continue to do transactions when agent, client and public safety can be maintained ― for example, we recently closed a $1-million-plus transaction with a client who had viewed a property a month ago and was prepared to proceed without additional viewings. All paperwork, legal work, title search, etc., were completed digitally. I’m spending a fair bit of time imagining the end of this pandemic, preparing as best we can to have all our ducks in a row as we try to make up for lost time and lost revenues.

Over the past few days, we’ve heard new details about government assistance programs for businesses, including updates on the Canada Emergency Business Account and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Do you have plans to utilize any of the programs currently on the table? These are early days as the government attempts to make informed investments and protect the vulnerable. It’s possible we would utilize the wage subsidy if this lockdown period persists. We want to ensure our most vulnerable staff continue to get paid and have the opportunity to contribute during these trying times.

The pandemic is fast-tracking the adoption of digital tools and platforms for many businesses. Has your business accelerated the use of existing or new technologies, and if so, how? Our team has been utilizing video conference calls to connect daily in order to proceed with certain projects. We are able to send documents and contracts to our clients digitally for review and signatures, eliminating the need to meet in person. In a secure setting, our marketing team will be capturing photos and videos of all listings and producing full video tours.

Situations like this are stressful enough on their own, but managing a business in the midst of the chaos can certainly amplify that stress. What are you doing personally to help bring balance to your life? Maintaining our mental health will likely become our greatest accomplishment as we work through this pandemic. I spend about three hours daily working on business… to believe more would be delusional. Meal prep and eating together has become a priority. Long-delayed home improvements are getting tackled. Yesterday, my son and I built a skate park with ramps and rails in our oversized garage. We think its essential to set daily, weekly and monthly goals for ourselves ― be it reorganizing a closet, teaching math to our kids or building healthy eating and exercise routines. Let us all remember ― the greatest gift you can give to your community right now is not leaving your home. London Inc. Weekly: COVID-19 Panel, Week 3  COVID-19

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