Nancy Jalbert
Partner | CPA, CA | Management consulting

With all the rapid changes of the last few weeks, it has become clear that the future of business depends on technology.

When the global COVID-19 crisis emerged, industries suddenly had to find new ways to protect their operations while complying with public health directives.

No one could have foreseen the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic, but the businesses that have successfully pulled through are now better equipped to deal with its consequences. And in many cases, they owe their survival to a digital transformation initiated before the crisis began.

Now more than ever, companies need to strengthen their digital capabilities in order to overcome the challenges triggered by the pandemic and position themselves for a brighter future. Digital transformation plans should be realistic and broken down into phases. They should also take into account the organization’s needs and resources.

Adapting to new consumer habits

When the pandemic forced businesses to close, consumers turned to online shopping for everything from essential goods to entertainment. The situation forced the hand of even the most reluctant consumers and, as a result, e-commerce has skyrocketed 118% in Quebec (source: Adviso).

Even now that businesses are reopening, traditional sales in brick-and-mortar locations aren’t expected to bounce back quickly. Consumers are reluctant and a general sense of insecurity prevails. By the time the crisis is over, a certain proportion of in-store sales may have made a definitive shift to online sales and consumer behaviour may be changed for good. In fact, global retail e-commerce sales are expected to double by 2023 (source: Statista).

Consequently, temporary processes implemented to help businesses continue selling products and services during the crisis will become permanent. But they’ll need to become more efficient.

Aligning processes for better consistency

Digital transformation isn’t just about maintaining and pushing sales. If all corporate data and processes are aligned and connected, it can also improve decision making and optimize each step in the value chain.

But this isn’t new. Our experts were talking about it as early as 2018. Now that social distancing is essential, it makes even more sense to reorganize production lines, add automated systems and include connected robots (which have no physical limitations).

Digitizing the customer journey to create a memorable experience

COVID-19 containment measures have forced many retailers and service providers to turn to digital technology to continue driving sales. Those that had already begun the transition before the pandemic quickly found themselves ahead of the competition. Today, all businesses need to consider the digital user experience, whether they need to build it from scratch or rethink their existing assets. It’s essential for protecting their business continuity in the post-COVID-19 era.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to redesign your business model and add digital services. Businesses that can successfully innovate and provide customers with a smooth purchase experience will be able to take advantage of the current situation and increase their market share quickly. The opportunity is there. It’s time to seize it.

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Digitizing operations to reduce reliance on humans

Whether the issue is a pandemic or a labour shortage, relying on human resources for most business processes puts companies at risk. If we rely on people, productivity can plummet or operations may even be forced to halt.

From production to distribution, inventory management, stocktaking and costing, all business processes should be connected and automated. Before the crisis, companies were already embracing this shift in order to gain efficiency and work around labour shortages. COVID-19 has only accentuated and accelerated the need for businesses to hop on the digital bandwagon.

Digitizing supply chains to increase agility

Product shortages, logistical constraints, quarantines, delays, new shipping routes, supplier changes… Businesses are currently facing significant supply chain disruptions as a result of the pandemic. These challenges reveal an opportunity for businesses to review their processes and create a more integrated and robust supply chain for the future. This involves digitizing processes from end to end to achieve better visibility and control of the entire chain. A big-picture view allows you to optimize efficiency across the chain and respond quickly to disruptions.

It’s time to face facts. Sales of household appliances, electronics, building materials and home renovation products have jumped 625% in Canada since the beginning of the pandemic. (source: Statista) If we want to protect local jobs, supply local markets and stimulate the local economy, our homegrown businesses need to embark on a digital transformation journey. If we don’t embrace digital technology, consumers simply look somewhere else. Ease of doing business trumps all.

18 Jun 2020  |  Written by :

Nancy Jalbert is a partner at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton. She is your expert in strategic and...

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Katy Langlais
Manager | CRHA, MBA | Human resources consulting

Working from home has allowed us to carry on during the pandemic. How will it look moving forward?

Before getting into the notion of vested right, we should specify that the situation our organizations and their employees have experienced over the last weeks has helped spotlight two paradigm shifts or pre-conceived ideas.

Employers: Working from home doesn’t automatically imply a loss of control or lower workforce productivity

Naturally, like any type of work, there must be proper parameters in place to ensure effective remote work. Employers and employees all have a role to play in maintaining control over their work output when working from home.

First, employers must provide their employees with the proper tools they need to do their job, such as a reliable IT infrastructure, effective communication tools and full, secure access to the company’s network.

Above all, employers must implement a structure and management policies that will allow them to rigorously monitor the work done while ensuring a stimulating employee environment.

The results are out for those organizations that put in place an effective work environment: steady productivity or even a productivity gain, easy-to-manage workspaces, a lower rate of absenteeism, and more.

Employees: Telework is an asset but not the solution many had hoped for

For many employees—before they were swept into it—working from home represented freedom and access to quality of life. They could work at their own pace and on their own time and avoid commuting, all of which meant a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.

But COVID-19 brought about a busy teleworking period and some major constraints that have led many to realize that working from home was not as convenient as they had hoped. They feel lonely from the lack of social interactions, the work environment is often inadequate, communications and data transfer are often compromised by a weak internet connection at home, etc.

Overall, from an employee perspective and in general, working from home supplements the traditional structure. What employees take away is a greater sense of freedom and a better quality of life. They’re less weary of the daily grind. Reluctant employers must come to terms with this new reality because reverting to the traditional way would be taking a huge step back.

 

Is telework a vested right?

The notion of vested right has long been a hot topic in Quebec, especially when it comes to “informal” working conditions granted by the employer: from free coffee to a company car for personal use, to all sorts of privileges handed out over the years. Those benefits are hard to part with once you’ve gotten a taste of them. It’s even harder to uproot a benefit or privilege that’s highly popular with the majority of employees.

In his Dictionnaire canadien des relations du travail, Gérard Dion defines “vested right” as “l’ensemble de droits, privilèges ou avantages antérieurement reconnus aux travailleurs et qui dérivent soit de la coutume, soit d’une reconnaissance de la part de l’employeur, soit d’une clause de convention collective” (all of the rights, privileges or benefits previously afforded to employees as a result of a tradition, be it as a form of recognition by the employer or a clause in a collective agreement).

From a legal standpoint, it is recognized that a right becomes a vested right when certain criteria are met:

  • Generality: When a benefit is granted to a homogeneous group of employees;
  • Consistency: When a benefit is granted consistently over time.

It we take a more formal approach, it’s clear that the temporary nature of the situation doesn’t allow us to qualify telework as a vested right. However, it was already an option for employees, as recognized by both the provincial and federal governments for income tax purposes well before the pandemic.

After all, for the majority of organizations, this is uncharted territory. We’re dealing with an unprecedented situation declared by the public health authorities, rather than a firmly established phenomenon that organizations are familiar with.

A new workforce retention criterion?

We cannot limit our analysis to those legal and formal considerations because, beyond the current context, we cannot disregard the real impact on organizations if they were forced to abolish telework and go back to normal. While everyone was rushed into the experience, the new work-from-home reality has more pros than cons for companies and employees alike.

Employees have largely benefited from this practice. They’ve shown that, when adequately managed, working from home can be just as productive—if not more productive—than working from the office. To take this back from them would not make sense; it would make them feel like they’re going backward. The risks of employee disengagement are real and would largely undermine past employee retention efforts.

Over the past weeks, employers have had a chance to see first-hand that they can effectively manage their employees’ work remotely. The traditional work model is flawed. We need only look at the multiple studies and research conducted on time management, conflicts, workspaces, absenteeism and presenteeism, and so many other aspects of workplace health and safety.

Telework on such a large scale is a recent practice that is already rooted in strong foundations: the resilience of human beings and their ability to adapt and transform in the face of crisis. As a result of this new work organization, there will be a need to improve how it is managed and governed. New management practices will eventually be developed that will benefit employers and employees alike.

How to achieve a successful work-from-home experience

Here are some key tips for employers to consider to achieve a positive experience for themselves and for their employees.

Employee engagement

Distance can lead to employee disengagement. So, it’s important that you have the necessary tools to maintain employee engagement (regular virtual group or individual meetings, regular mandatory office days, etc.).

Follow-up of objectives and deliverables

Employees must feel that they’re accountable and responsible for results and progress with their files. Follow up rigorously without being intrusive; find the right balance.

Ergonomics, health and safety

Employee security must always be a concern for employers. Even if your employees work from home, follow up regularly by providing the necessary support. Don’t underestimate the psychological aspect of telework which can often trigger isolation and, ultimately, psychological issues.

That being said, and from the past months’ experience only, it would be premature to claim that employers are now obligated to pursue telework based on the notion of vested right. Clearly, they can still exercise their managerial authority in determining whether an employee can still work from home.

Regardless, whether we talk about a vested right or a new reality, the fact remains that telework is a well-established practice and employers who don’t jump on the bandwagon will face workforce productivity, competitiveness, efficiency and retention issues down the road.

This article was a joint collaboration with Martin Lafrance, Manager, Human Resources Consulting.

15 Jun 2020  |  Written by :

Katy Langlais is a recruiting and human resources consulting at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.

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Wayne Tessier
General Manager | Auray Sourcing | Human resources consulting

Employers must make sure their temporary foreign workers (TFWs) can isolate upon their arrival, as required by law.

Since March 24, it has become mandatory for all travellers to isolate for 14 days when they arrive in Canada.

This measure was put in place in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and it targets all travellers, including Canadian citizens and temporary foreign workers (TFWs). However, in the case of TFWs, employers are responsible for coming up with and enforcing an isolation plan.

Let’s take a look at what you must do to enforce the isolation measures in place for TFWs and some practical tips to help make sure you meet all government requirements.

Upon arrival

  • Provide support for your TFWs as soon as they arrive in the country.
  • Organize transportation for your TFWs from the airport to where they will be quarantined.
  • TFWs must wear a mask or a face covering inside the vehicle—they cannot stop along the way.
  • It is recommended that TFWs be divided into small groups to comply with the two-metre distancing rule.

Accommodations

  • The TFWs’ quarantine location must be in the area where they will be working.
  • They must each have their own bed and cannot be more than two in a room, unless the two-metre distancing rule can be respected.
  • Employees must be able to observe social distancing rules in common areas (kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms). Ideally, they should take turns using the common areas to avoid personal contact.
  • All rooms must be disinfected daily and, ideally, TWICE a day. Employers must provide all cleaning supplies (soap, cleaning products, alcohol-based solutions).
  • Public health recommendations must be posted in every room, preferably in the workers’ language.
  • TFWs must be able to go outside at their isolation location while staying two metres apart from one another.

Quarantine

During the 14-day quarantine period, TFWs are not allowed to work but they should be paid according to the conditions specified on the employer’s Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and their offer of employment. Throughout this period, employers are responsible for providing their TFWs with:

  • Food/groceries
  • Personal care products
  • Medicine
  • Laundry services
  • Means of communication with the outside world (Internet, phone, cell phone)

This must all be done without the workers leaving their quarantine location. They must also have access to leisure to keep themselves busy and help protect their mental health (TV, radio, board games).

Employers must monitor the health of their TFWs and watch for any symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, fever, difficulty breathing). If a TFW develops any of those symptoms, they must follow a more severe isolation protocol (see publications from the Ministère de la Santé et Services sociaux available here).

Practical tips

  • Communicate with your TFWs before their arrival and inform them of your quarantine plan and the company’s health and hygiene protocol. This will help avoid any surprises and your employees will know what to expect.
  • Give a copy of the plan to each of your TFWs. They must show it to a border agent upon their arrival or they won’t be authorized to enter Canada.
  • Make sure your TFWs have a mask or a face covering before their departure. All travellers on Canada-bound flights are required to wear a mask or a face covering on board and your employees will also need one when travelling from the airport to their workplace.

Due to circumstances beyond your control, your TFWs’ arrival may be delayed by a few days. Make sure they got on their flight before stocking up on food and other perishables to avoid any waste.

Non-compliance

Employers that violate the new isolation rules may face some serious consequences, including having all of their LMIAs revoked, being permanently banned from hiring TFWs, and fines of up to $1 million. TFWs may face penalties of up to $750,000 and six months in prison for violating the isolation requirements.

10 Jun 2020  |  Written by :

Wayne Tessier is an international recruiting expert at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton. Contact him...

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Katy Langlais
Manager | CRHA, MBA | Human resources consulting

The current situation calls for great flexibility on the part of organizations and their leaders. The way you engage with your teams today will impact how your business will look in the future.

The surprise may have worn off, but it’s important to stay vigilant, prepare for various scenarios and make informed decisions as the situation evolves, making sure to take your workforce—the key to your company’s success—into account.

Human leadership in the face of uncertainty

In times of crisis, employees need to understand the situation and the decisions being made. The leader’s role is to put their ego aside to provide clarity, guidance and reassurance amid the chaos.

There is no “playbook” for leaders. They have to adjust to fluctuating dynamics and tailor their approach to each team and employee’s needs. This is what we call situational leadership.

Good leaders listen to employees and pay attention to their strengths and weaknesses, leveraging each individual’s skills to build a winning team. They know it’s not about them, but about the team, and about engaging each member in the pursuit of a common goal to drive collective action. This is known as transformational leadership.

It’s in tough times that leaders reveal themselves. They are quick to recover and able to make brave and ethical decisions. They humanize the workplace and become culture champions. This crisis is an opportunity to identify those leaders on your team.

There is no place for unempathetic and overly prescriptive leaders. Although employees need strong leadership to guide them through the storm, compassion and understanding are more important now than ever.

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Supporting the management team

Not all good managers have extensive leadership experience. In such stressful times, there is a lot of pressure on managers, and some may feel anxious and lose confidence in their abilities. You can help by giving them the leeway they need while reaffirming your support.

Remind them that active communication requires them to be authentic and listen without judgment. Solutions need to come from the group, not a single individual. The best way to engage with your staff is to ask questions. By actively involving each employee, you will mobilize your teams and are more likely to find solutions you wouldn’t have thought of.

One of the methods used in continuous improvement is the “5 whys,” which consists in getting to the root of a problem by exploring underlying cause-and-effect relationships.

How to be a best-in-class employer

Great companies are values-driven and people-oriented. They don’t base decisions solely on short-term profitability. They understand that individuals are the essence of the organization. You need your workers, and if you don’t want them to join your competitors, you have to think about their well-being now.

As part of your post-crisis retention strategy, ask yourself how you can be a best-in-class employer. You should already start assessing the situation and considering what positive changes you can maintain when things go back to normal. Agree with your teams on positive practices that should be sustained and eliminate those that are no longer appropriate or conducive to employee productivity and well-being.

Take advantage of this period of change to encourage initiatives. An example might be to create virtual work groups to brainstorm ideas and refine them until they are ready for implementation.

Of course, as an employer, you should also start planning the company’s return to normal operations and implementing special hygiene and safety measures. If your company has a return-to-work policy, read through it and plan your reopening with your management team and the union if applicable. Review work organization and go over different possible scenarios, incorporating ideas raised during brainstorming workshops with your employees.

Your management of the current situation is an investment in the company’s future. Find ways for your company to stay attractive to employees. Good leaders know how to balance company goals and employee well-being. Being a great place to work means providing a great employee experience, even during periods of uncertainty.

03 Jun 2020  |  Written by :

Katy Langlais is a recruiting and human resources consulting at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.

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