Physical distancing in place at a South Surrey business. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Surrey panel tackles re-opening for business in the wake of COVID-19

Four business leaders who’ve weathered trying times offer their advice

It’s keeping so many business people awake at night – when to re-open, and how, as the threat of this pandemic continues?

Four business leaders who’ve been through trying times offered their advice Wednesday during a “digital town hall” hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade, on the topic of re-opening for business in the wake of COVID-19.

Daniel Schwanen, the vice president of research for C.D. Howe Institute, joined the meeting from Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, where he said people are watching “with a lot of fascination” B.C.’s “much more cautious” approach to restoring a semblance of normalcy to the workplace.

“You always have that increasing, that remaining, that lingering doubt about basically letting business go about, that you won’t be able to catch any flare-up of the disease quickly enough, and there will be flare-ups, as we’ve seen already from European cases,” he said.

homelessphoto

Daniel Schwanen. (Submitted photo)

Schwanen said it will be interesting to see how the government with phase out the CERB and other income supports vis-a-vis the wage subsidy, and what strategies companies large and small will employ to re-promote themselves.

He predicts taxes will be hiked to pay for this government help, but added he nevertheless thinks that “we did the right thing” and the sacrifice is “better than the alternative.

“Are we going to be able to repay all of this? Well, not if we keep doing this, but the whole idea, frankly, is that if we hadn’t done this we would have been in a possibly a major depression, lack of confidence in the authorities’ ability to support the economy.”

Laura Benson, a senior manager with PwC Canada, said that speaking from a “psychological point of view” we’ve never until now seen governments and organizations have so much input in our own personal safety, and that of our families.

Benson said we’re probably going to see one of three scenarios play out.

“The first scenario being that we ease back to work, and the curve remains flat and we’re all OK. The second scenario is a spike, where we go back to work and we realize we perhaps aren’t equipped for what comes up and we need to retreat from the workplace, and the third scenario we kind-of call the basketball scenario because we’re going to bounce for a little bit.”

homelessphoto

Laura Benson. (Submitted photo)

While most employees appear to be “resilient” so far, the challenge is how to prepare them for “long-term resilience.” She advises employers to give their staff “some sense of control over their own situation, a situation that none of us can control, but choice and control over their own situation.”

Benson said this is the opportunity for companies “to make or break their culture.

“A plan showing your employees that you care for them by keeping them over-informed, and showing that you have given consideration for their safety coming back to the workplace, or any mix of that dynamic of virtual and coming into the workplace, will have a huge impact on your culture,” she said. “So first and foremost I would offer that, that without a plan you could possibly be demonstrating a lack of care for your employees and that will have a long-term effect on your organization.

“You don’t necessarily have to have your policies in place right away, but you do have to show the intention to consider them within your policies.”

Another important consideration is how to satisfy customers that it is safe to come back, what policies might need to be changed and how that will be communicated to all.

“It really is the people that will make or break this re-entry,” Benson said, “and the plan around these people.”

Eamonn Percy, founder and CEO of the Percy Group, expects to see a decrease in globalization. “We’re also seeing a trend of back-to-basics,” he said. “That will have a significant impact on businesses going forward, which means that the discretionary consumer purchasing is going down.

“The last implication, which I don’t think we’ve seen yet but I think is coming relatively quickly, is a credit contraction and certainly a liquidity squeeze or cash squeeze, and that is to me weeks to months away rather than months to years away.”

Percy weathered 1987, Black Monday, dot com, 2008. “I’ve been though this before, it’s not my first rodeo.”

“While at the time there’s big risk, but what I really learned is there’s enormous opportunity coming out of it,” he said. “So the first thing is I recommend business owners and entrepreneurs really to look at the opportunity and not to get too overwhelmed by the risk.”

homelessphoto

Eamonn Percy. (Submitted photo)

Percy noted this “is a great time” for employers to look into innovating their service delivery and business model. “Now is the time to conserve cash, or come up with cash-generating strategies, draw down those lines of credit that may be available because they may not be available in a couple of months.”

He added it’s important for businesses to be “exceptionally well-connected” with their customers right now. “Even if it may seem difficult to do that, right now the consumer sentiment and behaviors are changing very rapidly, so understanding what that change is and adopting it into your business is critical.”

Businesses need to determine what they need to do differently going forward. “Don’t just assume everything is going to be the same,” Percy said. “The companies that are going to really dominate going forward are the ones that make those changes quicker, rather than later.”

He also noted that the pandemic has shown us that not everybody will now want to work at the office, “or even needs to, and you have to recognize this, that we’re in a different time.”

If employers show empathy and support for their employees now, he said, “the employees will continue to show even greater levels of support going forward. That’s what I would recommend.”

Tomas Reyes, executive director of the Surrey-North Delta Division of Family Practice, said it appears we’ve reached a peak in infections.

“I think we are at the peak, but we are not off the hook,” he said. “I think we need to acknowledge that normality, or a sense of normal will be different from now on. Even when we find a vaccine, whenever that happens, if it’s in six months or a year or a year and a half, we don’t really know, it will take some time for adoption and creating the antibodies.

“What that means is the virus will stay.”

homelessphoto

Tomas Reyes. (Submitted photo)

Reyes noted that the COVID-19 virus can thrive for up to three days on a surface, depending on the surface.

“Try to handle as much as you can virtually,” he advises, and try to avoid prolonged contact with people. If people get “too over-confident,” he warns, “we may have a big spike and it may be back to our current normal.

“There are certain countries where they were ahead of us in this situation, they’re coming back to stronger restrictions again because of the spike that they’re having again, in South Korea, Germany and some others. So that’s a big red flag for us.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Tom on Twitter

BusinessCoronavirusSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Delta Police Department photo)
No offence in second incident involving a teen girl being approached in Tsawwassen: police

Police still investigating incident on Oct. 15 where teen girl was approached by older man in a burgundy car

A overview concept drawing of the Central District and its City Plaza, Gateway and Kennedy Heights neighbourhoods included in the Mayor’s Housing Task Force for Scott Road report. (City of Delta photo)
Walkable mixed-use neighbourhoods focus of task force’s vision for Scott Road

Report by Mayor’s Housing Task Force for Scott Road was presented to Delta council on Monday

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region over the last week.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
CHARTS: Weekly COVID-19 case double in Fraser North health area, up 50% in Vancouver

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region.

A total of 6,967 vote-by-mail packages were issued in Delta North during the 2020 provincial election, representing just over 18 per cent of the 37,998 registered voters in the riding. As of Thursday, Oct. 29, 3,825 certification envelopes have been received by officials in the riding ahead of the final count on Nov. 6. (Liam Harrap photo)
Over 3,800 mail-in, absentee ballots received in Delta North to date

6,967 vote-by-mail packages issued in the riding, representing over 18 per cent registered voters

tease photo
Food truck desserts from Prague ‘pop up’ at Surrey shopping mall

The Praguery offers a modern take on a traditional pastry

Sooke’s Paul Larouche enjoys gold panning along the Sooke River, looking for small treasures. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Island man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

The Excelsior 4 are set to make their second court appearance in Abbotsford on Monday (Nov. 2). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
‘Excelsior 4’: Animal activists set to enter not guilty plea in Abbotsford hog farm case

Animal rights activists expected to plead not guilty to charges, protest for Vancouver scheduled

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Dennis Cholowski shows off a Jordan 2 Retro Just Don Blue sneaker, the type of shoe only a true sneakerhead would appreciate. (Facebook photo)
VIDEO: Chilliwack Chiefs alum Dennis Cholowski shows off ‘sneakerhead’ collection

The Detroit Red Wing has been spending his NHL paycheques building up an impressive closet of shoes

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Maestro Otto Tausk. (Photo: vancouversymphony.ca)
50/50 lotto players buck up for Metro Vancouver musicians hit hard by COVID

‘Rapidly growing jackpot’ for VSO’s 50/50 draw as they go online with TheConcertHall.ca

Most Read