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From the editor: Unlike anything the modern workplace has ever seen

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May 7, 2020
By Todd Humber

The spring 2020 issue of Talent Canada.

Unprecedented. The word splashed on the cover of this magazine is the only word that fits these times. As a journalist, I’ve been covering the workplace for more than 20 years — and we’ve never seen anything like COVID-19.

My grandfather lived through the Great Depression in the 1930s, fought his way through Europe in the Second World War and watched as people landed on the moon. But he never experienced a global pandemic.

We haven’t experienced one of this magnitude since the Spanish flu in 1918.

There is no rulebook to guide decisions in boardrooms, no sure-fire path to success for companies.


But employers, workers and governments across Canada have responded in creative and innovative ways to weather and tame this ferocious beast.

Some industries have been decimated. The restaurant and hospitality sectors were hit hard and fast. Robert Carter of the StratonHunter Group, a consultant in the food services industry, said one in 10 restaurants in Canada have closed permanently. This number could double.

Other industries, though, are thriving. The in-depth stories you’ll find in this issue starting on page 12 tell their story. Pennine Security Solutions can’t hire people fast enough, though their recruitment process has been upended.

Gilbertson Enterprises is pouring just as much concrete as ever — many construction and infrastructure projects are going full out, though some jurisdictions did temporarily pause non-essential work.

Talent Canada’s survey of employers found that employers are giving what I would call a “tepid” thumbs up for how the federal government has responded. Here, we will endorse the path Ottawa is taking.

It is expensive to the treasury, but it’s an investment that was necessary and it should pay off. Offering employers who are struggling a 75-per-cent wage subsidy is a bold step. Providing emergency benefits so workers — even those in the gig economy — are helped, is necessary. On-the-fly adjustments have provided emergency loans for business, assistance paying commercial rent, and more.

Is it perfect? No. And it’s not fair to hold that expectation — but the attempt to freeze the economy is laudable, as are efforts to ensure as many employees as possible are still on payrolls, so that when things return to normal the recovery can be faster.

Your employees have been watching, very carefully, how you have responded to the pandemic.

This is especially true when it comes to your top talent, the ones who have options and the ones you truly need to sustain business through the crisis and thrive beyond it.

They will remember how you treated employees and the steps you took, for better or worse. Honest and transparent communication always wins the day, and employers who didn’t go that route will learn some hard lessons when COVID-19 fades into history and the economy and job markets rebound.

Your workplace, no matter what industry or sector, is going to change. Over the coming weeks and months, Talent Canada is dedicated to exploring the new realities of working and what this looks like.

We will explore best practices on getting back to work — and watch closely as trends develop. We have seen some of the early consequences: offices being re-arranged to allow physical distancing, the end of hoteling (that practice of not assigning desks) and potentially the death of the time-tested business greeting — the handshake.

Employers that never opened the door to remote work have seen first-hand how business can be done — nearly as well and often better — with telecommuting workers.

Good HR practices are not just recession proof, they are also pandemic proof. They’re not fads; they’re not cost centres. They are an investment in your most important asset.

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