TECHNOLOGICAL Changes on the Horizon for Employers & Businesses

by Tanisha Dunkley, Contributing Writer

It was Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, who said “change is the only constant in life.”Today this popular quote is often referenced to make a point that as humans, we must always plan for and be ready for change in every aspect of our lives. In Ontario, the topic of change will be the dominant theme throughout 2018 and will be a shared experience for businesses across all sectors. For David Wilkes, Senior Vice President, Government Relations & Grocery Division for the Retail Council of Canada, there are three key areas of change that are poised to create some shaky ground for businesses.

These include the continued growth in on- line shopping and express delivery services, the evolution of the “store” as an experience and not just for point of sale transactions and a growing expectation among consumers for greater employee knowledge and effective training tools. “We will definitely continue to see the shift in consumer shopping behavior towards on-line purchases, but businesses will now have to be prepared to meet consumer delivery demands as more and more shoppers expect immediate and speedy deliveries on their purchases.”

Although Wilkes agrees that consumers will continue to shop online, he challenges the notion of the demise of brick-and- mortar shops. “What we are seeing is that the store will still have a significant role in helping to deliver an experience to customers. Businesses will have to shift their thinking and figure out a combination of using the store as a distribution centre and as a means to enhance consumers’ shopping experience.”

So although shoppers may buy the latest smartphone or gadget online, there is still an opportunity for businesses to capitalize on in-store services such as tutorials or demos to provide shoppers with an enhanced experience at the store level.

Another area of change that is moving at light speed is the pace at which consumers are becoming more knowledge- able about the products and services that they desire. They have access to information and resources literally at their fingertips via their mobile devices. “Businesses will have to shift their attention and make it a priority to ensure that their employees have access to information at the same speed as the consumer. They will have to look at tailoring their training approach and seeking new ways to implement effective product knowledge training,” says Wilkes. “Long gone are the days when you would train people during the lunch- hour by combing through manuals. Many businesses now have a younger workforce and these millennials will need to be trained based on how they are accustomed to receiving information. So, this may need to involve the use of technology and more interactive training tools.”

Wilkes says that another key area of change that we will be at the forefront for many businesses in 2018 is the regulatory changes concerning workplace legislation that will be implemented throughout the year. “The minimum wage increase is one change that will really be a blow to businesses. In many respects, it is not necessarily the actual amount of the increase that poses a challenge, but it is the speed at which the change is taking place, “he said. “With as little as seven months notice, businesses are expected to increase wages by more than 20% and that’s a real hard adjustment from a costing perspective and a real impact to some businesses.”

Todd Letts, Chief Executive Officer for the Brampton Board of Trade echoes Wilkes sentiments where the changes to workplace legislation are concerned. He says the changes pro- posed by Bill 148 are the biggest voiced concerns by the BBOT membership. “Despite practical advice given by the business community, the government chose to make a political decision rather than an evidence-based one. A 31% increase in minimum wage within 18 months puts 484,000 jobs at risk,” said Letts. “Businesses are disappointed that political decisions were made without any economic analysis or consideration of economic impact. Businesses have marked June 7th on their calendars – the date of the next provincial election.”

So how will businesses respond to the changes? Letts says he anticipates that businesses will accelerate decisions to increase prices to customers, reduce staff hours, fire staff, delay hiring and take on more workload with fewer human resources, all in an effort to remain competitive. He adds that many businesses have expressed concern about the mental health impact on those that will remain employed after having implemented these changes.

“Businesses are concerned about total cost. That includes salary increases and compliance requirements to new workplace regulations. As the floor salary rate increases, compression occurs requiring salary changes to all classes of jobs. There are costs associated with compliance including time to interpret the changes, refinement of HR policies and investment in new HR infrastructure.”Letts contends that businesses and offices have limited options and that many HR managers point to automation as the most cost-effective response. “Where automation makes sense, it will be accelerated.”

Self-Serve Kiosks are replacing front line staff

For offices, reception and meeting organization are two areas where automation may provide better value. This puts job classifications such as receptionist and office administrator in flux. Furthermore, Letts adds that reducing hours to remain competitive may require more shared tasks and that HR managers have said that those employees or job-seekers with fewer skills and less experience will have a more difficult time keeping and finding stable employment.

But before any responses are put into affect, Letts recommends that business take the time to communicate as much as possible with their teams. He says offices should prepare and distribute formal letters to existing employees out- lining how their office will respond and the rationale. Specifically, they should highlight the changes to employment terms and conditions and call meetings to prepare managers on how to handle employee questions.

As if the changes to workplace legislation wasn’t enough of a challenge, Letts says there are two other areas that businesses need to be prepared to tackle in 2018.

These include technological and demographic issues, both of which Letts says will impact consumer behavior, demand and expectations, and will challenge businesses on how they will continue to serve and delight their customers. According to Letts, technology in 2018 will be unlike anything businesses have ever encountered before.

“There are at least 12 technologies that are peaking at the same time such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, cyber security and internet of things, the latter of which refers to the ability for physical devices, vehicles and home appliances to connect and exchange data.”

Letts says what all of these technologies have in common is that they will influence the way people in offices and businesses work. Moreover, having to manage these technological influences will also impact how businesses serve their customers. Along with technology, the workplace demographic is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of ages and cultures. “There is a combination of baby boomers and millennials in today’s workplace and businesses will have the added layer of complexity in discovering how to communicate and capture knowledge from these two groups,” said Letts.

The same rings true for workplaces with diverse cultures and languages and Letts says that business will need to know how to leverage the knowledge and expertise that people from different cultural backgrounds will have to offer. “The shifting demographic in workplaces is a direct reflection of the changes in the communities in which those businesses exist so they will also have to consider how they are delivering their messages and services to those customers.” As to the question of how businesses can prepare to cope with and shape these changes to their advantage? Letts says that community business organizations such as the Brampton Board of Trades can be a great starting point for businesses to receive support and gain access to information and expert advice.

“We (boards of trade) are in place to provide advocacy support and in fact, we have done a lot of thinking and have compiled a 2018 program to bring the business point of view concerning work- place legislation and trade issues to the government. ”Letts says there are a host of services that are provided to help businesses navigate through some the challenges that will be present in 2018 such as seminars that provide practical tools and help businesses to understand how to communicate with different customer demographics.

One unique project that the Brampton Board of Trade is spearheading to help businesses tackle new technology is the Advance Manufacturing Supercluster project which brings together members that are experts in technology to work together to help business communities. The groups’ membership spans from Toronto to Waterloo.

“For our members, this means they have access to curricula to help them understand technology and big data. The end goal is to help them to not be afraid of taking the next step to learn more and to take advantage of opportunities to better cope with the changes they are facing.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 Issue of Office Today Magazine