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Pandemic offers chance to reinvigorate workplace culture

New BC Chamber program looks to help businesses adapt and compete in COVID and beyond
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Dr. Mark Colgate, professor of service excellence at UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, is leading a course for small- and medium-sized businesses to adapt their model and reinvigorate their workplace culture in COVID and beyond. Photo submitted

For business owners just trying to survive the COVID-19 crisis, workplace culture can often fall by the wayside when there are bills piling up at the end of the month. But, according to Dr. Mark Colgate, professor at the University of Victoria’s (UVic) Gustavson School of Business and one of the visionaries behind the Whistler Experience program, it’s even more important to foster a positive workplace through times of turbulence. 

“Obviously we’re in a pandemic and it’s difficult to see beyond that,” said Colgate. “What the research shows is the organizations that come out [of major disruptions] ahead are the ones that stay calm, the ones that can see through it, the ones that understand what we need to do now so we can come out further ahead. One of those things is to look at what you’re doing as an organization, double down on your workplace culture, and help your employees be even more effective in their roles.”

Colgate is teaming up with fellow professor Brian Leacock and the BC Chamber to offer a six-week program called Building Resilience to Thrive that is aimed at helping small- and medium-sized business owners adapt their model to the pandemic, re-engage customers, and tweak their workplace culture. 

“Of course there are a lot of different training programs out there, but we wanted to offer a more unique program that’s more about the business owner themselves,” explained Dan Baxter, director of policy development, government and stakeholder relations for the BC Chamber. “Things on emotional intelligence, on how to adapt their business model and re-engage their customers, and ultimately to adjust workplace cultures, because it’s not just necessarily the owner that might be struggling or having to adapt, but how do they actually train and re-train their employees as well to be more successful in this COVID environment?” 

Taking care of your staff is especially crucial in times when employees are being asked to do more with less, said Colgate. And with more than two-thirds of resort businesses with 50 employees or more reporting in a recent Whistler Chamber of Commerce poll that they won’t have enough workers this winter, getting the most of the limited staff available will be essential. 

“At the end of the day, when you’re short-staffed, productivity is critical,” he said. “You can’t expect your staff will be more productive by just hoping they’ll work harder in the whirlwind. Even if you dedicate five or 10 minutes at the beginning of every shift to getting the team together or having a one-on-one with an individual, that five-minute conversation can be incredibly powerful.” 

The program is also aimed at helping businesses think about what they offer and how they can adapt their customer experience during COVID. For Whistler tourism-oriented businesses that rely on group gatherings, completely reimagining your business model can be a tall order, but simply listening to your customer’s wants and needs is an effective first step, Colgate said.  

“Creativity comes from really understanding your customer experience and the things you can add to broaden and personalize the experience a little bit more,’ he said. 

The Building Resilience to Thrive program is offered in three rounds: from Nov. 3 to Dec. 8, Jan. 12 to Feb. 16, and Feb. 24 to March 31. Registration is $35 for chamber members and $70 for non-members. Learn more and register at bcchamber.org/events/building-resilience-to-thrive.