The workplace is
in the midst of a
Read on to learn about three of the companies leading the charge in tech, accessibility and employee benefits.
In March 2020, when much of the Canadian workforce was advised to work from home, it wasn’t clear how long the public health measure would be required. At first, officials surmised it would be short-lived, but as the weeks passed with no end in sight, companies and organizations had to get creative. Two years later, working from home, or hybrid working, seems like old news. As a result, all productivity and workplace products and services must take into account the new landscape of the working world.
For the three companies profiled here, the pandemic has had a permanent effect on their services and offerings, their positioning in the market, their messaging and more. Read on for more about how their ingenuity, forward-thinking and perseverance have paid off.
Prior to the pandemic, BIG Digital was renowned for its bespoke experiential projects, largely using digital billboards and interactive displays to help agencies and companies build out physical marketing campaigns in the real world.
But, considering that the pandemic meant all in-person activities were stopped, the initial impact on this global leader in custom experiences was swift and dramatic. “Overnight, all of our contracts were cancelled,” says Natali Hershkovich, director of marketing. Within two weeks, it went from a pipeline of millions to essentially nothing.
“We quickly had to figure out how we were going to keep the company alive, and not only that, how we were going to grow,” says Jordan Lampert, vice-president of strategy. Luckily, the company was already quite lean, so they did not have to downsize, but the company direction was in for a massive shift.
BIG Digital had been developing an analytics platform to use with their existing technology, to get a sense of how people were interacting with their activations. But without the need for crowd intel, the focus became using the existing technology to help organizations through this challenging time. So, BIG Digital took a step back to look at its offerings — which include hardware (indoor/outdoor digital displays and billboards, etc.), integrations (gesture control, payment terminals, etc.) and software (what you see on the screens and how you interact, as well as analytics) — and figured out how its products could be adapted. “We took those digital billboards and came up with a concept called SafeChek, which is an amalgamation of technology we’d already used. It has a digital display and a sensor that looks at your face to see if you’re wearing a mask. It also has a temperature gauge to see if it’s within the acceptable range. It then asks you to enter your information for contact tracing,” says Lampert. The digital unit sends a message to the person monitoring visitors to say that the guest has
met all of the public health requirements and can be allowed access to a building or business.
This change turned out to be a boon. “SafeChek got us thinking about how we might standardize and scale up, as opposed to having to build bespoke solutions for every client,” says Lampert. From there, BIG Digital created a standard line of products that are immediately ready for use, only requiring a forklift or pallet jack for installation. The units are easily moveable, completely weather-proof, wind-rated and more. Battery-powered units are also in the works.
“We recognized that there was going to be a lot more outdoor activity happening, and in order to capitalize, we saw that our innovation of elegant, indoor/outdoor displays deployed on-demand [could be gamechangers],” says Lampert. This streamlining of the business allowed BIG Digital to do more than just survive. These units can be found everywhere from condo sales galleries to government offices. And to think, two years ago, they didn’t know how the company was going to make it. Quite a pivot, indeed.
“We recognized that there was going to be a lot more outdoor activity happening and in order to capitalize, we saw that our innovation of elegant, indoor/outdoor displays deployed on-demand [could be gamechangers],” says Lampert.
Closed Caption Services (CCS)
When Larry Gavin retired from his broadcasting career in the early 1990s, he saw a pioneering opportunity in his midst: closed-captioning services. During his years in broadcast, Gavin attended meetings at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and could see that more networks and production companies would need to start incorporating closed-captioning services to meet accessibility guidelines. With this in mind, Gavin founded Closed Captioning Services (CCS) in 1994.
With his background in broadcast, he had colleagues in management positions across the country, so he kept an eye on the regulations to know who was going to have to start providing captioning when,” says Brooke Woboditsch, Gavin’s daughter and the president of CCS.
The visionary kept the company small, working out of his home and hiring freelance court reporters to keep up with the fast pace of live TV. “I was brought up in this company, starting out as a transcriber for off-line captioning,” says Woboditsch. “I eventually worked my way up to the general manager position.” But in 2015, Gavin’s health was declining and a period of transition saw Woboditsch step in as president; Gavin passed away in 2018, leaving the company in his daughter’s hands. CCS was re-evaluating their offerings at this time, given the industry-wide introduction of automatic or voice captioning (which is less accurate but takes less time to train). Woboditsch spearheaded a rebrand of CCS as an accessibility company, offering a range of accessibility services in media, including remote Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) work for remote and virtual events.
Fast-forward two years and the pandemic changed the game again. “We were just starting to get clients that were non-broadcast,” says Woboditsch. “When the pandemic hit, we lost maybe 10 to 20 percent of our work because live events were cancelled.” But then over the next few months, events like meetings, conferences, film festivals, panel discussions and more shifted from in-person to online and CCS was poised to capitalize on the demand. “We went from 26 clients in 2020 to 96 clients in 2021,” she says.
On the work front, CCS found itself troubleshooting the different modes of communication to offer the best possible service. Learning to integrate with different communications platforms wasn’t without challenges. CCS often uses StreamText to connect its captioners to different types of events, for example, which allows individual users to personalize their experiences. “Users can change the language, font size, contrast and other options in order to get a solution that works for them,” says Woboditsch.
CCS has come a long way from its early days, but more than 25 years after its founding, one thing remains the same: Quality is paramount. That, and to take a page out of founder Larry Gavin’s book and be willing to adapt to whatever’s next.
Patrick Dunn is a self-described “career insights and product development guy.” What that means is he’s spent his career helping other companies uncover unmet consumer needs and then helping them to create products to meet those needs. Before starting Benefi, he spent a handful of years working for a major insurer and provider of employee group benefits in Canada. It became clear to him that there was a really big problem that no one seemed to be tackling: consumer debt. “If you look at the income to service debt ratio, Canadians are more in debt now than at nearly any point in the history of the country,” says Dunn. “It’s a pre-COVID problem, but for big chunks of the population, it has gotten a lot worse. This includes younger professionals, newcomers to Canada and other groups that often don’t have a good credit history established.”
Whether people have lost their jobs to the pandemic or other negative factors have taken their toll, many people have been driven further into debt during the past two years. As a result, says Dunn, they don’t have great borrowing options and feel they have no choice but to seek out predatory lenders.
Knowing this, many economists are predicting a K-shaped recovery, which means that for some of the population, the pandemic has been a good thing, limiting the amount of money they’re able to spend and bolstering savings. But for those in precarious financial situations, it has been quite destructive. “That’s why we exist,” says Dunn. “We help Canadians keep more of their money through better borrowing tools, better saving tools and financial literacy.”
Benefi, which is both an employer-sponsored lender and a financial literacy platform, partners with companies to be offered to employees as a part of their benefits packages (Benefi has three signed clients, with about 500 employees each). As the first employer-driven program that empowers people to become more financially stable, businesses can be sure they’re optimizing the full potential of every employee. Benefi has freemium and premium models and companies can get the platform at no cost under certain circumstances.
“What’s interesting about Benefi is that we’re the first lender that actively tries to wean you off of consumer debt. It’s a strange position to be in, but our relationship is with the company,” says Dunn. “That means that our happy path is driving great employee outcomes at the end of the day.”
“What’s interesting about Benefi is that we’re the first lender that actively tries to wean you off of consumer debt. It’s a strange position to be in, but our relationship is with the company,” says Dunn.
THE NEW OFFICE...AT HOME!
Working at the dining room table or your kid’s desk just won’t cut it if you’re permanently WFH. We asked interior and prop stylist Andrea Ford for some of her favourite home office product picks.
An open bookcase can help to make your workspace feel separate from your living space.
ikea.com | $199
TJENA STORAGE BOX
Clutter creates a distraction. Stash things behind doors or in boxes so your mind can focus.
ikea.com | $5
HOBRO OFFICE CHAIR
A supportive chair is a must-have.
For ergonomic options, check out your local office supply store.
jysk.ca | $140
An adjustable desk means you have the choice to sit or stand while you work.
ikea.com | $299
Play music or talk radio on low to block out household noise.
amazon.ca | $139
POPPIN DESK ACCESSORIES
Cute accessories will make your office feel more personal.
staples.ca | from $6