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Post-Vaccine and Post-Omicron: What is the State of Start-Ups?

Operating a start-up in Canada has always been tough, but contending with Omicron, the most transmissible strain of COVID-19 to date, added a layer of complexity. For start-ups, the good news is that their willingness to adopt innovative technologies and approaches will continue to serve them well. The bad news is that the vaccination rate among Canadians ages 18-45 is putting their reliance on culture in jeopardy as Omicron refuses to go away. 

A Cultural Shift for Start-ups

Start-ups place a premium on workplace and business culture. It’s how they sell themselves to prospective employees and even get away with paying them relatively low wages. That said, maintaining a desirable corporate culture, while working remotely or on staggered schedules, has been an enormous challenge.

Social activities, like weekly events and networking parties, are a big part of start-up life. Senior leaders will have to devise strategies on how to keep their workforce engaged, even when they can’t be physically together. Outdoor fun like team sports or a barbecue lunch are some ways to make this work. Of course, for somewhere with harsh winters, you will have to put in extra effort to replace beer o’clock Fridays in November. 

Vaccine Mandates for Employees 

There’s a sticky situation brewing within start-ups about vaccine mandates. It’s no secret that much of the Canadian start-up workforce is young. As of last summer, only 54% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 29 received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Eligible young adults are falling behind in the race to get fully vaccinated. Ultimately, this will impact their ability to regularly work in an office setting.

Start-ups must decide if they will implement a vaccine mandate, requiring all employees to show proof of vaccination or risk termination. These mandates have disrupted most industries, but start-ups could be hit as hard as the restaurant industry due to their reliance on a younger workforce. 

A vaccine mandate might be the responsible choice, but it could also result in staff shortages and disgruntled employees. 

What Can Start-ups Do Going Forward?

Vaccines have helped return society to a “new normal.” Undermining this progress, though, is a combination of workplace mandates and the spread of Omicron, which have limited most start-ups in remaining agile and focusing on more than the bottom line. The emphasis on culture has never mattered more, but it has never been vaguer and harder to reach. 

The reality is that many start-ups will prosper in the current environment, whereas others will falter. Sadly, some will flat out fail. This will come down to strategy, branding, hiring practices, and communication with their staff, in addition to meeting employee needs.

What no start-up should do is hope that Omicron will magically disappear or that another strain won’t emerge. “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the motto that start-ups should have adopted in 2020.

Rob Shapiro | Contributing Writer

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