Common challenges

How Are Other Businesses Doing? COVID-19: Immediate Responses and Impact

July 22, 2020

In April 2020, HRdownloads conducted a survey to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting HR and business leaders in the areas of business operations, workforce management, and customer relations.

With an amazing 1,228 survey responses, this information provides the closest look yet at how small and medium businesses (SMB) have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic across Canada.

What industries reported they were feeling the effects of COVID-19?

Healthcare and social assistance accounted for 16.3% of all respondents. This group is a low-margin, high-cost industry, so organizations in this sector are bound to be affected by a major event. This has proven to be the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Respondents by Industry and Respondents by # of Employees Graphs-2

Manufacturing (10.7%), construction (6.3%), and retail/wholesale (6.1%) were other common industries reported in our survey. They have of course faced their own unique challenges, with widespread closure of retail stores, construction halts, and manufacturing delays. Interference to these industries snowballs into even more potential disruption to the supply chains for other industries. 

Respondents by Industry Graph-2

Does size matter?

Over two thirds (68.7%) of respondents reported having fewer than 100 staff pre-pandemic, while roughly one quarter (26.4%) stated between 101 to 499 employees. We would consider these organizations to be in the small to medium range. The remainder of respondents had over 500 workers, which we would consider medium to large businesses. 

Organizations with fewer than 100 employees may have an easier time logistically resuming operations compared to, for example, a national retail chain with dozens of outlets. That said, smaller businesses need to return to normal revenue levels more urgently than larger businesses due to smaller cash reserves.


What financial stress has the COVID-19 pandemic caused?  

Few organizations will be immune to the economic fallout that is bound to come as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Almost all respondents fear they won’t be able to pay money owed, which could include rent, loans, wages, and so on. Almost 27% of respondents worry that they will have a major loss of revenue over the year, with 26.8% of respondents reporting that as their number-one fear. Other top concerns from business owners and HR professionals were delays in recruitment or major projects.

There are some fortunate organizations that don’t anticipate any adverse financial impact (11.3%), mainly due to their status as essential services. Unfortunately on the other end of the spectrum, 2.7% of respondents fear the absolute worst: the closure of their businesses forever. The other sad realty is that this number may continue to rise if the restrictions, set for the health and safety of Canadians, continue to limit some businesses from operating. We also heard from some respondents (20.8%) that they simply don’t know what financial impact they will suffer.

Pie Graph - Financial Stress Caused by the Pandemic-2On the bright side, how have business have been able to pivot?

Since the pandemic began, some organizations have adopted new strategies and tactics in order to address very real concerns around customer retention and loyalty, as the prolonged lockdown has profoundly changed purchasing habits for many Canadians. 

We’ve heard from some companies in certain sectors pivoting their offerings during the downswing, such as breweries and distilleries converting their manufacturing lines to produce hand sanitizers and disinfectants instead of cider or vodka, or automakers turning out ventilators instead of minivans. Other tactics, such as reducing or even eliminating late fees, or providing alternative payment options, likewise play into brand loyalty strategies.

how have business have been able to pivot Graph-2

Final Thoughts 

Organizations of all types and sizes are beginning plans or continuing to work towards getting back to operations in a new normal while also considering the health and safety of employees and customers.

We recommend these actionable items:

  1. If you haven’t already, start working now on plans for resuming operations. Most provinces have already begun opening up in carefully coordinated phases, with each new phase closely monitored to determine whether COVID-19 outbreaks occur. If new hot spots arise, future phases will inevitably be delayed, but you should still start taking the time to prepare for opening.

  2. Create or update your business continuity plan (BCP) as soon as you can. Then test, test, test again! Once you have committed a BCP to paper, it is crucial that you test it at least annually. Gather important stakeholders and walk through probably scenarios. Update your BCP as needed to ensure it remains up to date with environmental and organizational changes over time.

  3. Company owners and other senior executives must reach in and reach out. The “new normal” will be uncharted territory for almost every organization, and it will mean an unprecedented opportunity for business leaders to re-engage (or even redefine) all facets of the organization. Connect with employees or work more directly with them, because how you handle difficult situations can say a lot about your business.

Icon-COVID Response Survey

This is a summary of a full report we created. Interested in reading in more detail?
Download our COVID-19: Immediate Responses and Impact report below!


We offer a variety of other helpful resources in our full document library of customizable templates and online training courses, which we’ve added to as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we operate. We’ve also created a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Centre to help support our members through this challenging year. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates!


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