As omicron peaks and subsides in New Zealand and restrictive measures like vaccine mandates and border controls loosen, Kiwi small business owners have the benefit of foresight about what might be in their future. 

Looking internationally, what are the lessons we can learn from other countries like that are further into their recovery?  What practical steps can small businesses take to stay ahead of what is coming next?

One country similar to Aotearoa is Canada, where city centres have reopened and readjusted to life post-omicron. Faye Pang, managing director for Xero Canada, sees several key areas where Canada can offer guidance for New Zealand small businesses, after facing peak levels of omicron.

“I feel like we are a little bit ahead of New Zealand, with omicron reaching our country a couple of months before it reached New Zealand. Like New Zealand, Canada has taken a pretty conservative approach to Covid, pretty sharp circuit breaker-type lockdowns, very heavy masking… and now we’re loosening those restrictions,” says Pang. 

“Certainly, as we reopen post the omicron wave here in Canada, we're seeing a collective exhale and relief around our ability to get back together again. We can meet customers face to face.

Faye Pang says we need to prepare for a gradual recovery

Like New Zealand, Canadian hospitality and CBD retail has been hit hard by the pandemic, Pang says, and it’s been a slow, gradual journey back to filling city centres.

Pang notes the city centre of Toronto has come back to life as businesses and office works return to their offices, reinvigorating the local small business sector. 

She says Canada can demonstrate there is hope for the hospitality sector, successful new approaches to employment flexibility, new ways to handle talent shortages and how to prepare for the next variant.

“As cases have dropped in Canada, most people have eased back into everyday life, even though many are still wary -  especially those immunocompromised or living with an immunocompromised person. 

“While it is clear recovery won’t happen overnight for Kiwi SMBs in these sectors, there is a gradual recovery in front of them that they must prepare for,” says Pang. 

The future of the office 

Microsoft’s latest NZ work trend report  found one in three employers will ask workers to return to the office within the next year. 

Locally, Fonterra has invited 1500 workers to return to its Auckland offices, and Spark will reopen all of its offices around NZ. Vodafone is also opening its Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch offices. Many other large employers are doing the same, if rising levels of city traffic are anything to go by.

On that note, however, Canada has seen a continuation of flexible working conditions despite a number of larger employers encouraging workers to leave home. 

While some are incentivising workers back to offices with free meals and others are making the return to offices mandatory, many have enabled employees to continue working from home or a hybrid model.

“The pandemic has impacted everyone differently and small businesses need to take this into account when trying to ‘return to normal’. It comes back to how people and communities were directly impacted and individual risk profiles,” says Pang. 

She notes that, much like New Zealand, Canada has a culture where many further their careers overseas. While covid-19 has kept most close to home since 2020, international travel is no longer an issue resulting in an  exodus of talent. This is a warning for Kiwi SMBs and another reason for them to take care of their employees and put a focus on staff retention.

Looking towards the future, the spectre of a new variant still hovers over Canadian workplaces. While the current feeling is that the worst of covid-19 is behind them, many are wary of another bump in the road.

Planning for an unplannable future 

Small businesses are beginning to set into the ‘new normal’, and hoping that nothing new mixes things up, Pang says. 

“A big part of that is business hygiene. No one really wants to sit down and write their will until they have a near death experience. And it's similar for business security. The last few years have just made people realise we actually have to put in the work to do the planning, and to dig in and to engage an accountant, bookkeeper or an advisor.

“In fact, our team is hearing from accountants that many of their clients are taking the opportunity to future proof, looking for guidance on contingency plans and emergency plans, ensuring balance sheets have levers built in that can be pulled in an emergency.

“We certainly hear from accountants and partners that they're doing more of that scenario planning with their customers now in a way that they haven't done before, because that one in a million happened, and now it's top of mind for everybody.

Resilience is a greater focus for businesses than ever before, which Pang sees as a positive development. 

“I'm infinitely optimistic about the resilience, flexibility and adaptability of small businesses in Canada and I can only assume it's the same in New Zealand.”

Small businesses, accountants and bookkeepers locally and across the world trust Xero with their numbers.