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Canadian Innovation

Tech startups are powering the shift to hybrid working

business people working together
business people working together
Krista Jones

Krista Jones

Vice President of Venture Services,
MaRS Discovery District

As some workers return to the office and others stay home, businesses are leaning on innovative technologies to keep employees healthy and engaged.

Moving a gym online requires some technological heavy lifting. During the pandemic, thousands of fitness studios turned to Toronto-based WellnessLiving to help them make the leap. The company, whose software simplifies processes like running virtual classes, managing memberships, and conducting digital marketing, was a lifeline for gyms shuttered by COVID. As the economy reopens, its platform is providing flexibility for owners to manage employees and classes offered in person or online. 

WellnessLiving is part of a new generation of Canadian tech firms that are proving indispensable to businesses as they adjust in the wake of the pandemic. It’s clear that there will be no simple snap back to regular office life. More than half of employees want to keep working from home at least part time, and several banks and multinationals have already said that they’ll  make telecommuting a permanent option. 

Much of the return-to-work focus has fallen on the tools that will enable companies to operate with hybrid workforces. This is benefitting ventures like Axonify and Humi, which provide software that helps businesses to onboard, train, and manage workers remotely. Both are growing rapidly as managers consider how to oversee and develop staff they may rarely see in person. 

For some industries, reopening safely will entail regular COVID testing, especially if new variants take hold. Guelph-based Precision Biomonitoring has created an on-the-spot testing system that can deliver results in 80 minutes. It’s already in use in remote mining operations, which are vulnerable to outbreaks, and its system is likely to be deployed by other businesses that need to give returning employees additional confidence that their workplaces are safe. 

Meanwhile, corporations are looking to tech companies to help them reconfigure health benefits for the new hybrid workplace. Dialogue, a telemedicine company used by many businesses to provide physical and mental health services to their employees, recently listed on the TSX after growing rapidly during the pandemic. League, a benefits platform used by such companies as Unilever and Shopify, provides flexible health spending accounts that staff can use to sign up for a gym membership or even just buy a pair of running shoes. 

It’s no accident that Canada’s tech companies are well-placed to capitalize on opportunities in new areas like wellness at work — it’s the result of a decade of investment in building an innovation ecosystem that’s characterized by technological talent, significant intellectual property, and a focus on solving real problems faced by business and society. 

The country now has a large group of innovative companies reaching the scale at which they can make a sizable impact. Many are on course to hit $100 million in revenues in the next few years. That’s more than a psychological milestone. It’s the point at which ventures become too big to be bought out by all but the most deep-pocketed foreign competitors, increasing the chances that they’ll stay in Canada and create jobs here. These companies are oiling the wheels of Canada’s economic engine. With the right support, they can continue to win clients at home and abroad. Operating behind the scenes and supporting other businesses, they may never be household names, but they can become global powerhouses. 

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