10 tech executives on back to school disruptions – September Community Slideshow

Welcome to IT World Canada’s community slideshow! Every month we’ll be asking the Canadian technology company leaders we cover so often about a general life topic as a fun way to get to know the community a little better and encourage the sector to share its experiences. This month revolves around the back to school season – the most wonderful time of the year for some (parents), but a dreaded time for others (kids). Like it or not, the start of classes again means both personal and work lives are reshaped by school schedules.

So here’s the question we asked: “With summer drawing to a close, September is the dreaded back to school season for children and teenagers across North America. How does this affect you as an executive and your employees? How do you prepare for and deal with the inevitable disruptions in the workplace?”

We received a lot of great responses that you can browse in our slideshow.

[Editor’s note: some answers have been edited for length]

You can also find last month’s slideshow here.

Mary Ann Yule, president and CEO of HP Canada

“Back to school is a great time! While some kids groan about the end of the summer, many deep down are excited about connecting back with their friends and sharing stories, and most importantly, photos of their summer adventures. Parents are usually happy about the household getting back to a ‘normal’ schedule too.

At HP, we have a great culture that enables our employees to be their best, all year round. We’ve been talking about a concept called One Life at HP, which is about how home-life and work-life are no longer distinctly separate. We don’t just talk about the One Life concept with our customers and partners, our employees live it. This new reality at work is why HP Canada is flexible to accommodate employees’ individual needs. Employees collaborate, work and get the job done wherever and whenever with connected devices. So for the back to school season, our business is business as usual.”

Alex Benay, CIO of the Government of Canada

“In today’s workplace, it’s vital to accept and understand that disruptions are part of normal life, and that’s totally fine. I think it’s important for employees to have the flexibility they need to get their kids back in school, to work compressed hours, or to have the flexibility they require to do their jobs What I care about is results and progress, not punching clocks.

Additionally, I think it’s important to recognize that September can be a stressful time for employees with such disruptions. To help shed light on this fact, I am currently taking part in a program called the #ConvoPlate – a mental health initiative from the Paul Hansell Foundation. It is a hand painted stoneware plate that is circulated around the community to get people talking about mental health, aiming to encourage discussions around mental health in the office.”

Wendy Bahr, senior vice president of global partner organizations at Cisco Systems, Inc.

“I am fortunate that Cisco’s culture accommodates what we call ‘lifetime events’ by creating a flexible work environment. The company has provided the tools and access to give each employee the freedom to do those important things in life, like take your kids on the first day of school, which is a one-time event that you can’t miss. Cisco equips employees with WebEx and a mobile phone and after 17 years at Cisco, I know that by providing flexibility to my employees, I get a more productive employee. At Cisco, there is no work-life balance but instead a balance of every single day and the belief is by making employees happy, we will get more productive employees.”

Cameron Dow, president of SAS Canada

“I like to remind our employees that while September marks the end of summer, it is also known as the season of new beginnings. It’s a fresh start. A time to perfect routines and feel inspired to get organized and do things better.

As a father, I’m certainly no stranger to the hectic lives parents lead. SAS is known as the leader in analytics but we are also recognized worldwide for our outstanding workplace culture that fosters work-life balance.  Disruptions are inevitable for parents and non-parents alike. Giving employees the flexibility and accountability to tend to those disruptions while managing their responsibilities is key to SAS’ and our employees’ success. We set the bar high for our employees and give them a culture that fosters creativity and promotes innovation. This approach springs from CEO Jim Goodnight’s philosophy: ‘Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.’”


Luc Villeneuve, Canada country leader and general manager at Red Hat

“As a leader at Red Hat, I am lucky because our culture supports flexibility which helps us easily cope with the cycles each season brings.  A quarter of our workforce are remote so we do our work wherever we can plug in our device. I always want to make sure I’m available for my team and my clients. If I’m away from my office, I put on my vacation alert so people have someone to contact if they need me.  I want to ensure whatever they need, particularly emergencies, will be taking care of.”

Deidre Deacon, general manager at ViewSonic Canada

“Back to school represents back to business for ViewSonic and is our busiest month of the year.  We prepare to dive right in after labour day and know it will be all hands on deck through September 30th.  Balancing the outside disruptions and adjustments that come with September is always a challenge but since we are driving to close the quarter, we ensure activities are prioritized and deal with the unavoidable hiccups that come.”

Mike Morrison, partner and co-founder of Arctiq Inc.

“Our lives at Arctiq don’t take a summer vacation, even when our kids do! As a startup focusing on bleeding edge solutions, customer demand is high, and we knew it would be. Thus we spent a lot of thoughtful preparation crafting our approach with clients, partners, and of course, our staff.  Being flexible is key, no matter what time of year.  Freedom to work when and where it makes sense, tools and connectivity to accomplish that, and notably cherishing our employee efforts has bridged any gap. Rather than limiting vacation time, adding stress during busy family seasons, Arctiq focuses on the business deliverables, and rewards the whole team for their hard work, all year round. This approach to customer and employee satisfaction has more than smoothed over any potential ‘disruptions’ as our kids head back to school.”

Mike Wessinger, CEO and cofounder of PointClickCare

“There are very few jobs here at PointClickCare where our employees are tied to a specific time for their job. We’re flexible in general all year round – if you have a kid with a soccer game at 3pm on a Friday in June, for example, that’s where you need to be, not at work. Work stuff can be figured out later, but personal experiences like your kid’s soccer game may never happen again. So for events like the first day back at school, I think we’re pretty good at making sure our employees have enough flexibility to do those things that are important for their family, and not spend all their time at work. Even for me, the first day of school is blocked off so I can make sure my kids are prepared and see them off. One of our cultural pillars says that work shouldn’t suck. It’s all about the work-life balance and making our employees happy.”

John Baker, president and CEO of D2L

“Because our business is education, this is not so much a “dreaded” time of year as a highly anticipated one.  Starting in August and continuing through September, we welcome millions of students around the world back into full-time studies through the use of our products.

At D2L, because we know how tough this time of year can be for parents. That’s why we’ve always been accommodating when people need to drop their kids off at school or get them early.  It’s part of the balance between work and life that we try to strike as a progressive, family-friendly education technology company.”

Douglas Swanson, CTO of BSM Technologies

“A good portion of my developers have young children at home. There’s a bunch of complications in the sense that we have teams that work around the world, from B.C. to Russia and India. With the back to school schedule you suddenly have really hard lines around when your employees can work. How we try to manage that issue is by having flexible work hours. You need a window where people can work from 8:30 PM to 10:30 PM ET and that’s very common. You enable that by having the communications mechanism, so you can communicate at that time of day in a non-intrusive way. Using chat tools and videoconferencing is really important.”

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Mandy Kovacs
Mandy Kovacshttp://www.itwc.ca
Mandy is a lineup editor at CTV News. A former staffer at IT World Canada, she's now contributing as a part-time podcast host on Hashtag Trending. She is a Carleton University journalism graduate with extensive experience in the B2B market. When not writing about tech, you can find her active on Twitter following political news and sports, and preparing for her future as a cat lady.

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