Coping with Calgary: stories and lessons from the flood zone

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It’s made headlines around the world, and pictures of the flooded zoo are trending online, but the Calgary flooding has also closed businesses and offices around the city.

How are Calgary employers managing, and what can you learn from their experience?

Supermarket chain Calgary Co-op had to close its High River location when the whole area was evacuated, and has had staff all around the city affected.

“Our strategy has been to be as accommodating, adaptable and flexible as we can,” communications manager Karen Allan said. “Each individual has a different set of circumstances so we’re trying to accommodate based on individual needs.”

The company’s business continuity team jumped into action, ensuring management and employees knew what was happening. One challenge was communicating with evacuated workers, many of whom had their home number listed on their contact sheet. Using information from their reward and recognition program, the company was able to find personal emails for most employees and a phone hotline updated twice daily has helped keep staff informed.

“It’s a lot of preparation to have that business continuity team, but when a crisis strikes it really pays off,” Allan said. “It only takes one crisis and then you learn to do it.”

Staff from High River who wanted to work have been redirected to stores in their area, while employees who felt “emotionally unequipped” to work can stay home with their families. Some head office employees had stepped in to support stores, which were experiencing high demand as people stocked up on necessities, and the co-operative was utilizing its recognition program to reward its employees’ hard work.

Allan added that the culture of the cooperative meant employees and customers were supportive of each other and the community.

“Our members have the same mindset. We are concerned about our community and employees and we’ve all been doing what we can to support them and each other,” she said. “It changes how they respond to everything when you have a positive culture where their concern is for each other.”

While culture and planning were keeping the Co-op on track, many downtown-based offices were finding technology was their biggest asset.

Suncor Energy was encouraging employees to work from home to avoid the downtown evacuation zone, as were Cenovus Energy Inc.’s employees, where computer backup systems meant they could access work emails and electronic files from home.

"Our ability to work under difficult circumstances will be put to the test this coming week," Cenovus chief executive officer Brian Ferguson said in an email to employees on Sunday. "I understand we may not be able to access our offices in downtown Calgary until at least mid-week. Work will be focused on business-critical things only."

Legal obligations

Employers who spoke to HRM stressed their focus on accommodation and compassion, but what were their legal obligations? The answer on page 2.

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