2021 hands Ottawa’s tech innovators a roster of competitive opportunities

What opportunities await Ottawa’s tech sector?
Perley
Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP.

As a corporate and securities lawyer, my primary focus is on helping entrepreneurs and startups get organized and navigate the early stages of their development. 

That means I work with a dynamic group for whom the “new normal” has been routine long before the pandemic – they live and work in a headspace that seldom conforms to the regular 9-5 grind.

For this crowd, the switch to remote working might seem to have not been that severe of a change, at least not compared to, for example, the buttoned-down team of a law firm.

But innovators and trailblazers and visionaries on the cutting edge of technology are still social animals like other humans. They suffer just as much from the shortcomings of the technology we have all come to rely on to remain connected and productive over the past nine months.

The chief difference between us and them, of course, is that many of them are in a position to do something about the shortcomings of said technology.

We’ve all learned that “Zoom Fatigue” is very real. And when it comes to Microsoft Teams, please pick me last. Collaboration and productivity tools of every stripe that are designed to keep decentralized teams connected, cohesive and productive have proven that there is still no true substitute for face-to-face engagement.

When everyone is stuck working from home for months on end, communicating through a screen does wear thin after a while, regardless of the digital tools in use. For those people in creative roles, this prolonged lack of direct interaction can easily sap the creative juices. It’s not just about the volume of productive output, but the quality and richness of that output.

On the other hand, I have been impressed by how most people have adapted. Our office upgraded its VPN and document management system last year and these investments proved to be real life savers when the pandemic struck. Our team has been largely back in the office since July, but in the interests of maintaining safe distancing, we still rely on remote tools, even now.

The past nine months have proven that the world of office work can function outside of traditional business hours without a manager looking over the cubicle wall. On the other hand, it has shown some cracks – the micro-stressors that can add undo aggravation to our lives at a time when mental health may already be suffering. A micro-stressor may be something as basic as bandwidth issues in the home office, when competing with the kids who are logged on for school. 

On the other hand, these stressors represent opportunity. We need only look as far as the 2020 Best Ottawa Business (BOBs) awards to see how the local tech community has the expertise and intellectual horsepower to make a remote world more functional and agreeable.

We had one award winner that turned around in 72 hours a new COVID Workspace Monitoring Dashboard to help employers ensure a safe work environment for their teams. Another logged revenue growth of 900 per cent in the first seven months of the year for its software that helps employers implement more flexible and efficient work environments. A third one offers a SaaS solution to help managers improve their relationships with employees.

And so on. These examples don’t even touch on Ottawa’s world-class pedigree in telecommunications technology, where new innovations could certainly ensure better bandwidth for home-based workers everywhere.

 So, heading into 2021, what do we need and what opportunities does this create for Ottawa’s tech sector?

  • Better options for safe human interaction. There are plenty of collaboration tools for conveying critical information in real-time, but these still do not substitute for in-person contact.
  • And spontaneous engagement, to fuel creativity and support emotional well-being. Make no mistake, there has been a cost to this shift in how we live and work. While many of these costs may be considered intangible, their impact may prove to be severe.
  • Make remote experiences more seamless. As lawyers, we have found that going virtual in some ways actually led to improved and faster service for our clients. But when you work all day on the opposite end of a video call, those little micro-stressors, such as internet latency or lag, quickly become maddening.

Are these challenges easy to overcome? Of course not. But entrepreneurs and visionaries don’t launch ventures to solve easy challenges, as Ottawa’s track record in technological innovation can easily attest.

Conor Cronin is an Ottawa corporate and securities lawyer with the Business Law Group at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP. Much of Cronin’s work at the firm focuses on helping young entrepreneurs and startups get organized, navigate the early stages of their development and deal with shareholder disputes. He has acquired a vast amount of corporate legal knowledge through his work in purchase and sale transactions, involving privately and publicly owned companies, preparing shareholder agreements and employee stock option plans. Contact Cronin at ccronin@perlaw.ca.