What Went Down at the Disruption Town Hall

On December 1 at the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s new event space by the Waterfront, CB and Staples Professional jointly held their first Disruption Town Hall.

Co-hosted by Jason Maghanoy, group publisher at SJC Media, and Staples CEO David Boone and chief B2B officer Chris Saniga, participants included executives from BMO Financial Group, Pizza Pizza, Microsoft, Deloitte, and other notable thought leaders representing a variety of organizations and sectors.

Taking place over three breakfast courses, the event was an opportunity for business leaders to explore how facets of disruption, from the future of the office to AI’s threats and opportunities, are impacting their business and how leaders can adapt to change while building resilience.

The first course kicked off with a spirited discussion on how workplace culture has profoundly changed since the pandemic – for management, employees, and their customers – and how the leaders present are adapting to the “new normal” while keeping innovation front and centre.

Boone and Saniga highlighted the work of Staples Canada’s Work from Anywhere (WfA) Advisory Council – several members were in the room – in navigating digital transformation and remote-hybrid office spaces. Participants shared an array of experiences with return-to-office policies, placing an emphasis on a collaborative and flexible exploration of solutions in a rapidly changing business environment.

A variety of insights were revealed, including how effective certain workplace models are depends on the industry, how management must be mindful of newer hires who started working from home compared to employees more accustomed to being in-office full time, and that external factors – housing, childcare, transit infrastructures – have the biggest impact on workplace culture.

The looming ubiquity of AI in the workforce – and its potential impact on skills development and jobs – drove the conversation during the main course.

By highlighting historical patterns where technological advancements were predicted to replace human labour but didn’t exactly play out that way, many participants were skeptical that AI would take over the workforce.

Instead, AI has the potential to automate repetitive tasks, like performance reviews and long-range truck driving, and create new human-centric jobs across industries where soft skills — highly in-demand abilities including creativity, communication and judgment — will elevate workers’ competencies and performance, producing enhanced outcomes.

But the quality and desirability of such outcomes depends highly on how effectively and transparently organizations address persistent (and well-documented) ethical, security and privacy concerns around AI capabilities and implementation. Taking these concerns — and the need for swift action and extreme caution — into account, participants advocated for the proactive establishment of voluntary industry guidelines and robust, holistic government regulation to ensure responsible AI use, especially in sensitive sectors like education and health care.

Tea and dessert focused on management challenges in these new working environments experienced by participants, who shared personal lessons and strategies for effective and empathic leadership. These include the importance of individualizing relationships with team members, addressing the needs of remote workers through leadership training programs, and a cultural emphasis on mental health considerations and inclusivity.

The Disruption Town Hall concluded with broad acknowledgement among the group that achieving alignment on vision, particularly in a hybrid environment, is inherently difficult and lacks a blueprint. As a result, effective leadership in uncertain times will require more intentional decision-making, creating a flexible atmosphere for continuous learning, and fostering a diverse and inclusive culture where trust is enshrined even as productivity is ensured.

As the leader in business solutions, Staples Professional continues to keep a pulse on the evolving world of work to partner with its clients on how to best support them with hybrid work solutions. This includes everything from technology and workplace design solutions to branded promotional products and every day office supplies – all with the goal of supporting productivity and connection to a client’s brand and culture. To learn more about how Staples Professional helps businesses, visit staplesprofessional.ca.

Alex Derry
Alex Derry