Addie Greco-Sanchez is the founder and president of AGS Rehab, a leader in disability management and assessment services since 1999 that has grown into a successful company with a head office in Mississauga and a large network of professionals across Canada. Selected as one of PROFIT/Chatelaine’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs, Addie is a passionate and expert advocate for mental health in the workplace and a frequent national speaker on the topic of how companies can safeguard employees’ psychological health. She is co-author of the newly released book, The 5-Minute Recharge, 31 Proven Strategies to Refresh, Reset, and Become the Boss of Your Day.
Many small businesses suffered a great deal due to the impact that the global pandemic had on their businesses. How would you say COVID-19 impacted the success of your business?
AGS has been fortunate enough to enjoy growth year over year and 2020 certainly had every indication that we were well on our way to achieving targeted projections. When COVID-19 came along we experienced a number of months where no in-person assessments were taking place. A large volume of our business depends on in-person meetings in order to assess a client’s function and determine any impairments. One of our largest customers paused all assessments for a two-month period. We laid-off 33% of our employees and were forced to reduce everyone to a four-day workweek for a period of time.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce presented several businesses with a 10,000$ grant to help them overcome the many challenges that the pandemic caused. AGS Rehab Solutions was one of the lucky recipients of the grant. How has the grant helped your business survive during these challenging times?
The grant from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Salesforce Canada has been a godsend for us! Despite our offices being shut down for months, we were still responsible for rent payments on our 11 locations, including a large head office space in the Mississauga city center. The grant enabled us to pay all our deferred rent costs. In addition, we pivoted by quickly moving to the provision of virtual assessments for a number of services, including psychology, psychiatry, and vocational type assessments.
We researched various virtual platforms to ensure the technology complied with security standards expected by our customers and that ensure privacy, given the sensitive nature of our business. The funding assisted us with the purchase of licenses for these virtual platforms, including training for use by our employees and contractors.
In addition, AGS provided each of our employees with a grocery gift card as a way to ‘pay forward’ our good fortune in receiving this grant.
Prior to the pandemic, AGS Rehab Solutions was on track to achieve its best financial results in over 20 years. What would you say are the main aspects that contributed to the success?
In a word – perseverance. We consider ourselves a small but mighty company with a tremendous passion for helping people. As a small business, we have always looked for ways to innovate and to pivot quickly in order to remain a viable and current industry leader. This pandemic pushed us into full swing, forcing AGS to uncover ways to move forward – a tagline that still remains relevant today. Some years ago, we posed a question to our customers – what three words would you use to describe AGS? The most commonly used words were Responsive, Innovative, and Committed; words that remain embedded in our values and philosophy.
Many businesses have been forced to reinvent themselves to find new ways of doing business due to the many new safety and health rules put in place as a result of the global pandemic. AGS Rehab Solutions is no different and thanks to the government grant, you are now offering virtual services. What are some of the guidelines you’ve implemented to ensure that all clients receive the same treatment as if they were getting the assessments in person?
The nature of our business is such that we are rendering medical and vocational opinions that impact a client’s ability to work. It is imperative that testing protocols and methodology are closely followed. We researched and practiced on various virtual platforms to ensure validity and reliability were not compromised. We tested the platforms before implementing these new services. We updated our consent forms to indicate the client’s understanding of the virtual assessments and prepared the client in advance to ensure they would be comfortable with this protocol and had the technology on their end to participate.
In addition, since the lockdown was lifted, we have continued to offer in-person assessments however utilizing COVID-19 safety protocols. These include PPE’s, safety screens, sanitization products, additional cleaning, and directional markers.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge of providing virtual services?
Once AGS was able to launch virtual services and we became comfortable conducting them, the one variable was our clients. Unfortunately, not everyone is comfortable using technology or is computer literate. Some do not possess a computer. In these cases, we moved to in-person services, and for the time being, are fortunate that we can continue with this option despite the ongoing pandemic.
On a final note, what advice can you give to other entrepreneurs who are currently struggling due to the impact that COVID-19 has had on their business?
Stay positive and think outside the box. Talk to your customers and consider their needs and your unique offering. How can you meet their challenge? When we learned that some employers were experiencing difficulties with their employee compliance related to wearing a face mask in the workplace, we quickly created a mask accommodation review. We also created other COVID-19 related services and promoted our mental health training to employers whose employees were struggling. This was a huge boost to our business in a time when we might have otherwise experienced greater financial impact.