Four years ago, as the coronavirus pandemic entered its third month, I unknowingly — and unwittingly — took my first steps towards a new chapter in my career.

As a writer for a Canadian travel trade publication, I was suddenly without work as the health crisis brought the global travel industry to a screeching halt. While job listings were surprisingly abundant, it was several months — and several payments of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit — before applying to, and eventually landing, a position with Benefits Canada.

Read: Young Canadians focusing on retirement, financial security amid coronavirus crisis: survey

When I joined the team in October 2020, work was still strictly online; indeed, I was onboarded remotely and it would be nearly a year before I’d meet my colleagues in person. During that time, the company’s numerous annual events were also relegated to online spaces. Unsurprisingly, many people were eager for the eventual return of in-person events amid lockdown measures and social distancing requirements that forced live conferences into virtual chatrooms for many months.

Although Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review have long since returned to hosting live events, the excitement of attendees is still evident and you don’t have to look any further than coverage of the 2024 DC Plan Summit (page 28). During the summit, which was hosted in Vancouver on Feb. 27-29, attendees learned about the various challenges and solutions for DC plan sponsors across the accumulation and decumulation phases, through expert thought leadership and employer case studies presented by leading plan sponsors.

The summit also explored the evolving role of artificial intelligence in supporting DC plan sponsors and members across several areas, including investment options, plan administration and financial advice.

Read: Coverage of the 2024 DC Plan Summit coverage

This month also marks the return of the Vancouver Benefits Summit, a conference designed specifically for B.C.-based employers, advisors and consultants, offering tangible actions for employers looking to support their employees’ health in uncertain times.

While the pandemic highlighted the need for health-care access, navigating those services remains a challenge for many Canadians. This month’s Benefits Feature (page 14) takes a look at how employers are using health-care navigation guides to support workers as they seek appropriate treatment and care.

The article highlights the Bank of Montreal’s digital mental-health navigation guide that was launched in May 2023 and made available to employees in both Canada and the U.S., in order to streamline access to supports and resources in both the private and public health-care systems.

“We recognize when it comes to finding benefits information or wellness resources, it can be a bit complicated,” says Sarika Gundu, director of Canadian health and welfare benefits at BMO. “It was important for us to show our commitment by ensuring employees know where to go and how to find available resources.”

Read: A deep dive into health-care navigation guides

The feature also cites the lack of access to a family doctor as a significant barrier to navigating the health-care system. Having recently moved to a new city and finding a lack of family physicians who are accepting new patients, this point hit home for me.

“The guidance used to be to ‘See your family doctor for any issue, big or small,’ because they were the first point of contact,” says Paula Allen, global leader of research and client insights at Telus Health. “That doesn’t work when [millions of] Canadians don’t have family doctors. Also, the strain on family doctors is tremendous right now and they’re not going to be able to guide people to the resources that are available inside an organization.”

Happy reading, as we reflect on the past and look ahead toward the years — and lessons — to come.

Blake Wolfe is the interim editor of Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.