There’s no going back to the way we worked. At least, not for the foreseeable future. As the impacts of the pandemic take shape, it’s becoming clear that the shift toward remote work and hybrid teams is less of a temporary fix and more indicative of the new reality as organizations shape their HR function for the future.

To say it was a quick shift would be an understatement. In the span of weeks, if not days, organizations of every stripe were forced to abandon traditional office models and ramp up to a digital workforce. This meant equipping staff to work from home, securing remote access to workplace systems, and implementing new processes and technologies to protect and manage staff who remained active on the front lines.

Some growing pains aside, KPMG’s 2020 Canadian CEO Outlook indicates that domestic business leaders are preparing to make “hybrid teams” and work-from-home (WFH) arrangements their new post-pandemic reality. Specifically, our COVID-19 Pulse Survey indicates that 84 percent are making capital investments in new technologies that will drive stronger efficiencies and productivity, which represents a 12 percent uptick from January 2020’s pre-COVID-19 study.

It’s interesting to note that fewer global CEOs (67 percent) share the same intentions for tech investments and are striking more of a balance when it comes to investment in reskilling employees (33 percent vs. 16 percent in Canada). The survey did not uncover the reason for the difference, but past KPMG research (see “Canada’s Digital Future” series in 2019) found that Canadian organizations tend to adopt a “fast follower” approach to emerging technology, so there may be some catching up to do.

And Canadian businesses are indeed planning to do just that. As our Pulse Survey highlights, 80 percent of Canadian CEOs see the WFH revolution as an opportunity to build upon their use of digital collaboration and communication tools, while 60 percent say their efforts to augment their human talent with automation and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities have significantly accelerated in recent months.

Cart before the horse

Investments in workforce tech are on the rise, but the same cannot be said for employee training and upskilling. According to our Pulse Survey, while 84 percent of Canadian CEOs are intent on acquiring new technologies, only 16 percent of Canadian CEOs plan to place more capital investment in developing their workforce skills and capabilities.

I’m a strong believer that technology is the enabler and humans are the transformers. Therefore, we need our Canadian leaders to invest in both. We should take advantage of this opportunity to upskill and reskill our people, providing them with the skills they need to thrive in the new reality. This includes both digital and technical skills, in addition to learning that hones more creative disciplines and EQ-related skills.

Armughan Ahmad
President and Canadian Managing Partner,
Digital, KPMG in Canada

Recruitment and retention

The challenges of sourcing and retaining talent have intensified as a result of the pandemic. Talent began 2020 as the 10th most pressing emerging risk to company growth in our pre-COVID study, but now ranks as the third-most risk for Canadian CEOs. Global peers appear even more anxious about sourcing talent during the pandemic, with international respondents citing it as their number one risk (up from 12th in January 2020).

Permission to fail

Building a digital workforce is as much about leveraging technology and talent as it is about building a culture that encourages innovation. To that end, our pre-COVID-19 survey showed that 85 percent of Canadian CEOs are aligned with the idea that building a workplace culture in which employees feel more empowered to take risks without fear of failure is important to their sustainability. Additionally, almost a third (30 percent) indicated that “fast-failing” unsuccessful initiatives should be, in fact, celebrated as necessary steps towards success. This perspective is consistent with research conducted by Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, who cites psychological safety as a key factor for innovation.

The leaders we speak to are pleased with the sense of urgency and speed with which their organizations have adapted. But they worry about how their people will cope over the longer term. Resilience is a hot topic.

Doron Melnick,
Partner and Interim National Leader,
People & Change Services, KPMG in Canada

Designing the new reality

The pandemic has demonstrated that many Canadians can work from home productively. Still, there is value in addressing both the physical, mental, and social factors that play a role in designing our “new reality” so as to position organizations well for the new world of work.

For more information on each of these topics, download the 2020 CEO Outlook Report.