Government’s workforce transformation playbook

Canadian workforce of the future survey—Government employee insights

Governments are looking to transform to meet the workforce challenges of a rapidly changing world—whether they’re ready or not. 

Our Canadian workforce of the future survey takes the pulse of Canadian employees’ and employers’ perceptions of return-to-workplace plans and the digital workplace experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our public sector analysis looks at how COVID-19 has affected government employees—and the four key actions you can take to make a lasting difference.

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At a glance

  • Government employees made one of the largest shifts to remote work, with 68% now working primarily remotely, compared to 2% before the pandemic.

  • In an increasingly remote work environment, it’s important to create a differentiated employee experience to keep people engaged.

  • The pandemic has proven skeptics wrong about virtual working, with many employees showing they can be productive working remotely.

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Inside the changing future of work

The public sector has been at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping protect the health of citizens while maintaining day-to-day operations and transitioning to a virtual workforce. When it comes to the way we work, the pandemic has been a driving force of change across all industries, but Canadian government employees seem to be experiencing the most dramatic shift.

Compared to many of their private-sector counterparts, governments operate in an environment where they must carefully consider how they spend every taxpayer dollar. Before COVID-19 hit, the public sector was behind other industries in terms of technological enablement and upskilling opportunities. 

And the gap between the public and private sector appears to have widened. Government employees find it hard to maximize their productivity, have limited access to upskilling and believe leadership could be more effective.

Unleashing the power of your people

Public sector employees have a strong commitment to public service, working hard to bring their teams into the future so they can serve Canadians in innovative ways. For government leaders, the pandemic has presented an opportunity to accelerate their digital capabilities further and faster. We explore how to create a high-performing workforce that embraces new ways of working to serve Canadians’ evolving needs.


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1. Build a roadmap to resilience with the right strategy

Before the pandemic hit, many public sector workers didn’t have the internal infrastructure to quickly transition to a remote workforce. In response, governments made one of the largest shifts to remote work, with 68% now working primarily remotely, compared to 2% before the pandemic. As a result, many organizations worked diligently to bring their teams to a baseline of digital transformation. 

The pandemic has created a shift in how employees perceive their “ideal” work environment. Now, most employees want flexibility to choose between their homes and the office. With these shifting preferences in mind, do you have a mobile workforce strategy? It starts with you understanding what capabilities you need to deliver on your organization’s purpose. Next, you assess your current state and uncover immediate opportunities and easy wins. From there, nurture those capabilities by aligning on the path forward, building executive support and designing the future roadmap. 

Once you have a vision in place, it’s time to execute on your roadmap, which can include people levers like employee experience, automation, culture and digital upskilling. Then continuously monitor and evaluate, adjusting as required to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Providing greater flexibility in where and how your employees work can be an important element of your workforce strategy and a starting place for greater change in how we lead and manage the workforce of the future.

Employee preference to work primarily/entirely remotely, by industry*

What’s your ideal scenario for your work environment?

Sample size varies across industries. Smaller sample sizes are subject to a greater margin of error.
* Base: Business (n=147), education (n=179), financial services (n=104), government (n=321), health care (n=126), not-for-profit (n=96), tech and telecom (n=81), energy and utilities (n=50), manufacturing (n=62).

2. Take the lead on employee experience

In a remote work environment, it’s important to focus on how you create a different kind of experience for employees so they stay highly engaged and productive. More than one-third of government employees would prefer a work environment that's primarily/entirely remote. That means working, operating and leading in bold new ways.

This is about leadership thinking outside the box—thinking beyond just providing the right technology and tools to do the job remotely and focusing more closely on the human experience of being a part of an organization. People want to feel valued, heard and know their work is a contribution to a greater purpose.

  • Leading differently: There’s an opportunity to equip leaders with the tools and skills they need to lead remote teams. How you engage, motivate and manage performance in people—from a distance—means exercising new leadership muscles. You can move forward by adopting new processes for supporting and leading your teams. Empower them to establish practices that foster trust to stimulate collaboration and innovation.

  • Employee retention: The public sector can’t offer all the perks the private sector can, so employee experience becomes an important factor when you’re competing for talent. Flexibility is an attractive factor, and you want to stand out to younger, technologically sophisticated workers. It’s about creating an engaging environment with that sense of purpose.

  • Be well, work well: The remote environment is a different animal for many. Those who once thrived in person may not be adapting as quickly. Communication and consistency will be your recipe for success. Embrace the new ways of communicating, with virtual coffees or digital touchpoints, to make sure that teams’ wellness needs are being met.

Canadian employers who invest in their people are better able to succeed in uncertainty. Two-thirds (67%) of Canadian employees reported that having upskilling opportunities made them more productive and confident in their organization’s leadership. This can only be successful through a top-down approach. You need to realize the value employee experience brings to the government processes and how it helps you provide more efficient public services and deliver on your organization’s purpose.

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Part of investing in your people is understanding how automation and artificial intelligence can augment what they do day to day. This includes freeing up capacity so employees can focus on higher-value activities and deliver work in a more effective way.

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3. Drive a culture shift: From output to outcome

Pre-pandemic, the government tended to have a very in-office, on-site culture. But remote work has created a need for us to build a culture where leaders embrace virtual interactions and rethink how they view and measure productivity. 

The operational nature of many government organizations tends to put a strong emphasis on measures that are easier to assess in person. The challenge will be to shift culture and practices to enable an increased emphasis on measuring outcomes. This necessitates a shift away from output-focused and toward outcome-focused performance management.

The pandemic has proven many organizations wrong  that were skeptical about virtual working. Many employees have proven they can be highly productive working remotely.  But it’s also important to gain a better understanding of what is driving those who are more productive—and what may be holding others back. You could then develop actions to capitalize on what’s working well and support others getting back to pre-pandemic productivity. Overall, now is the time for governments to take that leap and give employees a new level of flexibility and autonomy.

Upskilling opportunities by industry

Belief that upskilling would help job performance versus access to upskilling opportunities

Sample size varies across industries. Smaller sample sizes are subject to a greater margin of error.
* Base: Business (n=147), education (n=179), financial services (n=104), government (n=321), health care (n=126), not-for-profit (n=96), tech and telecom (n=81), energy and utilities (n=50), manufacturing (n=62).

4. Give them the tools and the time

Our survey shows the government lags behind other industries in providing upskilling opportunities to employees, behind only manufacturing and health care. What’s more, four out of five employees believe their performance would improve if they had access to such opportunities.

The first step in transformation is to understand the capabilities that are now required, assess who in the organization possesses them and then provide upskilling opportunities to build and nurture them. It’s also important to support employees to reinforce their newly developed habits, increase digital dexterity and help them excel—whether it’s on site or not. 

Upskilling can seem like a daunting task, with many wondering how to get started. It doesn’t mean teaching everyone something highly technical like coding. Rather, it’s about building data literacy in areas like data analytics and automation so your people can embrace technological trends, stay relevant and solve important problems. By giving them access to the tools and the time to upskill, your employees’ superpowers will emerge, creating a workforce that’s more adaptable, resilient and agile.

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Ready or not, the workforce of the future is now

The pandemic has been a catalyst to ratchet up the need for new capabilities and the adoption of digital tools.  It’s important to build an ecosystem that encourages and rewards new ways of thinking and working to create a high-performing workforce that can best serve Canadian citizens’ evolving needs.

At PwC Canada, we can help you form a workforce strategy, upskill your people, reimagine your office and transform your human resources function to meet the evolving needs of your organization.  

With the public sector facing major challenges with the shift to remote working, it's now or never for the government to transform. National Public Sector Leader, Owen Taylor shares his insight in the latest episode of the Canadian Government Executive podcast.

Listen to podcast

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Contact us

Owen Taylor

Owen Taylor

National Government & Public Sector Leader, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 250 415 1224

Kathy Parker

Kathy Parker

Partner, National Workforce of the Future Consulting Leader, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 416 419 9731

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