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Zabeen Hirji

Zabeen Hirji

Executive Advisor, Future of Work, Deloitte Canada

Like nothing else in modern history, COVID-19 has reimagined the workplace. The pandemic is about people — which places human resources at the centre of the organizational response, recovery, and reinvention efforts.


“COVID-19 is a time machine to the future of work and Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) have risen to even more critical roles in their organizations,” says Zabeen Hirji, Executive Advisor, Future of Work at Deloitte and former CHRO of RBC. As CHROs balance the possible short-term outcomes for organizations recovering from the pandemic, they’re also presented with opportunities to enact meaningful, long-term change in organizational leadership and culture.

Blending and balancing home and office

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 3.3 million Canadians began working from home full-time —proving that work-from-home models can be scaled. And if anything’s for certain, it’s that working from home will become more of a norm in the post-pandemic-world.

In order for a permanent work-from-home model to be successful, however, Hirji says that CHROs will need to manage the transition thoughtfully, involving employees when designing new approaches to create plans mutually beneficial for both employees and organizations. One size won’t fit all — flexibility and choice will be key to retaining and attracting talent, and optimizing business performance.

Leadership requires confidence and compassion

Stakeholders are already judging organizations by how they treat their employees and this will continue. “This is the time to strengthen trust, not erode it,” says Hirji.

To thrive, leaders must continue to deepen connections with employees. Leaders are already communicating more transparently, listening better, and being more empathetic and compassionate as they help employees reduce stress and anxiety. “This builds trust and resiliency — the foundations for employee engagement and productivity. And it inspires people to be their best,” adds Hirji.  

As there was no playbook for a global pandemic, CHROs are learning that it’s okay not to have all the answers. The leaders who stand out are those who are adaptable, collaborative, and inclusive, and are confident and willing to make decisions despite imperfect data.

The future of work is equity, diversity, and inclusion

The pandemic is a learning accelerator for leadership development. CHROs need to harness this opportunity to build a deeper and more diverse leadership pipeline.

Leaders must take bold actions and set ambitious goals to change culture and make diverse and inclusive leadership a reality. People in under-represented demographics must not just be heard, but have influence within the organization. This means fixing the talent systems to create equitable access to tools and opportunities, and taking a stand on fairness, equity, and justice.

The pandemic has driven businesses to collaborate and co-create, and leading CHROs across private and public organizations are convening to harness their collective experience and influence to build a stronger and more resilient workforce. “CHROs have let down some of their competitive guard to share challenges and learnings — and this will build a stronger and more inclusive economy and society,” says Hirji.

Deloitte’s Human Capital team hosts an HR community webcast every other Tuesday throughout the year, bringing together HR leaders from across geographies, industries and sectors to share how they are leading their organizations in addressing the pressing workplace challenges brought on by the pandemic.

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