The Evolving Workforce: Exploring Flexibility, Equity, and the Power of AI

Considering the future of work is one of our favourite topics at Agilus, and we are constantly keeping our finger on the pulse of current workplace trends and how they may evolve. So, it was a no-brainer when we once again brought together trailblazers and leaders from the Calgary business community to focus on the future of work and what that means for both employees and employers – not only in Calgary but throughout North America.

Led by our expert moderator, Geraldine Anderson – Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Strategy & Strategic Alliances for Calgary Economic Development – this year we dove into topics like flexible and hybrid work environments; the vital role of equity, diversity, and inclusion; and the fascinating impact of AI on how we'll be working in the years to come. Whether you're an employer seeking insights or an employee eager to stay ahead of the curve, we've got you covered. Join us as we unpack these topics, explore new horizons, and empower ourselves with knowledge for the ever-evolving workplace of tomorrow.

Embracing Flexibility in the Workplace

The last several years have provided employers and employees with a unique opportunity to test the pros and cons of in-office vs. fully remote vs. hybrid work environments. While organizations continue to make different choices based on what they believe to be best for their overall mission, vision, and values – the science is in, and the results are overwhelmingly in favour of flexible work environments.

Our panelists all agreed, while some may personally prefer to be in office, they understand that what’s best for one isn’t necessarily best for everyone. Kelly Schmitt, CEO of Benevity, says, “While we don’t have any mandated days in office, we also made a conscious decision to not be a fully remote company either.” She explains that the real importance when it comes to being in office is to focus on “high value” pieces such as relationship building and strategic planning. One of Benevity’s rituals is an annual “homecoming” event where they fly in all of their employees to Calgary for a week together. This event gets very positive reviews from their people and allows teams to engage cross-functionally in problem solving and creative thinking.

While it’s easy enough for a company focused within the technology sector to move to a more flexible work environment, it’s not quite as simple for other industries where in-person is a large component of their service offerings. President and CEO of Bow Valley College, Dr. Misheck Mwaba explained that his team has moved to a hybrid model by strategically evaluating the reality of roles that require in-person and how they can operate more flexibly. They evaluate roles on a case-by-case basis and work with department leads and workers to establish a cadence of in-office work that makes sense for both productivity and personal well-being.

When it comes to an organization with a large number of field workers, the ability to have a laissez-faire attitude towards workers choosing their own environment is simply unrealistic. John Kousinioris – President, CEO, and Corporate Director for TransAlta – says with two-thirds of the workforce working in the field across 72 power plants in three different countries, he worries about resentment from the primary workforce to the corporate employees who have the privilege of flexibility. While they recently adjusted to a hybrid environment with one mandated day in office per week for all employees (Wednesdays), they continue to monitor the effectiveness and are open to making adjustments as time goes on.

Susannah Pierce, President & Country Chair and GM Renewables & Energy Solutions for Shell Canada, took a slightly different approach to the question and discussed the importance of considering the humanity of all workers and ensuring they work in an environment that helps them be at their best. “I’ve reflected a lot on what we treat when people come into the office, and what we’re treating is increasing amounts of people feeling depressed, feeling like the workload is too much, an increasing amount of things that our operating model is supposed to handle and it’s not,” Pierce says. “I think the first step has to be how do we make people more mindful and more aware of their self.” Ultimately, Susannah says workers want to contribute to something bigger than themselves and not just ultimately generating profit for shareholders. “For me,” Pierce says, “the future of work is going to be where we look at the people who show up as whole human beings.”

Empowering Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

At Agilus, we have long understood the importance of employing people from diverse backgrounds and demonstrating inclusiveness through fair, equitable and accessible hiring practices. However, while many companies across the world have demonstrated a positive intent and increased discussion and activity, data from McKinsey and Company have found that overall progress has been slow. In an effort to assist organizations worldwide on re-focusing these efforts to be more productive, McKinsey, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, has identified five success factors common across ED&I (Equity, Diversity & Inclusion) initiatives that have yielded the most significant, scalable, quantifiable, and sustained impact for underrepresented groups.

DEI initiatives

Similar to the findings of McKinsey, Dr. Mwaba explained that at his own institution, they had “a bit of a blind spot” when it came to enacting ED&I policies and taking concrete steps, as they were already engaged in extensive discussions. “You take it for granted,” Dr. Mwaba says, “you assume that when everybody shows up they feel safe, but when we started to have those conversations, it became clear that we needed to be thoughtful and act deliberately to support one another.” Consequently, Bow Valley College created a new position to focus on ED&I efforts and is now dedicated to creating a supportive space where individuals feel welcome. They have also implemented working groups to remain steadfast in their commitment to fostering inclusivity on campus.

Overall, our panelists agreed that focusing on ED&I initiatives and bringing them to the forefront of their businesses has played an important role in establishing employer/employee relationships and helping teams feel safe and supported. However, they also acknowledged that while the work has begun, there is still plenty more to do. “At Benevity, we were really getting the ‘D’ part right,” says Schmitt, “but then we realized we had gaps in the ‘E’ and ‘I’ once we started to poke at these diverse groups’ experiences.” Since shifting their efforts towards equity and inclusion, Benevity has made significant changes. Last year, they conducted a comprehensive review on factors such as pay equity, not just by gender but across all diverse groups. “We bumped people across the company where there was no explainable reason their pay should be off. It wasn’t just gender, but also things like tenure with the company where people had been left behind.”

Pierce pointed out that while reasonable efforts are made to understand the diverse makeup of their organization, due to the size and global reach of Shell, some workers simply don’t feel comfortable sharing this information with the company. While the intent is positive, stigmas and past experiences at other companies contribute to individuals' anxiety about disclosing their information, regardless of promises of confidentiality. To build stronger trust within the organization, Pierce emphasizes the importance of fostering “psychological safety,” which ultimately leads to a more positive working environment throughout the entire company.

Overall, Kousinioris says leaders need to do the work and champion ED&I efforts. “If I’m not seen taking it seriously and if I’m not a champion for everyone, we won’t get to where we need to get in the organization at all,” he says. By implementing culture champions, ED&I SaaS such as Diversio, and focusing on regular educational experiences for the TransAlta team, they have increased employee participation in these efforts by over 25%. While TransAlta has made huge strides, it didn’t happen overnight. “You can’t do everything at once,” Kousinioris says, “because I think if you do you’re going to fail, but if you pick your focus then you can continue to shift, expand, and grow.”

Unleashing the Power of AI

It’s no secret that at Agilus, we’re very interested in the possibilities and opportunities that AI presents to both employees and employers. AI is poised to have a profound impact on the future of work. As technology continues to advance, AI is revolutionizing various aspects of industries and job roles. It has the potential to automate repetitive tasks, enhance productivity, and improve decision-making. While some jobs may be transformed or replaced, new opportunities will arise as AI creates demand for skills like data analysis, AI programming, and human-AI collaboration. Adapting to this changing landscape, upskilling, and embracing AI as a valuable tool can help individuals and organizations thrive in the future of work.

The importance of technology in the energy industry can’t be understated, according to Pierce. “We’re constantly innovating and looking at how to become more efficient,” she says. “We already use AI across our systems, especially where we can make it more intelligent such as in terms of how we manage safety and how we anticipate events before they happen.” She says it’s important for the organization to focus on reskilling employees so they can constantly innovate and remain on top of new technology.

While Pierce is optimistic about the future of AI in the energy industry, Kousinioris has his concerns about the impact it will have on workers who are more resistant to change as well as working groups who haven’t previously been as impacted by technology advances such as lawyers, financial workers and technology workers. While he isn’t overall resistant to AI, he says he is more so concerned that we don’t rush into things and take our time to fully understand the implications and how transitioning to this bold new technology will impact everyone.

Dr. Mwaba agrees that it’s important we don’t rush into pushing AI to the forefront without taking the time to study its impact. Regardless, Bow Valley College is a leader in adopting new technology to enhance student experiences. One thing they’ve been experimenting with is virtual reality for nursing students, which has been so successful regulators have allowed the college to reduce the number of clinical hours required for graduation to up to 50% for students of the program.

Ultimately, Schmitt is excited about the power and potential of AI in the workplace. “People are talking about artificial intelligence today the way Bill Gates talked about the impact the Internet would have 30 years ago,” she says. “Whether it’s good or bad, I think the companies and individuals that figure it out and how to leverage it are going to do really well, and others will be left behind.”

Considering the Future of Work

The future of work holds endless possibilities and exciting transformations. As organizations embrace flexible work environments, they must prioritize individual well-being and create inclusive spaces where diverse voices are heard. AI offers transformative opportunities to enhance productivity, improve decision-making, and redefine job roles. However, it requires responsible implementation and a commitment to supporting employees' ongoing development. The future is bright, and together, we can navigate the ever-evolving workplace of tomorrow with confidence and adaptability. By embracing these elements, businesses can navigate the evolving workforce landscape and thrive in the years to come.


Looking for new talent? For more than 46 years, Agilus has served our candidate and employer networks, connecting great job seekers with meaningful employment. We place nearly 10,000 job seekers in roles every year in Engineering & Technical Trades, Technology, and Office Professional roles. We leverage our deep understanding of the Canadian market combined with the complex and varied experiences of our 200+ staff to take the lead, have real human connections and deliver better outcomes for both our clients and workforce. Contact us today to learn how we can transform your world of work. Follow us on LinkedIn, FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for more news and insights.

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