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Portrait of Joy Thomas
From Pivot Magazine

Joy Thomas looks back—and forward

 CPA Canada’s former CEO reflects on how the pandemic is reshaping work as we know it 

Portrait of Joy ThomasJoy Thomas stepped down as president and CEO of CPA Canada in July (Photograph by Matt Barnes)

In July, after four gratifying years leading this organization, I left my post as president and CEO of CPA Canada. This will be my final letter to the readers of Pivot, a publication I am extremely proud of and one I will continue to read with interest.

I informed the CPA Canada board of directors of my intentions in 2019, and the decision comes after dedicating more than 20 years to helping advance the Canadian accounting profession. I have witnessed first-hand much positive change over that period. 

In the unification of the profession, evolving education models, making contributions to social and economic development and strengthening our influence internationally, our profession has risen to every challenge.

Most recently, the organizations we work for, the clients we serve and the manner of work itself have been upended by COVID-19. By now, it’s a truism to observe that the pandemic has caused us to rethink the way we spend our time working, which is such a fundamental part of most of our lives. For many of us, our jobs now, more than ever, intrude into our home life and vice versa. 

We Zoom constantly and have learned to live with provisional workspaces on dining room tables, in basements and spare rooms. We are rethinking the traditional invisible boundaries between work life and home life because those realms are no longer separated by a car or transit trip. Consequently, we have additional “extra” time, but time, strangely, has seemed more amorphous than it once was. 

The new work life (which today comes with its own acronym: WFH) has compelled managers to find ways of motivating virtual teams and onboarding new hires they’ve never met. We’ve gained new respect for cloud-based software applications and high-speed digital networks. And those of us who oversee the finances of organizations ponder all the office space we once consumed, which now sits mainly empty. We may find ourselves wondering about smaller floor plates with no assigned workspaces and less overhead.

For many of us, our jobs now, more than ever, intrude into our home life and vice versa

Mostly, we miss our friends and the creative frisson among co-workers. But we don’t miss lengthy commutes and the carbon costs associated with business travel. It’s a fine balance. 

John Trougakos is an associate professor of management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and an expert on organizational behaviour. His research team began compiling an online survey last March, asking respondents to talk about the new work life. 

Tellingly, only 17 per cent (of 700 surveyed) wanted to go back to the status quo, while 83 per cent wanted something different. What’s more, fully 60 per cent of the respondents favoured a shortened workweek—eight hours a day, four days a week. Citing research from Europe and other places that have adopted reduced workweeks, Trougakos says there’s no evidence of a loss of productivity associated with these alternative arrangements. Indeed, work time lost to stress, fatigue from exhausting commutes and chronic office interruptions costs the economy billions of dollars in productivity losses each year. 

The prospect of untethering work from the office raises important questions, including ones that predate the pandemic. Are we expected to be reachable at any time of day? And what is the psychological toll of lengthy video-conferencing calls? 

Trougakos spent a lot of time in recent months fielding calls from CEOs and CFOs who want to know how they should begin thinking about managing large, far-flung and now virtual organizations. One of his observations is that people who have removed the stress from their workday—either by no longer having to commute or taking regular breaks—tend to work more creatively and more efficiently over shorter periods of time. “Although it’s counter-intuitive, being able to work less but more productively is the key,” he says. 

Perhaps the most important insight is that, in many ways, the pre-pandemic world of work was still deeply rooted in the industrial model: employees and managers converging on the same place or set of places for roughly the same periods of time during the day. Yes, technology—smartphones, laptops, high-speed digital networks—eroded the model, but only at the margins, as the vast geography of workplaces attest. We hear a lot about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but the post-pandemic world perhaps points to a coming workplace revolution, one that challenges many of the assumptions about how, where and why we go to work.

In this issue, we’ve included a special “Future of Work” package, with articles and columns exploring everything from the demise of the handshake to the emergence of the virtual accounting firm, the evolution of the gig economy and the design of the post-COVID office.

As for the future of CPA Canada, it is in good hands with our new president and CEO, Charles-Antoine St-Jean, FCPA, FCA. Charles-Antoine and I have known each other for many years, and served together as board colleagues for the Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation. 

I am confident the exceptional track record and broad range of professional skills he brings to the position will guide the organization during these extraordinary times. 

Prior to joining CPA Canada, Charles-Antoine was appointed chair of the Public Sector Accounting Board in 2017 and served as a member from 2006-2009. From 2004 to 2007, he served as the comptroller general of Canada. Charles-Antoine earned his accounting designation and held senior positions as partner and managing partner at EY. He worked with many public sector clients in Canada and internationally, at all levels of government, including many state-owned entities. He also worked in Europe for a few years at KPMG. 

He has lectured on governance and financial management in the public sector for many years at Université Laval (Directors College program) and the University of Ottawa. 

The challenges that loom before us require creative thinking and nimble leadership. The Canadian accounting profession has earned a stellar reputation globally and we are well poised to be leaders in shaping the future.


Delve into insights emerging from CPA Canada’s strategic initiative, Foresight: Reimagining the Profession, and learn what the future holds for accounting.

Also, find out how to keep your boundaries, carve out a schedule and lead a remote team. Plus, follow the right etiquette and best practices for using remote tools such as Zoom.