Work Shifting: What Work Looks Like Next
Work is shifting. The pandemic’s unprecedented toll on global business means companies from every industry continue to deal with the knock-on effects of shutdowns, uneven commerce and an uncertain labor market. This future of work is not the distant, AI-enabled one we talked about before 2020, but the very real and very immediate next 12 to 24 months as many companies retool to meet ongoing challenges.
The future hinges on how fast and how well companies can pivot to face these challenges — and embrace some opportunities: building and expanding their digitization strategies; continuing to innovate despite the challenges of remote teams; demonstrating capable and compassionate leadership, particularly at the very top; and clearly communicating ideas and directives both internally and externally.
So what are companies doing now to position themselves for the future? Who are the leaders, thinkers, and innovators showing the way forward into this uncertain future? We gathered together top names from business, finance, technology, corporate advising, communications, government, policy and human resources to dig deep into these questions and others as we explored what happens next.
- Allison Bailey, Managing Director & Senior Partner; Global Leader, People & Organization Practice, Boston Consulting Group
- Cathy Bessant, Chief Operations & Technology Officer, Bank of America
- Karalee Close, Managing Director & Senior Partner; Global Leader, Technology Advantage Practice, Boston Consulting Group
- Carolyn Everson, Vice President, Global Business Group, Facebook
- Rob Falzon, Vice Chair, Prudential Financial, Inc.
- Andrew Farah, Co-founder & CEO, Density
- Todd Grantham, Chief Marketing Officer, Plume
- Barbara Humpton, President & CEO, Siemens Corporation
- Arvind Krishna, Chairman & CEO, IBM
- Jonathan Lister, VP, Global Sales Solutions & Canada Country Manager, LinkedIn
- Deborah Lovich, Managing Director & Senior Partner, Boston Consulting Group
- JeVon “JT” McCormick, President & CEO, Scribe Media
- Dambisa Moyo, Global Economist & Author
- Tamla Oates-Forney, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer, Waste Management
- Christy Pambianchi, Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer, Verizon
- Iain Roberts, Partner & Chief Operating Officer, IDEO
- Kiersten Robinson, Chief People and Employee Experiences Officer, Ford Motor Company
- Jonathan Simon, Managing Director, Head of Leadership Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Apollo Global Management
- Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft 365
- Alain Sylvain, Founder & CEO, SYLVAIN
- Reginald “Reggie” Van Lee, Partner and Chief Transformation Officer, The Carlyle Group
- Alyson Watson, Founder and CEO, Modern Health
- Drew Armstrong, Senior Editor, Healthcare, Bloomberg
- Sarah Green Carmichael, Editor, Bloomberg Opinion
- Emily Chang, Anchor, Bloomberg Technology
- Stephanie Flanders, Senior Executive Editor, Economics, Bloomberg
- Ellen Huet, Reporter, Bloomberg Technology
- Dimitra Kessenides, Senior Editor, Bloomberg
- Kiley Lambert, Senior Program Director, Bloomberg Live
Below are some highlights from the event.
Click here to view the event on demand.
On lessons from the past year and where we go from here: Carolyn Everson, Vice President, Global Business Group, Facebook, said the pandemic has changed how we work and live forever. As a result, it is ushering in a new era of leadership — not just effective leadership, but enlightened leadership, which Everson believes is more important. She explained that enlightened leadership means “bringing humanity into the work environment, demonstrating our authenticity, our vulnerabilities, our empathy, our generosity — really just human qualities.”
On leading with empathy: Jonathan Lister, VP, Global Sales Solutions & Canada Country Manager, LinkedIn, picked up on the thread Facebook’s Everson spoke about. He said companies require a new model for leadership, one that comes from a place of compassion and connecting with employees — “very different from what it’s been in the past.” Lister went on to talk about employee burnout. He said it was at an all-time high in August 2020 and it’s been increasing ever since — managers need to think about how to deal with that. Reginald “Reggie” Van Lee, Partner and Chief Transformation Officer, The Carlyle Group, also talked about the issue of burnout. He said his company is training managers to detect burnout early, “to see it before it gets too bad and to engage in some meaningful way.” He emphasized the importance of leading with compassion, encouraging people to keep a separation between home and work, so that “working from home doesn’t become living at work.”
On sustaining meaningful connections in a fluid workspace: Todd Grantham, Chief Marketing Officer, Plume, looked ahead to the next few months. He said as vaccinations pick up, some people are preparing to return to work, some will continue to work from home, while others will opt for a hybrid work model. Whichever option they choose, the importance of connectivity is crucial because a device is only as good as the network it is connected to. “Being connected to the internet and being available online has taken on an entirely new level of importance,” Grantham said, adding that people are working longer hours and computer usage during the workday has skyrocketed.
On work-life balance and thriving versus surviving: Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft 365, shed light on a survey his company conducted. Spanning 31 countries, it looked at how people are doing while working from home. One point the survey highlighted is the difference between people in leadership positions and those who don’t hold senior positions. Sixty-one percent of the bosses said they are thriving, which is around 20 percentage points more than those in non-leadership positions who said they are simply surviving, Spataro said, adding “we need to solve this.”
On going beyond purpose: Alain Sylvain, Founder & CEO, SYLVAIN, kicked off a presentation by saying, “the world of business is drunk on purpose.” Asked whether the pandemic has given companies a unique moment to pause and think about their purpose, he said simply — yes. “In the past, companies had no right to assert their reason to exist.” He said 2020 has given them that opportunity — “but not entirely for good.” He added, however, that Gen Z goes beyond cynicism and are the ones driving change. “They really believe these companies are the tools to achieve the ambition people want. Companies are subservient to Gen Z. Big companies are now looking for guidance from Gen Z,” instead of it being the other way around, he said, when consumers worshipped brands without questioning what they stood for.
On workers adapting to tomorrow’s workplace: Rob Falzon, Vice Chair, Prudential Financial, Inc., spoke about the pulse of the American worker who, he said, is both a customer and also an employee. “The condition of the American worker is stressed right now,” Falzon said. One of the repercussions of working from home has been the rapid adoption of technology and digitization. “That’s left the American worker feeling insecure about whether they have the skills that are relevant to the economy in a fast forward of adoption of technology.”
On going back to school and back to work, safely: Barbara Humpton, President & CEO, Siemens Corporation, spoke about the challenges of parents getting back to work if they have young children at home. She said while the pandemic has had an impact on working parents, she is also concerned about “what impact has this had on the workforce of the future?” Siemens is working with school districts across the country to make the transition back to classrooms safer by providing the technology to make the air healthier. “It is not just about defeating the coronavirus. It’s about giving us a healthier school environment from here on out,” she said. Humpton said that research shows cleaner air improves cognitive ability. “I think this a moment, a chance to change the game, almost vaccinating the school themselves,” she said.
On the Human Resources (R)Evolution. The past year accelerated the pace of change for many companies’ departments, but few departments felt that acceleration quite like human resources.
Christy Pambianchi, Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer, Verizon, spoke about the idea of change management. Recognizing that the company’s workforce underwent dramatic changes last year, she said the company is looking at the learnings of the past year to see how to prepare for the future. The company has launched a micro site with tips and guidelines for teams on how to work effectively as they navigate the new normal. “Knowing what’s expected of them is always a really important framework for people to be successful because, eventually, people want to be successful. If we don’t take the time to clarify these things there will be a murky unknown and we will default to what it was before COVID.”
Kiersten Robinson, Chief People and Employee Experiences Officer, Ford Motor Company, built on Pambianchi’s point about change management. She said leadership continually checks in with staff to understand employee sentiment — what’s working, what help they need, their mental well-being and the flexibility they require to tend to children or elderly family members. They are using that information to shape every decision for when staff does return to the workspace. “Employees are co-creating that workspace,” Robinson said. She added, “it is important to provide some consistency and some guardrails so employees have a sense of what’s ok and what’s not ok and how they structure the way they work within those guardrails.”
Tamla Oates-Forney, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer, Waste Management, said the experience of working remotely over the past year has shown that people were working in a more transparent way. Also, not having geographic restrictions meant the company could be more nimble as a workforce. This was especially helpful when it came to recruiting people. “If we do this the right way, it can be a competitive advantage for us, in terms of cost, flexibility and the types of people we are able to attract,” she said.
On high-performance workplace cultures: “There is a pronounced need in a virtual environment to make sure you’re checking on your employees to give them that opportunity to recharge, just like any high-performance athletic team,” said Jonathan Simon, Managing Director, Head of Leadership Development and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Apollo Global Management. “You get more out of your talent when they’re able to recharge, when they have health and wellness.”
On the decline in mental health: “We are at a point now where mental health issues are increasing so rapidly, especially with adolescents (which is the future generation of our workforce), that if we don’t do something about it, the rate of innovation will decline,” said Alyson Watson, Founder and CEO, Modern Health.
On structural changes: Dr. Dambisa Moyo, Global Economist & Author, said business leaders have to begin defining what makes an employee in order to evaluate their obligations to those employees. “There’s a lot of emphasis on the capital allocation and capital as a resource, but we haven’t really been guided by regulation and government in terms of workers,” Moyo said. “How do we define worker productivity? What are the sorts of things that we should be thinking about in terms of worker engagement and enjoyment of being in the workplace?”
On maximizing building space: “We build a lot of space, we ought to measure it. It’s one of the largest asset classes in the world whose performance we don’t measure,” said Andrew Farah, Co-founder & CEO, Density.
On work-life balance: “If you say work-life balance and you ask people what does that mean to you? You can ask leaders, you can ask individuals, people who aren’t in leadership, but if you ask, the first thing you’re going to hear is they’re going to attack work,” JeVon “JT” McCormick, President & CEO, Scribe Media, said. He continued saying, “No one actually looks at the life side of this. No one says, ‘maybe I shouldn’t binge watch Friday through Sunday’ and then wake up Monday morning upset that I haven’t achieved my dreams and goals.”
On returning to office post-pandemic: Cathy Bessant, Chief Operations & Technology Officer, Bank of America, said Bank of America is committed to a “co-location” culture. However, she believes working from home could stunt the company’s technological innovation in the long run. “While we’ve been, in my view, wildly exceeding expectations from a creativity and innovativeness perspective, in order for that to continue, we’ve got to get back to the office,” Bessant said.
On valuing office space: “We’re beginning to think about our spaces much more as a space for convening, where we’re bringing coalitions of change makers, coalitions of clients together for a specific moment in time, and much less as an office that we’re going to go and work at five days a week,” Iain Roberts, Partner & Chief Operating Officer, IDEO, a design company, said.
On climbing the corporate ladder: Arvind Krishna, Chairman & CEO, IBM, said he believes 80% of people will return to work in a hybrid model, splitting their work week between home and their workplace. However, he has apprehensions about the impact on future leaders. “When people are remote, I worry about what’s their career trajectory is going to be. If they want to become a people manager, or they want to get increasing responsibilities, or if they want to build a culture with the teams, how are you going to do that remotely?” he asked.
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