The Future of Work
Experts bring their insights into workplace, market trends
COVID-19 has not only impacted our personal lives, but it’s also changing how we see our professional work. What jobs will likely not recover from this pandemic? What types of work will see take an upswing as companies grapple with defining a workforce post-pandemic? Will only certain types of work continue to be done remotely while others will need to be in a physical setting? Will we see a hybrid workforce, and how will that impact how we interact and collaborate as professionals?
What are the industry, hiring and workplace trends that you need to be aware of as you plan for your future? Industry experts recently shared with us their insights on what trends they’re seeing and what they predict the future of work will be.
Read on and watch the full event video at the end of this recap.
Andrew Chamberlain, Chief Economist and Research Director at Glassdoor
Andrew is an applied labor economist working in technology and runs Glassdoor’s research group. His team performs data science, machine learning, statistics and model prototyping to help companies and job seekers understand the environment in which they are operating, and how people get hired and companies hire talent.
Sherry Sims, Founder and CEO of Black Career Women’s Network
The Black Career Women’s Network is a national organization that supports the professional development of African-American women. They provide coaching, mentoring and workshops, as well as hosting conferences. The organization’s main goal is to bridge the gap of support for professional development and mentor access for women of color in the workplace.
Brian Kropp, Group Vice President and Chief of HR Research at Gartner
This division provides research tools and services to heads of HR to help them effectively manage their workforces in ways that drive performance, retention and business outcomes.
Elizabeth Bille, Senior Vice President of Workplace Culture at EVERFI
EVERFI is an international technology company that’s committed to driving deep social change through digital education. The organization works with schools, colleges and universities, and with corporations on critical issues such as the racial wealth gap; sustainability; diversity, equity and inclusion; and mental health. Elizabeth works with corporate partners to help them create thriving, positive workplace cultures.
Given your unique backgrounds and experiences, what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say “future of work”?
Brian: When we talk about the future of work, a lot of people think about new technology — AI, machine learning, et cetera — that is replacing jobs, creating new jobs, changing how we work and so on. And that is true, but that’s a very narrow part of the future of work.
Location is going to change dramatically. We’re no longer going to be constrained to a particular place to do work. But that was something that was already occurring. The pandemic just radically accelerated that.
There are three other things that are really important. The first one is not just shifting the location where people work, but shifting when people work. We’re seeing more work starting to be done asynchronously. It used to be kind of chasing the sun across the globe from a development perspective, but now it is letting people work whenever they want to.
The second one is that the rate of skills change is shifting dramatically. We download every job posting that’s on the Internet in our nerdy way, and one of things that we find is that about half of the skills that companies are looking for in their job postings four or five years ago are no longer occurring on job postings today. There’s been about a 50-percent turnover in the skills that companies are looking for.
The third thing is the changing nature of the relationship between employees and employers. It used to be that when the day started, I was working for the company, and when the day ended I’m not working for the company anymore. But that relationship has, for some employees, shifted to be a much more humane relationship: An employer cares a lot more about their employees from a mental health, family and community perspective. On the other hand, other employees have become even more transactional. As we think about what a more contract-based economy looks like, we’re seeing that become less humane.
Elizabeth: The part about humanity is something I was thinking about, as well. The idea of how we are operating in a humane way — not only our internal communities, but also the external communities in which our organizations are operating. Community impact is going to be a lens of focus for many workplaces and organizations.
How do I use my role to have a positive impact on the people around me and my organization? How does my organization use the work that we do to drive change in the world? How are we serving people for good? That started a bit before COVID, but COVID has definitely deepened that focus and the need to use corporations for good.
Community impact is going to be a lens of focus for many workplaces and organizations.
Brian: One quick data point on that front. Today’s employees, especially those entering the workforce, believe that their company should become actively involved in the societal, political and cultural debates of the day and be a force for good, not just a force for profit.
Sherry: Even with some of the racial tension that was happening a lot in the past year, there were a lot of employees who were looking to their employers to make a statement or have a stance on the social climate. And as myself being in the space of D&I and working with women of color in the workplace, I was asking for feedback. What is your employer doing, or what have they said, or are they taking a stance on the social climate right now? They want to know that they’re part of something bigger than just what they’re contributing to your organization.
Andrew: I think that this has been a trend in the past 10 years — more companies being responsive to employees’ desire to get involved in social issues and being transparent — not just from online reviews, but also from social media.
Sherry: It’s almost as if social media has put you in a place where you can no longer hide. You have to take a stance now or you’ll be called out, and you have people who will do that.
Elizabeth: I think companies are getting more comfortable around being more transparent. Instead of taking a, “I’m not sure I want to share what we’re doing or what we’re saying,” there are a lot of efforts to publish the work that’s being done in terms of initiatives in the diversity, equity and inclusion space — and where they’re falling short as well.
What are we currently seeing in the workplace, and what do you think is here to stay?
Elizabeth: We’re seeing an acceleration of work that’s been done in previous years and broadening the scope of that work. For example, remote work seems new, but I remember in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were companies that were dabbling in this for pockets of their workforce. Now we see that it can work for large swaths of employees. And employees seem to really like it. Different surveys have shown between about 42 to 80 percent of employees say that they would like to continue working remotely at least on a part-time basis or in a hybrid environment. So for those roles that can be done on a computer, those will continue to be done remotely or partially remotely for the long haul.
The events of 2020 with regard to racial justice have caused organizations to double down on their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that I think is really unprecedented. And I think that this is here to stay, as well. And they’re looking at every aspect of the employment experience — from training to promotion to mentorship to leadership-development cohorts — to try and root out systemic bias and to make sure that everyone feels included and can thrive.
And then mental health. This one’s a bit newer to the conversation. Research shows that about 76 percent of all U.S. employees have struggled with a mental health issue, and employers are realizing that this is something they need to help support employees with as a workforce-sustainability issue. So they’re not only thinking about benefits programs, but how we can help prevent burnout and reduce stress.
People often ask me, “What skills should I be equipping myself with to thrive in this new environment regardless of whatever the next trends are?” It’s those interpersonal skills to focus on: effective communication, active listening, practicing curiosity, demonstrating empathy and respect, especially across differences.
Research shows that about 76 percent of all U.S. employees have struggled with a mental health issue, and employers are realizing that this is something they need to help support employees with as a workforce-sustainability issue.
Sherry: I think the conversation about mental health in the workplace is long overdue. For some, working from home has helped relieve some of the stress that can make a difference in your mental health. For others, maybe it’s increased because now you’re home-schooling kids. Even with the new normal of working from home, mental health needs to be talked about more than ever.
Andrew: Diversity, equity and inclusion has been a huge change this year. The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion is changing — it’s becoming more clear that there are performance benefits to companies that have more diverse boards of directors. There’s research showing links to innovation and better group decision making and fewer blind spots.
Companies are hiring Chief Diversity Officers and dedicated heads for diversity and inclusion in a way that they hadn’t before. We had a piece of research this year where we saw almost a 40-percent increase in diversity and inclusion job openings around the country. That’s a sign of companies putting their money where their mouth is.
Brian: We also saw an enormous amount of data that we collect about our employees. When you look at large employers, about 75 percent of them now have some technology that they use to track their employees — everything from where your cell phone is to how aggressively you’re typing on your keyboard and using that as a predictor of stress. All these devices are tracking everything about their employees, and that data has now been turned into knowledge.
We’re going to shift to a much more data algorithmic–driven approach to management. The manager’s job is going to shift from managing work to managing relationships, the emotional connections out there, being DE&I advocates for the organization.
What areas of the job market do you see big opportunities in today?
Andrew: For context, the economy went through a tremendous upheaval during COVID. The U.S. economy lost around 20 million jobs, which is an enormous figure. Since then, we’ve regained close to 11 million. The unemployment rate today is around 6.2 percent, and that’s well above the 3.5 percent that we had before the pandemic. The economy overall is recovering rapidly, and most economists I talk to expect a very robust economy in 2022 as more people get vaccinated and life begins to get back to normal very slowly. I actually think this might be a very good time to get back into the job market this spring as ramping hires up at many companies.
When we look at our job postings data, the biggest opportunities that I see are in health care and any role supporting the health care sector, including pharmaceuticals, care for seniors and tech roles inside the health care industry. This is an enormous growth industry, especially with baby boomers rapidly moving into retirement and demanding more health care.
Second is anything in software development, engineering and product management roles across any industry. Third is anything in e-commerce, logistics and supply chain operation. That’s where we see huge labor shortages today.
Brian: Our best estimate is that once there’s an effective vaccination program in place, we’re going to go up to about 20 percent of people working remote full time. But the majority of employees are going to be in the office a couple of days a week and working from some other place a couple of days a week. And then there’s going to be another minority of employees who work from the office full time.
But the real big shift is going to be that we’re never in the same place together and then understanding all of the implications for collaboration, innovation and communication.
Elizabeth: How do we create a cohesive workplace culture? How do we create a cohesive corporate identity? How do we foster that connection and collaboration in that hybrid environment?
When we can’t use face-to-face or traditional in-person events to create connection, we have to be a lot more intentional about how we collaborate, communicate and create a sense of community in our organizations. Because some of us will likely be dispersed at some point of the day or of the week.
If you have a group of employees who are in a room having a conversation, you may forget that your colleague who isn’t in the room also needs that information. So training our managers and ourselves on how to be inclusive in information sharing and communications is going to be critical to making this work.
But the real big shift is going to be that we’re never in the same place together and then understanding all of the implications for collaboration, innovation and communication.
Sherry: We have to, as employees and as managers, take the initiative to educate ourselves. If we are not getting that support from our leaders within our organizations and we have a specific type of value system, then we need to look at, “What I can do to empower myself and empower the people who work for me.” Lead by example. You want to make sure that you’re supporting what your employees need and you’re educating yourself on what’s important. Sometimes we have to take time to educate ourselves, even if we’re not getting that at work.
If you found yourself unemployed today, what are the first three things you would do right away?
Sherry: If you are in a market where the work that you do is limited in terms of openings, your market actually has widened because you may be able to find an opportunity to work remotely. I would also think about assessing my network. Referrals are still king if they’re coming from the right person. The third thing I would do, if I have not interviewed in a very long time, I would reassess what that looks like: your technology and being prepared for a video interview. Educate yourself on what the interview process looks like now, and then make sure you’re prepared for that. Then, make sure you are prepared to negotiate. Understand what the market pays for the role that you’re seeking. Always look at what your minimum should be and what your ideal salary is.
Audience question: How do you switch careers during the pandemic and maximize your efforts when job searching?
Sherry: If you’re talking about transitioning into another industry, study what is required for those roles and compare your current skill sets now to what you may need. And then, of course, if there’s education involved or certifications involved, you’ll need to plan out what’s required. And then the soft skills that are necessary; being agile is so important in today’s work market. Take some assessments: What strengths and weaknesses do you currently have and what you will need? Start networking with people who are already in the industry because they can teach you what the best practices are and things that you need to know.
Elizabeth: I would add that when you’re in that interview or as you’re having that conversation, be able to tell the story of why this job and why now in your career. How does this job, this new role, make sense for you and where you’re going. Be able to tell that story of the experiences you’ve had in your past and what you want to accomplish, and how this role is the next logical step in that journey.
Audience question: How will employment and hiring be impacted by the rapid rise of automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning in the next two to five years?
Andrew: The most important thing to know about the future of work and automation is to learn something about the history of automation and work. For 100 years, jobs have continually been created when new technologies emerge and people have learned to team up with technology. In some cases, technology completely replaces jobs. But the reality is that most jobs aren’t completely replaced by technology; small parts of a job get automated. That leaves behind essential human tasks that involve creativity, flexibility, relationship building. So I think the growth of technology just fuels the movement toward requiring higher education to build more of those soft skills. And it will reward people who are creative and flexible and learn how to adapt technologies to make themselves have more scale.
Final Thoughts From Our Panelists
Sherry: Keep your mind open and do your homework to stay abreast of technology in your industry. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, look at what you need to be adapting to based on who you are, your personality, your work style. Be open to educating yourself along the way.
Elizabeth: It’s just as much about finding an organization that has the same values or passions that you do. And if you find an organization where you want to work that fits all those criteria, be proactive in reaching out. Negotiate. Be your best advocate, don’t be shy, and I’m sure you’ll have great success.
Be willing to embrace experimentation and try something different.
Brian: I think it is an amazing time in a lot of ways. There’s lots of ability to guesstimate as to what is going to happen, and lots of smart, thoughtful people are trying to think it through. This is also a time when there’s opportunity to be really creative. The rules that have dictated job search and careers for the past 100 years aren’t going to apply for the next 20. Be willing to embrace experimentation and try something different. I think the people who do that are going to be rewarded from that perspective.
Andrew: I think a common mistake young people make is they only aim for the biggest, most high-profile companies — the Googles, Apples and Facebooks of the world. And I think you could benefit tremendously from starting a career in a small, scrappy place because you will learn a lot of skills and you will be forced to be entrepreneurial. Whereas if you work at a larger, more specialized place, you’ll be working in one specific area. Get in where you fit in, and start building something, even if it’s at a small, unknown company.