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Ep 424: The Future Of Work

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It’s now an obvious thing to say that the pandemic has created an inflection point in the future of work. However, understanding which of the current trends we are seeing will become the long term trends that shape this future is a challenge, particularly when demographics and technology also have a big part to play.

To help me make sense of all of this and give us a professional opinion on how things might develop, my guest this week is Katy Tynan, Principal Analyst at Forrester. Katy specialises in both the employee experience and the future of work and has a vast amount of expert insight to share.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current state of talent markets

• Demographic shifts

• The working from anywhere trend

• Breaking down generational stereotypes

• Designing culture and working practices around employees and customers

• The importance of listening

• Values

• What does the career of the future look like

• The technology ecosystem

• The importance of collaboration

• Managing uncertainty

• What can we expect in the near term future?

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Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 424 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. It’s now an obvious thing to say that the pandemic has created an inflection point in the future of work. However, understanding which of the current trends we are seeing will become the long-term trends that shape this future is a challenge, particularly when demographics and technology also have a big part to play. To help me make sense of all of this and give us a professional opinion on how things might develop, my guest this week is Katy Tynan, Principal Analyst at Forrester.

Matt Alder (1m 46s):
Katy specializes in both the employee experience and the future of work and has a vast amount of expert insight to share. Hi Katie, and welcome to the podcast.

Katy Tynan (1m 59s):
Hey, Matt. Nice to be here.

Matt Alder (1m 59s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Katy Tynan (2m 5s):
Sure. My name is Katy Tynan and I am a Principal Analyst at Forrester, and I cover a lot of topics that are really sort of eclectic mix of things you would think of as organizational development. So I cover leadership. I cover culture. I cover DEI. I cover change. I cover all of the practices that we do in organizations to try to make a company a great place for the humans that work there. And then, of course, the technology that supports all those things.

Matt Alder (2m 33s):
Fantastic stuff. And so many things I want to talk to you about around all of those topics really. To start with though, just a little bit of scene-setting, obviously, very disruptive times in talent markets at the moment in terms of the ways that companies are thinking about talent, how they find talent, how they develop talent, all those kinds of things, what are you seeing happening in the market? And what do you think out of what’s happening now is likely to be the long-term trends?

Katy Tynan (3m 6s):
Yeah, it’s a very interesting time. You know, when you say the word interesting, that can be interesting good or interesting bad. So a couple of macro trends that I would look at, obviously, the pandemic did a bunch of things in terms of breaking out of habits that companies and individuals were used to. And so we had a lot of habits of how we worked and many of those were disrupted by the pandemic. And in some cases, there’s pressure to go back to the way it was before. But in other cases, there’s opportunities to learn and say, wow, this really works better. So that certainly that shifted just the sort of general norms of how we work is important.

Katy Tynan (3m 51s):
And then I think the second macro trend that I’m watching, and this is particularly acute in the United States, but also true in some places globally is some generational shifts and some demographic shifts that are changing the relative abundance of talent in the market. So historically in the United States, we have been for the last two decades living through a little bit of a bubble of abundant talent because the baby boomer generation was large and then the millennial generation came into the market and was also large, larger than any normal sized generation. What we’re seeing and have been seeing over the last decade is the progressive exit of some of those baby boomers and that generation out of the job market as they age out and retire, which is not new.

Katy Tynan (4m 42s):
Nobody should be surprised by that, but it has had some interesting ripple effects in terms of shifting a little bit of what the available talent looks like in the market. And I think that has certainly impacted the US job market as well as the global job market.

Matt Alder (4m 60s):
I think that’s really interesting because if you do break it down, all of these trends were there before and have, you know, to some extent really exacerbated or accelerated by the pandemic and just, you know, by everything that’s happened in the last couple of years, I know that you focus a lot on the workplace and the future of work, and you talk there about changes that have happened and, you know, companies trying to go back to the way that things were before, but things had sort of shifted onwards. How much has the pandemic changed or just accelerated the future of work and the new ways in which we’re working?

Katy Tynan (5m 33s):
I think the most significant shift that is obvious to most people is the percentage of talent that is now working from anywhere. And when I say from anywhere, I say that word deliberately, rather than saying working from home because it is not simply a work from home trend so much as it is the willingness of companies to hire talent that is not geographically co-located. And then also the particular opportunity of employees to leverage technology, to work from anywhere that might be their houses, but that could also be offices. It could also be co-working spaces.

Katy Tynan (6m 14s):
It could also be beaches and cafes and some of the things we think about in terms of digital nomads and that kind of trend, but prior to the pandemic, what we saw was around 6 to 7 percent of the workforce worked remotely most of the time. And, of course, during the pandemic that peaked at really about a hundred percent of the people who could possibly work remotely were working remotely for a period of time that has fallen back a little bit, but we expected that there should be a sustained higher level of percentage-wise people who work remotely some or all of the time. So that’s a really significant shift, I think in the ways that people are working.

Katy Tynan (6m 57s):
And it requires a bunch of changes from a technology perspective and from a behavioral norms perspective because, in the past, those folks were typically disadvantaged from a career perspective, from an access to leadership perspective that people who work remotely were not in the office. And so they could become a little bit invisible. And, of course, if you have a much higher percentage of your workforce working in that modality, it’s a big business risk to have those people not have the same opportunities for visibility, not having the same opportunities for a career. So that’s something certainly that I think is worthy of watching.

Matt Alder (7m 38s):
And how does this sort of pan out moving forward? How is the workforce of the future going to be different to the workforce of the last 20 years?

Katy Tynan (7m 49s):
It’s a good question. And believe me, if I could answer that question explicitly, I probably wouldn’t need to work anymore. I could just sit on that beach and have the money roll in. It’s a very interesting question because there are a lot of different variables. The first variable is the ways that people think about work. And so we have heard a narrative and I don’t think it’s incorrect that the pandemic in some ways caused people to question the amount of time they spend at work, the amount of emotional energy they put into work, and that people were sort of shifting their perspective on wanting to work a truly full-time job, wanting to put the amount of time and energy and effort into their work.

Katy Tynan (8m 37s):
And that’s not to say people are lazy it’s to say that people have historically had a certain relationship. And again, this goes back to the way that the workforce has been more abundant, which means that companies have been more able to drive the specifics of that relationship between employers and employees. And now when there’s a tighter talent market, employees have a little more power in order to be able to say, “No, I don’t want to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week,” or “No, I don’t want to conform to a very traditional schedule.” So one of the dynamics is that both technology and social trends are changing a little bit about that employer-employee relationship.

Katy Tynan (9m 19s):
I’m really hesitant all the time to talk about generations and generational differences. And part of the reason for that is because when we look at generational cohorts, we see that they have certain commonalities more often with their life stage than with the generation they belong to. So for example, when the millennial generation first came into the workforce, there was all kinds of talk about this generation wants to do things differently, likes technology, does X, does Y, does Z. Those same generalizations were still being applied to those folks even when they became further progressed in their careers and got into management and started buying homes and doing all of the things that mid-career professionals do.

Katy Tynan (10m 4s):
People who are still making generalizations about quote-unquote, “millennials”, when really what they were talking about is the commonality to that exist in the early stages of anyone’s career. So when early-stage talent comes into the market, they have different expectations. They look at the work relationship and say, “I like this. I don’t like this.” And sometimes they have the ability to push and change and put pressure on companies for how they want to work. So those dynamics still exist and will always exist. And I don’t think that that is related to any one generation so much as that you just continually have new people coming into the marketplace every year and folks retiring from the marketplace every year.

Katy Tynan (10m 53s):
And that drives some of these slow changes and evolutions in the way that we do things at work. So certainly that still exists as a pressure too, but it’s complicated. Like the workforce dynamics are not simple things to think about. And I think smart companies right now, rather than trying to take a broad brush and say, let’s do what everybody else is doing, they’re looking at themselves and saying, “Who are we? What is our culture? What do we want to do? How do we attract the talent that’s aligned with that and what do our customers need? What do our stakeholders need and how do we intentionally design our work practices based on that,”

Katy Tynan (11m 33s):
rather than saying, “Well, let’s just keep doing what we’ve always done,” or “Let’s do what Google does,” or “Llet’s do what some of these big global companies do.”

Matt Alder (11m 41s):
And that leads me on very nicely to my next question, which is really the question that everyone wants to know the answer to. And again, probably impossible to predict the future, but certainly it’s something that we can think about in the context of, you know, right now, for example, just digging a bit deeper into that, or is it the employers really need to do to kind of ensure they have that competitive advantage as new workforce and labor trends develop?

Katy Tynan (12m 7s):
I think the first skill that companies need to get much better at is just listening, listening to their employees, listening to their customers. We talk a lot here at Forrester about the idea of being insights-driven or insights-led both on the customer side and on the employee side. And I think there’s sort of a sweet spot of synthesis there that really smart companies do well. They listen really hard to their customers. They intentionally design customer experiences in order to create that strong connection between their brand and those customers. And they know that a big part of that is employees and employee experience and how their employees show up and represent the brand and not just the client-facing employees, but all the way down the stack to some of the people who aren’t as visible to customers, but have just as much influence on how well they deliver on that customer promise.

Katy Tynan (13m 8s):
So listening is just such a central part of being able to do that well. You can’t make assumptions about what your customers want. You can’t make assumptions about what your employees want. You need to iteratively and systemically think about all of the ways that you try to understand those things and then how you evolve your organization to meet those changing needs. So that’s something that I think is really critically important. And then the second piece is having a great culture. I think we tend to think about culture as something that ties or relates to a physical office, but the reality is that’s not true at all, that in fact, the culture that you have is something that is propagated throughout your organization, regardless of whether your employees all sit together in the same office or not.

Katy Tynan (13m 59s):
And so how you take your values and how you then inhabit and show up with those values in terms of your interactions is the foundation of your culture. So to me, it’s those two things working really well in harmony, that listening practice that you do all the time, as well as that intentional culture design practice.

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Matt Alder (14m 46s):
One of the things that doesn’t get talked about very much is the effect of all this change and all these trends on individuals, on people and their careers. What does this mean for people? What does the career of the future look like?

Katy Tynan (15m 1s):
I think we always have to come back to the fact that, and this is going to sound really obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway, that humans are humans. Humans are not machines. So historically a lot of the management practices that existed in organizations were based on industrial revolution habits and behaviors of how we manage productivity of machines and people working machines. But we’ve moved into a more service-driven economy, a more knowledge-based economy and that means that people want and need different things from their work environment. And you can’t tune people in the same way in the same way you tune machines from a productivity perspective.

Katy Tynan (15m 45s):
So to me, I think individuals are as humans looking for certain things, are looking for meaning. They’re looking for learning. They’re looking for opportunities to grow and feel fulfilled and feel positive about the work that they do and vice versa. Companies are looking to get stuff done. And so figuring out how that balance works and how you create an environment where people can do their best work is some of the most important work that companies can do today if they want to attract and retain talent. And so it’s not enough to just say, well, we always did it like this, so let’s keep doing it like this. I think those organizations are going to struggle to retain talent.

Katy Tynan (16m 26s):
Whereas the organizations that understand that humans are humans and really deeply understand what that looks like in a work context and the social context, which is what work is, those are the companies that are going to be successful, designing environments that attract and retain really great talent.

Matt Alder (16m 47s):
And what role is technology playing in all of this? What kind of trends are you seeing there?

Katy Tynan (16m 52s):
So we’ve heard a lot of course about the Metaverse and this idea that we are going to live in this sort of ecosystem of technology. And I think our perspective is yes, that’s on the horizon, but it’s not here yet. And in a lot of ways, the Metaverse is just not necessarily ready for primetime yet, but technology itself has a tremendous impact on our employee experience. We do live in a technology ecosystem and that technology has the ability to either make our daily journeys and lives easier and less full of friction or to contribute to the friction and the content overload and sort of the continuous interrupt mode that we live in.

Katy Tynan (17m 37s):
So to me, I think it’s about both organizations understanding how technology does or doesn’t shake the employee experience in a positive way, as well as technology vendors better understanding some of these new norms. So if we think about just as a simple example, a meeting. A meeting is something that we’ve all done for years and years and years in a work environment. And if we’re physically together, a meeting looks a certain way. We gathered together in a room, we’re around a table, we have a whiteboard on the wall. We have the ability to have conversations. We might be able to pop out into the hallway and say, “Hey, person passing by, can you pop in for a minute,”

Katy Tynan (18m 20s):
right? So a meeting happens in a certain way. And then when we went virtual, meetings happened in a really different way. And we were using technology to facilitate that in video conferencing and tools and technologies. When we emerge into a more hybrid environment where some people are physically in a room together, some people are not, some of those tools are going to break down and not be as effective. And so the question is how do we use technology and how does technology evolve fast enough to support these new ways of working that we don’t yet totally understand and how do we make sure that we are not just relying on the same tools?

Katy Tynan (19m 3s):
So I use this example all the time. I live in the northeast in Massachusetts and it snows here. And so I have snow shovels and I have a snowblower and I have all the right equipment for snow. If I moved somewhere in the south where it did not snow as much as it does up here, would I take all of those things with me? Would they be valuable to me? Would I use my snow shovel to mow the lawn? No. And so I think what we need to do is recognize that technology can be the right tool for the job or it can be the wrong tool and make it much harder to be productive, to be efficient, to get things done. And so that is the crux of what we need to think about as we move into some of these new ways of working.

Matt Alder (19m 47s):
And just again, to dig a bit deeper into that, what would your advice be to employers who are putting together their technology strategies at the moment for the next few, how should employers be thinking about technology? How should they be designing that sort of decision-making process in terms of what they’re going to use and how?

Katy Tynan (20m 10s):
So I spent the first 10 years of my career in IT and tech and helping somebody who’s rollout technology. And then I spent the second half of my career working in HR and looking at talent and learning and leadership and a lot of those things. And so I feel really confident when I say that a part of the problem is that technology and IT professionals and HR professionals are not spending as much time collaborating as perhaps they need to. So we know that technology has this tremendous impact on employee experience and vice versa. We know that what people learn and how their jobs are structured and how the talent life cycle works has a tremendous impact on how they use technology.

Katy Tynan (20m 58s):
And yet we still have decisions being made that do not include all of the voices and all of the perspectives that are required in order to make sure that our technology decisions get made in a way that puts the human at the center. So the way we have seen it in more mature organizations is in a cross-discipline functional structure, whether it’s called an employee experience practice or whether it’s called a technology enablement practice, or however you name it, it’s the idea that you are bringing together the folks that really know the technology well, and the folks that really know and understand the human beings well, and the folks that really understand what the organization is trying to accomplish, and those are the stakeholders that need to be in the room as we think about designing a technology ecosystem.

Katy Tynan (21m 51s):
And I always talk about it just like if you’re building a house or if you’re building any kind of a structure that people are going to inhabit, that if you built a house that didn’t have any windows, that would be problematic for some reasons. If you built a house that didn’t have a roof, that would be problematic for some reasons, but sometimes that’s how we choose technology is we sort of bolt-on different pieces and parts, and then we just expect everything to work together as a seamless whole. And it doesn’t, it doesn’t create that seamless experience that employees are really looking for. And so to me, making good technology decisions is equally about the questions of technology, meaning how is this going to be delivered?

Katy Tynan (22m 38s):
Is it secure? Do we have the platforms and tools that we need is what’s the overhead of administration and maintenance, but also in what does an employee’s journey look like on a day-to-day basis using these tools to do their job? How do these tools support the practices that we’re trying to optimize in order to make an environment where people can do this work and how do we do that in an effective way with again, all the right people in the room? So it’s complicated. I won’t say it’s simple and easy, but I think it’s that cross-discipline approach that becomes so essential to making good decisions about having the right technology to help people be productive.

Matt Alder (23m 20s):
And as a final question, we’ve already talked about the impossibility of predicting the future, but just to put you on the spot a little bit, what do you think the near-term future looks like? What could we expect to happen over the next sort of 12 to 18 months? What should be on employer’s radar? How should they be thinking?

Katy Tynan (23m 39s):
So I think the tension that will happen over the next 12 months, and it is the tension we have been under for the last 12 months too is this uncertainty. So I was recently having a conversation with a journalist and they were talking about this idea of some mayors and some legislators trying to force companies to force their employees back to the office because they’re trying to preserve downtown commerce. Those kinds of pressures are going to exist and we’re going to see some of that. We’re going to see company executives thinking that they need to bring people back to the office. We’re going to see other organizations deciding that they’re going to remain fully remote, or that they’re going to double down on the hybrid strategies.

Katy Tynan (24m 26s):
But what that all comes together is in a place of uncertainty. It’s an uncertain place for individuals. It’s an uncertain place for companies it’s navigating without a map. You’ve got a lot of people and organizations out there desperate for a playbook. How do we do this right? How do we find the right answers? And unfortunately, there isn’t going to be a right answer. We don’t know what variants are going to emerge. We don’t know what other kinds of systemic risk are going to appear on the horizon. And so we do want to plan as organizations. We want to plan for being resilient to some of these different uncertainties and change.

Katy Tynan (25m 9s):
And we do want to be able to message to our employees, hey, these are things you can count on. And then these are things we’re uncertain about, but that conversation is really difficult because people are looking for certainty. They’re looking for some kind of stable environment to set their feet in and say, okay, at least I know this. And so that’s where I think most organizations need to be spending their time right now is trying to navigate that uncertainty in a very transparent way and say to their employees, “Look, this is where we are right now. This is where we think we’re going to go. But maybe here are three scenarios of how this could play out.

Katy Tynan (25m 51s):
And we’re going to continuously communicate with you about how we’re leaning at any given time, but we can’t necessarily say which one is going to be the end result.” I think that kind of transparent communication is much more healthy than what a lot of organizations are doing in the face of uncertainty, which is just saying nothing or committing to nothing. And I think when we commit to nothing, what we do is we shift that uncertainty down to the employee and let them carry the weight and the burden of that uncertainty. And in that case, they’re going to go out and look for an environment where they can find some stability. They’re going to seek out opportunities to try to have some of that control.

Katy Tynan (26m 32s):
So that to me is the nature of the next 12 months is how well do we communicate about the uncertainty and the risk that exists and how do we plan for and try to adapt our organizations to make sure that we’re resilient to those risks.

Matt Alder (26m 50s):
Katy, thank you very much for talking to me.

Katy Tynan (26m 53s):
Yeah, wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Matt Alder (26m 56s):
My thanks to Katy. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at RecruitingFuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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