In his presentation, Mike talks about the future of work and how things have started to change after the pandemic. He discusses how having a clear purpose is more important than ever for every single business, how people will need to re-skill and how the offices will need to reshape to accommodate for a changing workforce.
An American Brit, originally from Michigan, USA, Mike started his career in sales for Whirlpool/KitchenAid. After a few years out west, he decided to trade in the California sun for the pubs of Bristol, England where he completed a master's degree in Management at the university. Mike then went on to found Steele Medical Supply UK, which he quickly grew to be a top distributor of cardiac and diagnostic equipment in the region. Subsequently, he joined Iron Mountain and held a number of leadership roles during his eight years with the company. Most notably he was Chief of Staff to the Western Europe business unit, driving growth across 12 countries and $500m in revenue; he spent time in the art world where he worked as Program Director for Crozier Fine Arts (an Iron Mountain company) integrating acquisitions and executing on growth plans, and most recently, as Corporate Strategy Director, leading the company's top priorities by advising senior executives on where to place their bets. Mike now advises leaders on the future of work and much more as a Consultant at FutureStrat. Having met his now-wife during his time at the University of Bristol, what was originally supposed to be a one-year overseas trip, is now 13 years and counting...
I’m Mike and I’ve spent the last year studying the future of work. Today I’m going to quickly give you some practical advice on how to approach it.
First, imagine a future where there are no job titles, work is done alongside robots, VR/AR replace zoom calls, you rate your boss and your peers rate you, hierarchy is completely taboo, where there is full salary transparency across the org, where a four-day workweek is the norm, and crypto is the currency of your paycheck. Of course, these might seem like extreme examples of the future of work, but they are happening to an extent and can offer us a glimpse into the future.
Over the past year and a half, our lives have been disrupted in ways we could never have imagined. Almost overnight, we were forced to adapt to new ways of living and working, isolated from friends, family, and colleagues. Although disruption has been felt differently depending on business, sector, country etc, it’s clear that many of the covid-related innovations are here to stay and will continue to evolve with time.
As of late July 2021, the virus is still out there, governments are still restricting movement, vaccine inequality is on full display with only 14% of the world population fully vaccinated, new variants continue to spread, so the end is still uncertain. Meanwhile, billionaires are taking joy rides to outer space…
That said, when we step back and look at how things have changed and what is likely to be permanent, we can start to consider both short and long term horizons and the decisions required to prepare for the future.
Consider the trends and forces and what has changed?
Let’s step back to before covid - there were a good few trends with serious momentum. Covid really accelerated some of these trends. For example, digital adoption has continued to skyrocket. In 2020 there were 10B digitally connected devices - by 2025, there will be over 30B and rising. Automation, AI and the green economy have also become big forces that will continue to accelerate in the future. Just look at European Union’s covid recovery and resilience stimulus package where they are allocating hundreds of billions of euros to directly fund digital and green initiatives - quite a big statement coming from Europe as they think about how they will compete with the US and China in the future.
Since covid, organisations have adopted remote working capabilities if they hadn't had them before, which had an impact on how some services were delivered. Covid has also forced people and companies to do a lot of reflecting - reflect on what’s important, reflect on where they should focus, what they are good at and what they aren’t. This reflection has forced a ‘hard reset’, so to speak. And just as a lot of companies have been forced to close, others have never been more profitable. But should profit be at any cost?
Although it was there pre-covid, a big shift is taking place and will be a big topic in the future. Organisations are being pressured to be properly vested in a purpose - ‘not just ESG speak’ but a purpose at the heart of everything they do. This is coming from investors, sponsors, customers, and employees!...
SO considering all of that, I think it’s a really important first step to ask what type of business you want to be?
This is step 1. Define what you want to be as an organisation. What is your purpose? Not symbolic purpose, but real and tangible purpose. It can be to continue to make as much money as possible, delivering full value to shareholders. Or it can be standing for a cause, environmental, social or otherwise. It can be operating differently and returning value to your employees - like a partnership. Whatever it is, be very clear and let this be your guiding principle as it will help you answer the questions that will come out of the 4 pillars.
Step 2 is to consider the four interconnected and interdependent pillars. Your customers, your people, your office, and your systems and tools. In each of these pillars, you will need to take near term decisions - you likely already have taken some, you will also need to consider the longer term decisions and of course, ensure these align with your purpose.
Without customers, you have no business. So start by reflecting on how your customers’ needs have changed. My guess is that there has been a digital shift in some way and as a result you’ve had to remain relevant by adjusting to that shift. Consider the permanence of these shifts. Try digging deeper into it...
Have your competitors adapted differently?
Do you understand your customer’s customers’ needs?
Do you anticipate this change accelerating?
What is the implication to us if we do nothing?
What does this mean for the type of work you will do in the future? Specifically, what jobs are you being asked to do? Knowing what we know about technology trends, how can things like automation or AI help to perform some of the work?
This then leads us on to your people. Consider the type of work you will need to do in the future and this will help you to understand what type of people you need.
Automation will no doubt impact people but rather than wholesale replace people, a large body of research suggests that automation will actually enhance the work that people do by allowing them to focus on the value added tasks, rather than the repeatable, manual tasks.
It is estimated that by 2025, 50% of the workforce will need to be reskilled. This is obviously technology driven and begs the question, do your people currently have the skills they require for the future or do you have a plan to help them gain those skills?
Considering the pace of change, adaptability will become increasingly important and therefore the ‘utility player’ someone that is really adaptable and has a range of skills will be a hot commodity. Not to say specialists won’t be important but companies will need a range of skills even from specialists.
The purpose is a big factor in the attraction and retention of people and shouldn’t be overlooked as this is a really important aspect of building a business that is future proof - ensuring you have people in the right roles that are engaged and believe passionately about what it is you’re trying to achieve. Seems like common sense but I think this gets lost sometimes.
As organisations think about attracting and retaining talent, it’s important to consider the motivation of your people. Over the next decade, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Y, and Z will all be in the workforce together at the same time and understanding their expectations of work will be very important. For example, it’s expected that younger generations will latch on to a company’s purpose and will expect to ‘level-up quickly’ in a way that previous generations valued long term stability to pay the mortgage, younger generations will value flexibility and mobility - understanding these motivations will be a competitive advantage.
Finally, in the more immediate term, organisations should consider the level of connectivity within their business and whether their people are being adequately supported now, especially while working remotely. Microsoft recently surveyed 30,000+ users of their software and found that people in leadership roles overwhelmingly reported to be ‘thriving’ while people in non-decision making roles largely reported feeling as if they were just ‘surviving’. Quite a worrying statistic and where organisations can, they should act to address the burn-out, or risk losing talented people to the ‘great resignation’.
When we talk about the future of work, most people think about the return to the office. And rightly so! For a lot people this was the most significant change brought about by covid and while there have been huge upsides (working in PJ’s, not having to commute so helping the environment, saving money, escaping to the countryside for more space) BUT there have been a fair few downsides too (reports of loneliness, on avg working nearly an hour more a day, zoom fatigue, juggling kids and partners also at home, and a weird sense of disconnectedness from the organisation despite always being connected). Either way, it’s been a very personal experience so everyone has a slightly different take and that has evolved over time.
At the start of covid, people quickly moved to remote working where possible (let’s not forget the people that weren’t able to work remotely that kept organisations going). Nonetheless, a few months in, the office was proclaimed to be dead. But many months on, more and more people started to see the value in human interaction and the role the office plays in fostering connection, purpose, innovation, and growth. What’s clear is that the office of the future has a place - it helps you build culture, belonging, solve problems together, faster than over zoom,, and feel a part of something tangible. It will be a collaboratory that also allows for those formal meetings and serendipitous interactions, a hub to meet informally for those after work drinks, and discuss all of the non-work related stuff that actually brings a lot of joy to employees and fortifies bonds. This is missing at the moment and it’s a piece I think is being overlooked but is really important because it helps to satisfy some really basic human psychological needs and builds a strong business.
In a recent study, 74% of those surveyed said they want and expect flexibility. This means, not having to go to the office every day, but occasionally, when required. This goes back to the attraction and retention of people piece and won’t even be a competitive advantage in the future as much as table stakes. It also means your talent pool, geographically, can expand beyond the city HQ so you can access a wider range of diverse talent.
The key question is not if we should have an office but how do we design one for optimal collaboration? And when that time comes, how do we keep people safe when we do return?
Your systems and tools
Your systems and tools is the final pillar and it is the enabler for all of the other pillars. It is also about seeing technology as a competitive advantage. With technology leading the path to the future, it’s about assessing the current systems and refocusing the whole business around digital tech to unlock hidden value. This is really a mindset shift from tech as a function to tech IS the business. The way I like to think about it is, if i were to start this business from scratch, what systems would I be using? Probably not the 80’s mainframe that is too costly to replace. So it’s about building flexible systems that can scale, are flexible and nimble and co-exist with legacy systems, seamlessly. A resilient strategy requires designing for disruption, knowing that the business will evolve, by leveraging cloud, AI, ML by default, autonomous tech where possible. Another way is by relying more heavily on partners, building an ecosystems by which you can collaborate and grow whilst sharing the risk and exposure to potential disruption.
I appreciate that there is a lot to consider when it comes to the future of work. By breaking it down into those four pillars, it makes it a bit easier to digest but my advice would be to get really clear on the purpose and then be decision driven. By that, be very deliberate in what decisions are required in order to make the biggest impact. Hopefully this gives you some insight into the future of work and what to expect, what types of things you should be considering and questions you need to be asking. You should incorporate this into a regular planning cadence - don’t just do this once and forget about it, get the entire business to take part and create your future together.