Video: Jeff Schwartz on the Future of Work

Life @ Work

Jeff Schwartz on the Future of Work

We need to ensure our employees do things they uniquely do as humans and allow machines to do work that machines do well, says the future of work leader, in an exclusive interaction with Ester Martinez.


Jeff Schwartz is Vice President of Insights and Impact at Gloat - an internal talent marketplace platform that helps enterprises democratize career development, unlock skills, and future-proof their workforces. Jeff is also the founding partner of Deloitte Consulting's U.S. Future of Work practice and has been the editor of its Global Human Capital Trends report since 2011. He has led research on the evolution of work, workforces, and workplace practices and advised clients around the world on workforce transformation. 

A global consultant, Jeff has lived and worked in the United States, India, Russia, Belgium, Kenya, and Israel. An alumnus of the Yale School of Management and Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, Jeff currently resides in New York City.

Here are the edited excerpts of the interview. 

Can you please tell us about your book - Work Disrupted: Opportunity, Resilience, and Growth in the Accelerated Future of Work?

I have the privilege of having led the future of work practice at Deloitte Consulting from 2016 to 2021. We saw the world really unfolding in front of us. When I was finishing the book in the spring of 2020, we were ready to send it to the publisher. My co-writers pushed me to put the book Work Disrupted in the context of COVID-19. It’s not about work ‘accelerated’ because we have been accelerating work based around technology since 1960. As Albert Einstein said, you can’t use an old map to explore the new world. The last one and a half years saw something significant. The way work, workforces and workplaces have been disrupted, we have been challenged like never before to shift our thinking. The future of work accelerated by COVID-19 created an urgent need for new maps, new mindsets and new strategies, and, most importantly, a trusted guide to help us navigate this journey. Today, we, the HR and talent leaders, are in a situation trying to figure out what these maps are. The 20th-century models of work have changed. Let me quote a statement by Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of a think-tank based in the US, which says the coronavirus and its economic and social aftermath is like a time machine to the future. Things that took five to ten years are taking five to ten weeks and, in some cases, five days. The disruption and the subsequent shifts that resulted in are at the core of this book. Work Disrupted explores how work, workforces and workplaces have changed and what they mean for workers and organisations and their implications for leadership and what we can do about it as individuals and as business leaders and as a society.

You are one of the top global leaders who are very passionate about the ‘future of work’. Can you declutter the noise around the future of work?

The future of work or work in the 21st century is about changing work, workforce and workplaces. One way to think about it is: How do you frame work today versus how you framed it 20 years ago? The two big dimensions of work that are transforming are our shifting focus from efficiency and productivity to work that not only focuses on output but also doing more with less. Productivity today is more of the same output with less human input. We also need new outcomes, new innovation and new services to be able to create new impact. So, what is important is how we look at work, not just from the cost and efficiency perspective but also from an innovation and growth perspective. The other part of work that is dramatically changing is human-machine working together. What is important is how we put humans and machines together to augment the work we do. Work is changing from outputs to outcomes and from jobs to superjobs. Traditionally, workforce used to be the employees. Today, an average of two-thirds of the workforces are employees while consultants, contractors or gig workers are also part of the larger ecosystem. 

So, you talked about superjobs and superteams - people and intelligent machines working together. Most of these technologies did exist in pre-pandemic times. It’s just that COVID-19 brought forth the acceleration as you mentioned. How do you see this tech-enabled and people-led movement coming together?

Before COVID-19, the top question around the future of work was the relationship between technology and workers. Since the pandemic, it’s about the new mode of work - hybrid. Our job and work will continue to change and we will work with smart machines and robots. We need to ensure our employees do things they uniquely do as humans and allow machines to do work that machines do well. What is interesting is how we enable humans and machines to work together to create the best outputs we need. 

You talked about hybrid work and today many organisations are planning to return to work or workplace. How do we define the interconnections between work, workforce, and workplace as we try to settle with new ways of working in the 21st century?

What we have seen changing dramatically in the one and a half years is that work and workplace are not interdependent or intertwined. Companies are working to figure out the best combinations of hybrid and office. Workplaces used to have a significant bearing on the type of work we did. This has changed. Now, we know we can stay productive while working virtually. Companies that announced their return-to-work policy are tweaking them because we are learning together what employees want and how we can give our best to business. 

The crisis has also validated the fact that what we used to do in the office cubicle can be done from home. But what we do miss is physical social interactions. So, if people are coming to the office for social interaction, we need to build offices designed that way. Hence, offices are being reconfigured in a way that creates a communal, collaborative and social space.

You talked about the evolution of the preferences of workers. Employees are finding it difficult to balance work and life, leading to burnout and stress. In fact, one of the trends Deloitte 2021 Report talks about is the integration of well-being into work, not as a set of side benefits, but in a deliberate way that is integrated into work. What’s your take on well-being which is different from the pre-pandemic times?

We all have been facing three crises simultaneously – healthcare crisis, economic crisis, and social crisis. While we were doing research for the Deloitte 2021 report, we realized companies considered well-being as side benefits. Some companies offer employee benefits like time off, on-site gyms, allowance to buy physical equipment, etc. COVID-19 forced us to intertwine personal and professional lives. Well-being has moved from being a physical-office safety issue two decades ago, to physical, emotional, mental and financial well-being. The other aspect - in addition to the overall well-being, is that they look for cultural and value alignment as well. They want to work for companies where their work is being valued. Again, it’s not a side benefit, it’s health, the work you do and how it fits with your life and values. Employees want their employers to take into consideration their whole lives, which is leading employers to reconsider things employees look up to in terms of their expectations. As a result, we are seeing a mismatch which is driving what some economists dubbed The Great Resignation.   

Let’s talk about the great mismatch and the movement of employees en masse. In the context of work disrupted, how do we see this signal? A great opportunity or a threat?

In August 2021, 4.3 million workers in the United States left their jobs voluntarily. It’s the highest number since we have been recording labour statistics. It was four million in the month of April when we started talking about The Great Resignation. According to some estimates, it’s 2.9% of the workforce. With The Great Resignation or great reshuffling, the year 2022 is going to be of musical chairs. Another way to look at it is what The Washington Post journalist Heather Long points out as a ‘great reassessment’. Workers are asking themselves: ‘Is this what I want to do’? Employees have learned that they have more career choices than they previously had. So, the challenge for businesses and HR leaders is how to lead and lean into the great reassessment. What are we going to do differently in 2022 to create opportunity and growth in our companies? The broader question that we have in front of us, as research we have done in Deloitte and in MIT shows, most employees tell us that they believe that they have better and more accessible opportunities for growth outside their organisation. That is going to play out in the great reassessment of work. And the challenge for our businesses today is to create an internal growth platform where everyone can see opportunities.

So, how do we create that pivot to innovation and create that marketplace in the new world of work?

For this ‘new reality’ of 2020 as BCG (Boston Consulting Group) dubs it, we need to revisit different aspects of work to start doing new things, stop doing certain things etc and that’s the biggest challenge for us. The question I would ask business and HR leaders, as we finish 2021, is: ‘Where do you want to be in your business and people strategy at the end of 2022?’. This is one of the biggest reframing moments to think about careers and the workforce. One of the things we have learned is our employees are not going to do what we are expecting them to do. When we hire someone, we think we hired him for what we wanted him to do. We all have our interests and we can learn new things. This warrants creating an environment based on marketplace dynamics so that our employees can tell us what they want to do, business managers can align tasks they want to get done. Marketplaces are one of the richest sources of information. If we allow our employees to bring their potential and interest to the business problems, they will stay because they will have more opportunities. This is a big shift because people-practices are traditionally administrative and transactional. And we should try moving into a marketplace and ecosystem dynamics. 

You mentioned three dimensions of the world of work and the opportunity they bring forth. Today, we have a more diverse pool of talents but the challenge is ‘inclusion’. How will inclusion evolve as part of the ongoing reset process?

What will evolve in large part is a function of what we want to have happened. Nothing is predetermined. The pandemic allowed us an opportunity to tweak diversity, equity and inclusion for the better. People, especially women who were not allowed historically to participate in the workforce because of childcare and other challenges, can now join the workforce in the hybrid model of work. Today, we have more choices than we had in the past, especially work-from-anywhere. We can use marketplaces without gender and other cultural identifiers to help us find the right talent for our organisations. So, while we have the option to advance diversity and inclusion, the question is: ‘Are we going to take advantage of them? The action point here is to have the right policy framework and put in place technology in the new D&I programmes. I am cautiously optimistic about the real progress that we can make. Having said that, we have to leverage this moment to fix the larger D&I equation. As Elvis Presley said, ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’ is what we need. What we want versus what we need and what is possible is a really interesting combination to act upon. 

As we design work in the 21st century, what is your advice to global talent leaders?

This crisis is an incredible moment for people managers. The CFO came to the rescue in the financial crisis of 2009 but the crisis of 2020 is the moment for HR leaders. I hope HR professionals are preparing to lead - and not just support -  to redefine and re-architect work, workforce and workplace to create a better future of work.

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Topics: Life @ Work, #FutureOfWork

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