Leaders preparing for the work of the future often focus on data and technology, which are already powering the artificial intelligence and algorithms that are transforming the workplace.
But human workers shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. Savvy managers equip employees with the skills they need to integrate these new technologies into existing workflows.
At the same time, leaders anticipate that the challenges and opportunities that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as remote working, will continue and become the norm, although there is still much work to be done in this domain.
“We are at the most important pivot point of the past two years,” said Dannelle Appelhans, MBA ’11, chief operating officer at biotech Rubius Therapeutics. “We finally feel like we have a pathway to move forward into what will be our new normal, or our ‘work of the future’.”
Here, five MIT Sloan alumni in leadership roles at Target, Google, and other companies share what the work of the future means to them:
Go deep on data
For many companies, data will become part of day-to-day work and overall strategy, if it hasn’t already. This is especially true at Healr Solutions, which uses data to create solutions for biopharmaceutical supply chains, according to Guadalupe Hayes-Mota, SB ’08, LGO ’16, the company’s founder and CEO.
Hayes-Mota said he makes sure his employees are well versed in data analysis and working with large datasets.
“They become familiar with working with data, analyzing it and communicating the implications of that information,” he said.
Data is also a priority at the management level.
“As we move into the future, the work will rely heavily on making decisions based on large datasets,” Hayes-Mota said. “And I’m learning new ways to analyze big data to tell insightful and meaningful stories for business growth and operations.”
“At Target, we use data-driven tools to support faster, more efficient decision-making,” said Heath Holtz, LGO ’05, senior vice president of field operations at Target, responsible for replenishment of the company’s stores and the “direct-to” guest fulfillment network operations.
“The way forward is to use this information to improve the speed and quality of service to meet customer expectations,” Holtz said.
Integrating artificial intelligence into the workplace
Technology, especially AI and robotics, is a priority for many leaders, who expect smart tools to bring substantial returns. Integrating these technologies into the workplace presents unique opportunities and challenges, which vary by industry.
Bots offer a particular opportunity for highly regulated industries like healthcare that have codified activities, said Isma Bennatia, MBA ’18, vice president of R&D strategy and operations at Amgen., a biotechnology company. Doctors and other highly skilled employees end up performing required administrative tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming, distracting them from more innovative work.
“A bot can provide a quick fix, reducing the risk of human error and freeing up time for researchers,” she said. “Integrating a bot into the existing R&D workflow is usually quickly adopted by scientists.”
Amgen is thinking about existing skills and determining where the gaps are, with a focus on involving employees in solutions, Bennatia said. This includes explaining why changes are being made and how more new technologies will benefit employees by helping them develop new skills and freeing up time.
“People fear being replaced by technology and losing their jobs,” she said. “This can be quickly resolved once individuals understand how these tools will help them function better and more efficiently.”
Hayes-Mota agreed that the human side of technology is often overlooked.
“When we talk about the future of work, we tend to focus on creating systems and technologies that will do work for us. In a sense, we are preparing to be replaced by technology,” he said. he said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t paid much attention to the types of work we will be doing. We need to invest in brainstorming and developing new roles for those who are displaced by technology.”
Manage remote teams using technology
Business leaders said they were preparing for remote work to be a long-term trend affecting everything from communication to worker retention. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 60% of workers who can work from home say that even when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, they would like to work from home all or most of the time if they have a choice. Some argue that in the future, remote work will simply be called “work”.
“Personally, I’m still working on how to leverage IT tools and best practices to create an inclusive environment, especially for hybrid working,” said Appelhans. “As a leader, I believe we need to be role models in the effective use of technology and show our employees how they can use it to their advantage and for the benefit of their work.”
Hayes-Mota said Healr also expects employees to use technology to communicate and share information, and to become more comfortable with video and virtual meetings.
“Currently, my team is learning to electronically share information that will be seen by others around the world,” Hayes-Mota said. “We also use telecommunications to think about solutions to the daily problems that we face in the company. This makes us much more agile and able to react to sudden changes in the market. »
Focus on skills, technology cannot replace
Remote and hybrid work emphasizes certain skills that technology cannot replace, such as empathy, collaboration and communication.
A near-term “acute challenge” is getting the most out of employees as they disperse geographically, said Wendy-Kay Logan, LGO ’11, director of business strategy at Google.
“How can we collaborate equally across all sites, given that you have real constraints around time zones,” Logan said. “You want to meet people where they are.”
This means looking at how meetings are conducted – perhaps with all participants on individual screens, whether in the office or remotely, and ensuring that in-person and remote participants can also engage in a meaningful way. productive.
Logan said she’s also focused on empathy because people work from different time zones and with different tech infrastructures — which makes it acceptable for people’s cameras to be turned off, for example, or for people to be in the States. States start working a week earlier so people in India don’t need to stay up late and vice versa.
Connection and empathy have always been important to Target’s team culture, which is all about caring and connecting, Holtz said, and with the team spread across the country, that’s always been a priority. .
“But the last few years have given us the opportunity to create even more routines to stay connected and collaborate, which will be paramount moving forward,” he said.
Talent retention will also be extremely important in a world where individuals can change companies and stay in the same place.
“I anticipate that for most organizations, employee culture, engagement and retention is going to be difficult,” Appelhans said.
“I think the focus should be on building meaningful relationships and connections. Because employees now have even more autonomy, we’ll need to recognize the value of those relationships and need to be deliberate about how much time we let’s dedicate to growing them, which happened more organically when everyone was spending their entire week in their workplace.”
And most importantly, Bennatia said, companies should manage the risks of burnout that remote work brings.
“The lines between home and office are blurred,” Bennatia said. “Everyone is available 24 hours a day. It is more difficult to disconnect. We need to adapt and help staff separate and manage work and personal priorities, provide breaks during the day and encourage vacation days.
The future is likely to include new business centers as companies reconsider their location strategies in response to remote working.
“We should be going where the talent is,” Logan said, noting that Google has publicly announced it’s expanding its footprint in Atlanta, New York and Chicago, where there’s a more diverse talent pool than Silicon Valley. This will help Google attract talent that is typically underrepresented in tech hubs, she said. “We want to harness the wealth of perspectives and have a diverse workforce to create products for a wider range of users.”
There’s typically a lack of black and Latino talent in traditional tech hubs, and “you can’t count on importing diversity because it’s not just about how many black employees can be convinced to move near the headquarters of a company, because life is not just work,” she said. “If the second you walk out of your job, you don’t see anyone else who has the same lived experience, then it doesn’t work.”
That means rethinking big tech hubs.
“It shows that there’s not just one place where innovation happens and where the next big AI company, the next big unicorn, is going to be,” Logan said. “It’s about being flexible and thoughtful, knowing how to position yourself for talent, because that’s the most important asset.”
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