Cerius executive experts weigh in on the future of our workforce over the next 12 months.
Kristen McAlister: We’ve got quite a diverse group here. We welcome lots of opinions. I’d like to kick it off with probably one of the most timely topics. I will say, when I put this topic on the agenda, it’s because I had been in a couple of CEO forums over the past week, and this was the number one thing everyone was talking about.
Then yesterday, I see a YouTube video of Mark Zuckerberg talking about his remote workforce and his biggest debate as to do I bring my workers back into the office? Do I let them have a choice? Do we do it as a hybrid? Mark saying that he envisioned that 50% of his workforce will be remote ongoing over the next 5 to 10 years.
What are you seeing with the clients or the companies that you’re working with and some things that they’re taking into consideration and how you’re advising them, or what are you advising CEOs on over the next 6 to 12 months in managing a remote workforce?
Because having that remote for a month to three months versus 12 months is very different. I would love to get your thoughts on it, Rob, let’s kick you off from an HR standpoint. I know classification has been a very big deal over the last few years. Probably going to be even more so now next to the remote workforce.
Rob Stultz: Yes, it will be. There was an interesting article, it just popped up a few minutes ago on CNBC that basically said the remote workforce is probably going to take 2 million barrels of oil out of the economy every year going forward. That’s just kind of the tip of the iceberg.
But I think employers have to be very careful how they wade into this. There’s a number of things they need to have in place before they kind of jump off the cliff. They really need to have a workforce productivity tracking system that is pretty robust, that’s tied into their payroll and their time system and some mechanism or method where managers can monitor their remote employees.
And again, going back to handbooks and policy manuals, those kinds of things will have to be updated. Job descriptions may have to be changed and updated. And this is always the big worry with most employers, is that if you go too far, some of these employees may raise their hand and say, “Well, I’m not really an employee. I’m really an independent contractor, because I make my own schedule. I do my own thing.” So all of this depends on how much control the employer is going to have over that remote employee’s time and their working from their office.
Some of the other things that are going to pop up that I think that I see coming down the road besides classification is, I’m sitting here working in my home office just like you guys are, and I expense this office on my income tax returns because I’m a business. However, the employee is going to have to set aside a certain amount of space in their home for their office, which will become basically a full time office. So the question becomes, is that employee going to be able to expense that on their taxes or is the employer going to reimburse them for their business expenses at home. Just a small item, but I think it’s going to be a big one down the road.
Then for the employer, there’s going to be a lot of what I call unused space. All of that office space that used to have an employee is going to be vacant. So that’s going to be a tremendous savings on rent and utilities and things like that for the organization. So a question for the employees is, are they going to be able to share in some of those cost savings to the employer? There’s a pile of money there that could be used for bonuses and things like that.
So in addition to that, there’s going to be a lot of the employment processes themselves that will change. For example, recruiters are probably going to need a new skill set. They’ve been used to bringing candidates in, talking to them across the desk, across the room, walking them around the office and doing things like that. That may still happen in some cases, but I think they are going to start hiring remotely as well, just like we’re doing here. There will be more and more remote interviews like this. So recruiters are going to change the way they process people and interact with people and just the employment process itself, getting them on the books, getting them on the payroll, onboarding those people, the new ones that come through. All of that’s going to be changing. So this involves changing the policies and the practices of the employer. Because there is no such thing as going back to the old way. I think we’ve got a new normal now, and employers will need some time to make this adjustment. So those are the considerations that I see right now.
John Morris: Rob, let me ask you what about Safety? Feeling your employees have to feel safe to want to come back.
Rob Stultz: That’s true. And there’s a big argument out there right now. Suppose I’m your employee and you want me to come back to the office and I say, “I’m sorry. I’m too scared. I’m afraid of the pandemic. I just can’t do that. If I can’t work from home, I can’t work for you.” So what is the employer going to do at that point? What are his legal as well as other considerations for interacting with that employee and adjudicating that situation? This is where the policies and the practices come in or come into play every day.
Aaron Levy: First of all, Rob, thank you. That’s all very valuable information. What happens if the employee gets injured at home?
Rob Stultz: What happens if the employee gets injured at home? Is that the question?
Kristen McAlister: Right now, there is a lawsuit for someone who tripped over their dog after getting up from their desk? Right now the court is deciding if it’s covered under workers’ comp.
Rob Stultz: The lawyers are lining up. I can tell you they are lining up to file suits on just about anything to come because we’re going through uncharted territory. This is all new ground.
So I know Zuckerberg thinks that there’s forecasting that half of his workforce will be eventually virtual or maybe soon. But I would caution employers to leg into this carefully and slowly and let the guidance come out rather than plowing the ground all themselves. Let some guidance come out. OSHA has not com in on this, For example.
Kristen McAlister: Yes, Robin, please, I’d love to get your thoughts on that as well as, as Robert talked about, we’ve got to recruit in a different way, and I can see marketing almost becoming an offshoot of HR from that standpoint.
Robin Schweitzer: Yes, let me give you a perspective from a marketer. At best, we are really into segmentation. If you look at the new normal and the remote work landscape, it has a lot of segments to it. For instance, the HR segment is a whole entity on itself. All the things that can happen or have to be covered in HR alone is one segment. So one of the things that I have been offering up in different groups that I’m in and some of my client base has been to think of segmenting as the approach that you’re going to do now as a new normal. And what do I mean by that? So you’ve got a marketing, a sales, and HR. If you put them into segments, and you also look at those segments both internally and externally. Because you’ve got a client that’s in a new normal and you’ve got an internal workforce that’s in a new normal. Then the third part of that segmentation is what is tactical and what is strategic? Now it sounds like there’s a lot of moving parts, but actually that creates a roadmap of how to approach the new normal and break it down. Because it’s an elephant. It really is. There’s so many ripple effects to having your workforce either be 50% remote or all remote or hybrid. All the above creates an elephant, so I suggest to my folks to start thinking about the big overarching categories of the change that this is going to bring. And employing an internal external lens on that, and then looking at the strategic and the tactical parts of each and every one of those segments.
When you start to do that, and I did this with an exercise with a client of mine, and it really became fill in. That was like the skeleton, if you will, and then it became a live document for a roadmap of, okay, what do I have to do in each segment? And it wasn’t as overwhelming. Does that make sense to kind of break it into categories?
John Morris: Robin, when you say segment, are you talking functions, departments? What do you mean by segments?
Robin Schweitzer: Well, depending on your company and your approach, you could start at the top and look at your company. Like if you’ve got marketing, you’ve got sales. I’d start at operations, IT, right? So you’ve got several components that make up your go to market and I would start segmenting by that. And then looking at it internally and externally, and strategically and tactically. Because I think what happens, and I’ll give the zoom movement as an example, 30 days ago or 60 days ago, most vice presidents of sales and or marketing had no idea how to use Zoom because their assistants set them up, right?
Well everybody was home and all of a sudden VPs had to do it by themselves. So there’s a whole learning curve that happened just to get the VPs to be able to be on a zoom call and manage their people. So that was a tactical thing that had to be rectified pretty quickly in 30 days.
Also, you had to have enough technology and space to do remote work. Some people didn’t even have a VPN at that point So in that respect, just getting the tactical piece done was one side of it, but the productivity and strategy of making a Zoom call the same as being in person is a whole other strategic element.
If you don’t separate the two, they’re going to blend and they’re not going to be as effective as if they were in two different segments. Get the tactical done, then work on the strategy of the effectiveness, like productivity for remote work. Rob, you said it earlier, if you don’t have a robust management system with milestones to goals prepared for a remote workforce, it’s going to be almost impossible to manage productivity. So I think in my mind, using the segmentation strategy as a framework is really going to help organizations and clients break down this big elephant of new normal.
John Morris: I think another issue is just the whole cyber security risk of people working at home, and that’s something that will light that industry up as well. Everybody needs better cyber, better access to cloud, more security. Double factors or two factor authentication because you could have a lot of corporate data going on at home computers.
Robin Schweitzer: Yes, I find a lot of people are talking directly about how do we resell, how do we market? And, absolutely, that is critical. But I think getting all the major components of your business into a mind map, sales, marketing, operations, IT, HR, starting those big segments, and then starting to dive into those from the splitting of internal, external, and some of the internal and external will bleed over. Then you can use both of the approaches, but some will not. For instance, you’ve got to make sure your internal employees feel safe. Communicate with them is important in order for them to be able to be empathetic to the clients they’re now talking to.
So lots of layers, and my recommendation really is segmenting it. Because it takes the overwhelming elephant in the room and breaks it up into bits and pieces that you can really put a roadmap to and maybe assign different groups to help you through those. Everybody’s in it together, so to speak.
So I’m really big into segmenting the change you’re about to make from whether you’re going to be remote, go back to work or viral. I think it helps you make sure you’re not missing anybody. And you’re also looking at it from a very strategic perspective.
John Morris: My son changed jobs early March from one executive marketing position with the big San Diego company in bio-science to another one. He hasn’t been in an office yet.
He got hired, tactically online and zoom calls. He does all his work through Zoom. He doesn’t even have an office, hasn’t met any of the people in person. Which is a stunning. And now it’s the end of May.
Robin Schweitzer: Absolutely. And the last thing, and then I’ll turn it over. HR-wise considering I’ve been in the workforce looking for a career probably twice now. And when I went to do it, it’s so ready for a disruptive approach. We just can’t go on the way it is today between the job boards and the application systems. It’s just a mess. And so the whole HR has been sitting, I think, at a disruptive state where something new is going to come in. Technologies are there all this algorithm work and learn and machine learning is going to take over and you should, because now you’re even dealing with so much more unemployed people that the volume is going to make as it is. HR is, is like a step red headed stepchild.
No offense, Rob. A lot of people don’t treat HR as important as they should, and now it’s going to be absolutely mandatory.
Rob Stultz: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve been in HR for over 35 years, and I’ve watched it evolve through all the steps that it has gone through over that period of time. And it has been the red headed stepchild for many of those years, but in the last decade or so as it has become a strategic partner for most C-suites. But even still, you’re right, it has to morph again. It has to change again. One of the largest complaints when I was a VP of HR that I always seemed to get was, HR is too slow. It is too bureaucratic. It is just a morass of red tape. So, we’re going to have to throw all that stuff out. It’s going to have to change and dramatically change. And what I’ve been seeing, and this is very hopeful for me at least, is that the organizations who have started to use virtual employees, they’ve noticed that productivity has actually increased. And that’s phenomenally good, but there’s a curve that goes with that usually. In the beginning, there’s always this rapid rise in productivity, and then the S curve. This gets back to the part I was talking about before about monitoring. You have to have a system where managers and supervisors are monitoring and managing remote people. They’ve got to be able to figure out whether or not that productivity curve is beginning to decline. We’re all humans and human nature is, you don’t work at 110% all the time. So there’s going to be some slack time.
I think there’s so many unanswered questions that are coming down the pike that companies are not ready for. It’s simple things, for example, an employee might say, “Well look, I want to work in the office from September through may, but I want to work virtual during the summer when my kids are out of school.” So there are going to have to be policies and things like that set up around those situations.
I don’t think a one size fits all set of policies is going to work in every situation. This is where HR has got to step up and be different and be smart about it. They’ve got to look inward and also they’ve got to figure out where is their value in getting the business moving.
They’ve got to get out of the bureaucracy business. They’ve got to get through the red tape, and they’ve got to move forward at a rapid pace. There’s just no time anymore to sit back and say, “We’ll work on that next week.” That’s gone.
Robin Schweitzer: I agree. We also have be careful not to allow too much choice or flexibility. And let me explain that. You have to come up with some swim lanes of what that remote work is going to look like, based on what you’re hearing as requests. So you have three options versus 36 options because that would just be unruly to manage and unproductive. So by having a couple of swim lanes built out, they’ll pick one. They’ll pick one because before they didn’t have an option. So I also think companies have to be careful not to over complicate it and make it so it’s just not manageable for productivity. Ultimately productivity is going to be the key.
John Morris: One thought is a lot of technology companies have been remote for a long time. Finding talent is really hard. I can’t find it all in my hometown. I don’t need to bring everybody to the office. So a lot of technology companies are surprisingly virtual. In my groups in Los Angeles, I’d say 70% of their employees weren’t in Los Angeles.
It was stunning. So they are getting better talent because they were willing to be remote. Now, a lot of companies that were not remote in the past are going to have to face that reality in order to keep their employees, because now that remote work is a big option.
John Morris: Getting people on the bus is number one, it’s not the product. The product needs people to execute in scale. The remote issue – this horse has bolted. We are in a new normal that’s not going to go away. And I think to be competitive, you’re going to really have to face the swim lane concept that you’ve just mentioned, Robin, which makes a lot of sense to me. Not 50 options, but two or three or four, and childcare is not solved at all.
Aaron Levy: No
John Morris: Childcare is crazy. If you have young kids at home and you’re now at home, you’re not being very efficient. So the company has to almost step in and deal with that in order to keep that person, because somebody will. Childcare is the one thing nobody’s solved yet. Because schools and everything have been really bad. And if you have young kids, it’s tragic.
Kristen McAlister: Yes, if you want to kill productivity ask someone to work in a house where they have a child. You are at 60% of your normal and there’s no question about it.
Aaron, do you want jump in?
Aaron Levy: Thank you. I hear every comment common coming in. I agree with all of it. I see great opportunities are coming through for HR, for marketing, for investment. So it’s an open field. So I’ll start with a little story from the high tech bubble.
I was running a public company, NASDAQ technology company. I used to walk around the building, there were about 2000 employees and I asked this engineer at one office about the status of the project, and he said, “Well, I just got this email from John and he said that he’s waiting for me for something.” And I said, “Where’s John?” Then he said he was in the next office. This is a true story from 2002. That’s 18 years ago. So I go to John and say, “Why are you writing him an email?” He said, “I don’t know. It’s more efficient and there is a record of me sending him on that time a request to do such and such.” I was struggling with that. Later when I was doing my PhD, I did 120 page research on the effectiveness of email and text messages a long time ago. And there was a company in Europe that eliminated emails so people can talk to each other more.
What I’m saying is that if that trend and desire is happening, like John said, it’s happening. There’s no way to avoid it. Now for our business in the last 10 years, we have a lot of international clients, so we use Skype and nothing changed for us from that point of view. The local clients are difficult for me because if this opens up, I have to drive again for two hours in LA traffic, which I don’t miss.
So recently we have found that a lot of the people that we work with are more available and more efficient, like Rob said. Efficiency has increased dramatically for those who have the discipline, of course, which that’s where Robin and Rob mentioned the procedures and policies. We have put together the 10 most effective cycle cells and closing cycle and converted that to zoom training. It’s going to be on Eventbrite. And we have one client that we’re doing this with some of their employees. We have a mini MBA that we’re doing online. What’s really wonderful by using the tools, like sharing the screen, giving instruction on the screen is the most phenomenal thing that I’ve used over the years. And more and more people are getting used to it.
A lot of people prefer not to go to the office anymore, irrespective of COVID-19. I remember years ago when the CEO of the Yahoo, I forgot her name, but she just joined Yahoo and she canceled the option of people working from home. And this whole thing came about about what happened with the women who were pregnant and wanted to be home. It was a big controversy, but she tried to stop people working from home. It’s a software company. So after a year or two, I think they let her go and they brought this right back.
Irrespective of COVID-19 the tools available, efficiency and everything else, if they’re using it effectively and the procedures, has even more forced the issue. Of course, if you go to space, the astronauts use the remote, the virtual work since the sixties and that’s better prepared for Mars in the moment. I’m just joking about this, but that’s definitely things that are happening more effectively. It’s going to affect all the business travel and everything else.
There’s an adjustment. We use the principle called the Stockdale paradox, if you’re familiar with that. It’s from the book, From good to great. It’s talking about the veterans who spent time in the prison in Vietnam and those who said everything will be just fine by December, it’s Christmas, we’re going to be home. And the other approach was like, this is where we are. We make the best out of it. The ability to survive in balance between reality and optimism helped them survive in that harsh environment.
And I agree with John that this is going to be with us. With COVID-19 or not. We’re moving in that direction and we have to adapt to it. That means adapting not just how to operate more efficiently, but also other sources of revenue. The revenue, cash transfer will happen in a different way. How do you get someone to pay you for something and what value proposition do you have online?
So it’s not just adjusting to a new environment is also adjusting to new models of value proposition and cash transfer between one entity to another. There are a lot of advantages in this. Of course, we’re going to go through a very difficult transition for those who can adjust another 40 million or more people who applied for unemployment, so it’s definitely going to be a difficult time to adjust, but everything is adjusting.
Automation is taking over anyway. I remember in 2008 during the financial crisis, a lot of the automobile industry lay off a lot of people, claiming that the market is bad. But I saw it more like that’s automation that replaced a lot of people and they used that as an excuse.
A lot of companies are using this as an excuse to adjust, regroup, and repurpose their business; and use that as an excuse to say we have to lay off these people, Therefore there are a million people out there in the street with no work. So repurposing will be the main thing. I’m talking to a lot of our clients and partners about this, as Rob mentioned, about their real estate out there. It’s an empty building. So what do you do with them? What about the malls? What can you do? Can you change them into hospitals? You know, if that’s needed. So definitely repurpose is a key word here. And then opportunities for HR to develop the procedures and policies for companies is there – marketing, sales. We have a free Q&A mastermind that we do once a month. People from all over the world are joining and sharing ideas. I’ll send you an invitation to that. And we’re doing this remote, virtual sales training for how do you create value virtually? How do you present that? How do you sell and how do you close online and collect.
John Morris: That’s a big deal. You’re talking about a big deal.
Aaron Levy: Yes, and you have to adjust to it. You have to do it and you have to find ways to do it. We have a program already, the 10 effective sales in the closing cycles, but we are turning it into virtual and everything’s adapted. How do you really operate in the virtual world? Very, very big. Yes, John.
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