How the future of work could look like the present

The pandemic forced workers online, but it didn’t transform the way we work, says AWS’s Jon Izenstark. The real change will be what comes next.

Ipsos | What the Future: Work | How the future of work could look like the present
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  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab
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It’s easy to think that the pandemic changed everything about work and accelerated or altered the future course we were on — at least for a lot of knowledge industry workers. Not so fast, says Jon Izenstark, who works with human resources clients for Amazon Web Services. He suggests that we haven’t really changed much … yet. But he also argues that now is the time to make the changes we need.

Matt Carmichael: What did the pandemic change?

Jon Izenstark: The pandemic pushed forward our knowledge of how people work by about 10 years in an uncontrolled, haphazard, almost terrifying way. No one was sure how it was going to work. We just knew it had to work. People talk about how the pandemic increased cloud transformation. I would argue that's not what happened. We used the cloud to keep things running, but we didn't actually transform anything. We just pushed it all into the cloud and hoped it would work. Now that the pandemic is starting not to be prohibitive in our ability to experiment, we're starting to figure out what worked and what didn’t and integrate that into a long-term future of work.

Carmichael: Did hybrid impact all workers evenly?

Izenstark: If you think about how marketers segment their customers, HR thinks about employees the same way. Customers aren’t just men or women or college educated or living in the Midwest. They’re a combination of those things, but they also have drivers behind the decisions they make. In HR, it’s not just someone who’s got a STEM background or someone who is a particular gender, it's why do they come to work? What we're trying to understand is how hybrid work impacts those personas of employees, and how we design programs that are going to help attract and retain the personas that are really more valuable to the organization’s long-term growth and future.

Carmichael: Is it plausible that we’ll get more tailored workplace solutions for those personas?

Izenstark: That will happen as we get more sophisticated on how we identify and measure those personas. We’ve been doing that in HR to some extent for a while now. Companies will design programs that, while they're available to everybody, will be more impactful to one persona over another.

Carmichael: Is work from home here to stay?

Izenstark: Elements of flexibility are probably here to stay, but I don’t believe the office is dead. And not everyone wants to hear that, by the way. It might be good for an individual, but not always for the organization. Employment brands today demand as much flexibility as possible. You have people who say, I worked fine during the pandemic at home, so I should be able to WFH all the time. But it's not necessarily about the individual. It is about the organization — how people build networks at work, how they innovate, etc. We’re looking at the entire employee life cycle of how those personas are attracted and selected and hired, how they're onboarded, how they're engaged.

I think that the future of work is going to adapt to the needs of the business and the employees simultaneously, and you’ll just become used to it.

Carmichael: How will technology enable that?

Izenstark: Communication tools you see today are a stopgap. You’re going to see more use of machine learning to help nudge managers and employees into using best practices and recommending developmental activities and exercises based on the work you do. And companies are experimenting with ways to analyze that data, to help you become more engaged with your colleagues

Carmichael: How will organizations balance work and life for their employees?

Izenstark: It’s going to come down to being really open during the hiring process about what people want from the work experience and coming to some sort of consensus between the employer and the employee. A major driver of early service turnover is when an employee starts a new job and they realize that the employee value proposition and the employer value proposition don’t mesh. That usually happens in about the first 90 days.

Carmichael: And what about jobs where you can’t be hybrid or remote?

Izenstark: The digital transformations that are helping the hybrid employees are also going to help the on-premise employees, too. For instance, there will be ways to interact with developmental tools that didn’t exist before for either by phone or by tablet or if you don’t have a smartphone, you can do it by text.

The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab