In 2020, a global pandemic and a powerful social justice movement have brought the future of work hurtling toward us. We talked to Vice President of People and Communities at Cisco Systems, Elaine Mason, about what to expect and how to prepare for professional success.
We’ll see a more complex definition of productivity grounded in actual outcomes versus just minutes online.
HOW YOU CAN PREPARE
- Rethink your geography. If you want to make a move, this may be your moment.
- Consider your priorities. Let go of the mindset that busyness equals productiveness. What impact do you want to have, and what work do you need to prioritize in service of that?
The future of work and Diversity and Inclusion
While the pandemic has challenged companies to figure out remote work on the fly, social justice happenings have pushed Diversity and Inclusion to the forefront of corporate priorities.
Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.
Elain says, "Companies are focusing on the triple bottom line: People, Profit, Planet... putting social justice into how they operate.”
So what does this look like in practice?
According to Elaine, companies are moving away from having standalone diversity strategies and departments. Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.
Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) are a great example of this trend. ERG’s are voluntary, employee-led groups within organizations that aim to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace. Each group typically includes participants who share a characteristic such as gender identification or ethnicity.
Employee Resource Groups are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.
At Cisco, Elaine says, the executive leadership team has started meeting quarterly with ERG’s to understand their experiences and incorporate their ideas into business decisions. These ERG’s, in other words, are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.
ERG recommendations are helping to shape product development and positioning and marketing strategy, all of which contribute to top and bottom lines.
Organizations like Twitter are beginning to compensate ERG leaders—historically these have been volunteer roles—in recognition of their strategic value.
HOW YOU CAN PREPARE
- Lean into diversity. Don’t just pay it lip service, but be proactive in engaging with a variety of voices and experiences.
- Be humble. Know you’ll make mistakes along the way. “Listen. And assume you don’t know [things],” Elaine says.
The future of work and the gig economy
“Gig is having fits and starts,” Elaine said. She described the tension that many American workers face between desiring the independence of gig work but also relying on the healthcare and benefits provided by full-time employment.
Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.
And she believes that tension will keep the gig economy in the US in fits-and-starts mode. Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.
HOW YOU CAN PREPARE
- Be incredibly clear about what you’re qualified to do. What do you want to do? Where those things overlap? “This requires a good degree of self-awareness and an understanding of what [you’re] known for today."
- Decide where you need to invest. Are there experiences, credentials, references you need to accumulate? Do those things early.
- Focus on standing out. If you do business strategy consulting, for example, is there a unique angle you can offer to help yourself stand out from other such consultants? Differentiation will matter more as the gig economy grows.
The future of work and shifts in corporate structure and hierarchy
Recent years have revealed a good deal of pendulum swinging when it comes to how much structure and hierarchy is best.
“There was a real trend in the last decade,” Elaine explained “of breaking down structures [and] silos.” She described how online shoe-retailer Zappos experimented with the Holocracy—a means of giving decision authority to groups and teams rather than individuals. (Spoiler: they’ve since moved away from this un-structure.)
Companies, in Elaine’s opinion, are working to determine the ideal balance of hierarchy and freedom. And the previous trends we discussed are having a big impact on that decision.
Everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.
So while some companies are leaning toward structure and hierarchy while others lean away, the common thread she sees is that everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind a company that it needs to be ready for absolutely anything. As organizations assess how they’re organized, they’re asking questions like “How fast can we recover? What contingencies do we have in place? What plan Bs and plan Cs do we have?”
Elaine doesn’t know exactly what structure the organization of the future will take on. But she does offer some actionable wisdom.
HOW YOU CAN PREPARE
- Gain new skills. Whatever your role, function, or industry, upskill yourself on being ready for change at any moment
- Think broadly about what “career progression” means for you. As companies evolve, titles and promotions may no longer be the thing to shoot for.
For Elaine, she measures her own progression through three lenses that you too might consider:
- Economic. How much money do you want or need to make?
- Impact. "How close are you to positions of power and authority that allow you to make the largest impact on an organization?"
- Personal growth. Are you learning new things as you go?
And there you have it. No one, not even the great Elaine Mason, can predict the future. But there are some actions you can take that will be sure to serve you, no matter what the years ahead might look like.