Work, Transformed

Host Melanie Green invites three experts to join her for a look at the future of work: Dave Cook, a researcher who was studying remote work long before most of the world had heard of it, Matthew Metelsky, a tech leader who understands the importance of the human side of IT, and Dean Sevin Yeltekin, a business school dean who is preparing her students for a radically different way of working.

PODCAST | 25m
June 23, 2021
S3:Ep7

Executive summary

  • Hear thoughts from experts on how to formalize work life balance and make sure it’s engrained in company culture
  • Dive into long-term hybrid workforce strategies that allow businesses and employees to flourish in the long run

Featured voices

Matt Metelsky
Chief Operating Officer
Third Octect Inc.

Dave Cook
Anthropologist and Psychologist
University College London

Sevin Yeltekin
Dean of Simon Business School
University of Rochester

Melanie Green (host):
Okay, so imagine we’re having a virtual dinner party. We’re all enjoying our favourite foods and sharing stories. And someone asks a question: What do you think work will look like post pandemic? And three people get into this amazing deep discussion. They’re all making such great points that you’re not even touching your dessert. Well, this episode of Remote Works is going to be that discussion. We’re going to end our season by talking to three experts about the future of work: a researcher who was studying remote work long before most of the world had heard of it, a tech expert who understands the importance of the human side of IT, and a Dean of a business school who is preparing her students for a radically different way of working. All three have seen the upside to flexible work. All three have some blunt warnings about where it is falling short - and advice for business leaders and individuals alike as we settle into another year of change. I’m Melanie Green. This is Remote Works - an original podcast by Citrix.

Dave Cook:
Right, can you hear me, guys?

Melanie Green (host)
That’s Dave Cook. He’s been thinking a lot about the future of work. He’s an anthropologist and psychologist with University College London. Dave has been studying remote work for years. He was five years into his study of digital nomadism - a pretty niche area - when the pandemic hit. When remote work suddenly became mainstream, Dave’s research took on a whole new dimension. He turned his focus to the big issues emerging around remote and flexible work.

Formalizing work life balance

Dave Cook:
So one of the things that we're seeing, which is very alarming, is that people working from home are taking less breaks and they're working longer hours. There has been research that has just come out that has shown that in the UK, people are working an extra two hours a day. With these new statistics coming out saying that people are spending more time at their desks and working longer, I think one of the first things that companies need to do is to enforce a break taking policy, workplace policies in certain countries which mandate that you need to get up and you need to walk, take a 10 minute break every hour. I'm hearing reports in interviews and anecdotes that that is becoming more difficult because people are scheduling back to back Zoom meetings. And a lot of them are overrunning. That sounds like a white collar problem at the moment, but it kind of points to a future where we're becoming algorithms.

Melanie Green (host):
Dave Cook’s advice to employers may seem a little counterintuitive - ask your employees to stop working and take a ten minute break. But it’s an example of how the future of work needs to look at our very human needs, wherever we are working. We need to rest, recover and restore. Keeping this in mind, keeps us from becoming mere algorithms. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be an algorithm. In a recent survey by Citrix, 59% percent of Gen Z knowledge workers who started work fully remote during the pandemic - said they wanted to keep working from home most or all of the time. The desire to continue with remote and flexible work means that the kind of research Dave Cook is doing - can help companies and employees alike. Last year Dave and some fellow academics in the UK surveyed people who were just making the transition to working remotely. They submitted their findings and recommendations to the UK parliament.

Right to Disconnect and other flexible work strategies

Dave Cook:
The key things that we are asking the government to look into is the right to disconnect once the working day is finished

Melanie Green (host):
France passed Right to Disconnect legislation in 2016. That gave workers the right not to respond to email and other forms of communication outside of working hours. Now EU governments have been asked to think about similar legislation. Progressive companies aren’t waiting to be told what to do. They’re empowering employees to take control of their work/life balance.

Dave Cook:
It's really, really important that all of the responsibility doesn't fall on the individual but there are things that we can do. And one of the things that has come up in all of the research that, I've been conducting during the pandemic are all of these personal strategies that people can use. So, one of the things that we advised during the pandemic, simple strategies like making sure that you do a mini commute at the beginning of the day. And that can be something as simple as just doing a walk at the beginning of the day, going out for lunchtime and then having a walk, or doing something different at the end of the day, that divides the space between work and the space between family and caring responsibilities. And actually getting out into a different space is the best way to do it. I know it sounds obvious but people are forgetting to do this, and I think this is where companies and governments need to get involved because people can do this kind of stuff themselves in their daily rituals, but sometimes they forget. So there's a technique called the Pomodoro technique, which helps you divide up time into 15 minute chunks so that you don't just start on a task. And if you're not being managed, do you find that you're still doing that task at the end of the day when it's not the most important thing that you need to do?

Melanie Green (host):
Another technique Dave learned through his research this year is called the MIT, or Most Important Task.

Dave Cook:
This can be expressed in lots of different ways. A lot of people would start the day, say if they started work at nine o'clock in the morning, would just put aside the first hour or the first three hours, just to focus on the most important task of the day. And then to leave things like emailing and communications, those kinds of things that clog up the day and distract you until later.

Melanie Green (host):
It’s true. I keep my peak brain time for the most important things. Creativity and complex thinking comes first. Clerical stuff can wait.

Dave Cook:
When we ask the question, what will the future of work look like, we need to ask ourselves the wider question. What kind of world do we want to live in? That’s a very deep question, but I think that for me, I want to live in a more humane and balanced world. So I think that we have to fight for that If that's the kind of world we want to live in.

IT superheroes, the backbone of flexible work

Melanie Green (host):
Dave Cook is passionate about the future of work. So, remember that dinner party? A young man has been listening intently to what Dave Cook has been saying. He’s been nodding and now he’s ready to speak up about what he’s learned from this year of working differently - and where that could take us. Matt Metelsky is the CEO of an IT company called Third Octet. The company specializes in modernizing workforces using tech. They do things like increase your cloud computation and streamline digital workspaces. Matt thinks deeply about the future. There's been a lot of pressure on the IT industry. Workers report high levels of burnout and a lack of work life balance. Matt says if we’re going to be successful in the future, we have to learn from our past.

Matt Metelsky:
The pandemic has been horrible for a lot of people, but IT in particular, we do take a lot of the aggravation that our end users experience. They're frustrated, they're stressed to begin with. And when there's technology challenges and they can't get their job done, that brings about different levels of stress.

Now they're feared about deadlines or feared about their own jobs out of safety. And so it takes a particular type of IT individual to have stuck through this past 12 months. The only thing you can have these days is patience, patience with people, patience with the pandemic, patience with technology challenges, and as a leader, I respect that patience.

Melanie Green (host):
Patience. That’s a trait we all need going forward. But that’s just the beginning. As an IT professional, Matt thinks deeply about the psychological impact that this all has on us - and how he can design an online environment that meets both the tech human needs of a user. It turns out that it’s a bit of an art.

Individualizing UX

Matt Metelsky:
We always talk about users of technology. It's like weather predicting. It's chaos theory. You may think you have all the historical trends, all the variables identified, but there could be that one user on day one of release, that does something you had no idea they did. So really understanding the user centricity, the user centric design requirements of technology platforms is the very first thing you must start on when designing solutions. What does a user want? What does my employees want? But it can't be so high level that you miss the rarities or the one-offs that some users may do.

Melanie Green (host):
This art of designing for users will determine the workplaces and workflows of the future. If you think about it, we use so many apps, programs, and screens in any given hour on any given day, we really don’t need that experience to be difficult. With the quick move to remote work last year, Matt says many businesses had knee jerk reactions - cobbling together tech setups that were confusing. That’s created a bit of an issue: fragmentation. That’s when people use multiple apps, platforms and systems to get to the same goal. For employees, using too many systems and processes can make for a more difficult workflow. And even create potential security problems for companies. Matt says one of the biggest benefits moving into the next year will be streamlining tech fragmentation.

Businesses need to think long-term about IT

Matt Metelsky:
Now we're looking at that more holistically to the business by surveys, by talking with everyone, by engaging everyone in this decision around what other workflows do you have that may be able to be done by these platforms, but may be complex or can't be done by these platforms and let's work as a group to really identify the best platform that meets our requirements but that also remains flexible and agile to accommodate other things we don't even know about yet. I think that fundamentally one of the most important parts of architecture is understanding what you need today but then also recognizing that this has to remain flexible to accommodate demands that we don't even know about yet. And that's really the beauty of cloud and it's a buffet of services where I can pick and choose what I want to have in my first sitting, but then continue to go back and have other options and know, oh I may not want that right now. But next time I'm here, I'm going to hit that dessert bar. That is the agility and flexibility businesses must stay with when considering enterprise architecture when considering their, their longer-term strategy. I'm just going to tell my kids to be quiet cause they just came in one sec.

Melanie Green (host):
No problem. That’s one thing that flexible work has done. It’s brought work and home life closer together. And sometimes they overlap. What that means is, we need support. We need to be able to be comfortable to seek out help.

Matt Metelsky:
Employees have to be comfortable in knowing that they can go to IT with their challenges, with their asks, their requests, and not feel like they have to hide some things they're doing because it makes the job better. That's nonsense. If it’s going to make you more productive, IT is the best entity to hear about it because they have a widespread view of what everyone else needs or wants or hopes to have. They're the ones that'll design it. And as we come out of this pandemic, IT is going to be so strategic for the business moving forward.

Melanie Green (host):
So in Matt’s IT world, the key to success now and in the future, is putting the employee first.

Matt Metelsky:
We're always trying to beat ourselves in these outputs that are purely financials. However, if you focus on ensuring people are equipped with the comfort, with the tools, with that psychological safety knowing they can speak up when there's a challenge, those outputs will come regardless.So we really need to change our mindset in recognizing that people aren't assets of a company. If you look at an asset, it depreciates over time. Whereas if you look at equity, something you continuously invest in, they gain in value over time. So people are our greatest equity in the company, and I will do everything I can to continue to invest in them because I know that that actions will drive the results that I would like to see.

Melanie Green (host):
That’s an interesting, and maybe counterintuitive message coming from an IT guy. Matt puts people first. For him it’s a logical hierarchy. People come first because they’re more valuable. So are you still with me with this dinner party metaphor? Our third guest has been listening to the discussion but she hasn’t said anything yet. Sevin Yeltekin is the Dean of the Simon business school at the University of Rochester. She sees that this year’s graduating class is heading into a world that has changed
radically.

Gen Z and a hybrid workforce

Sevin Yeltekin:
So there's the general sort of economic or market conditions, anxiety. And we have to provide a lot of advising along with that. There is that sort of, how will I both integrate and at the same time make an impression when I am remote?

Melanie Green (host):
Add to that, the way teams work together has changed as more companies decide whether to move into flexible work or bring employees back into the office.

Sevin Yeltekin:
Your teammates are not going to be necessarily there the whole time you're there. Your bosses might change. Your customers might change, The structure of your organization might change. There are lots of things that are under our control and lots of things that are not under our control. So one has to always ground oneself on, what is my mission? What am I trying to accomplish? Who am I serving? How can I do that effectively, fairly, inclusively and empathetically?

Melanie Green (host):
Sevin Yeltekin had a taste of the future of work last year.

Sevin Yeltekin:
I ended one job on June 30th and started the other one on July first. So I had no break but what this virtual environment allowed me to do, is really onboard very effectively in a way that would not have been possible for bringing somebody from another geographical location because you can't be in necessarily two places at the same time.

As I was watching it happen. I was internalizing to a large extent that this is quite convenient and this is quite effective, but it's only really after the fact I realized how effective it was.

Melanie Green (host):
So while onboarding from a distance might at first glance might seem like a disadvantage, it actually made sense. It was convenient and efficient. The Dean sees her students having the same experience. They are graduating and being hired onto flexible work arrangements. She understands the benefits, but also sees the hurdles that companies have to overcome. For instance, the problems with remote internships. They’re traditionally all about networking and interacting with employees.

Well-being is key to transitioning the workforce

Sevin Yeltekin:
There's the sort of the professional challenges that I mentioned earlier, which is, I've got a really great internships, but, but it was basically an internship, you know, from my kitchen table the whole summer., I didn't really get to meet or make as much of a networking effect as I would like to. So that was, that was one of the concerns. The other one is I really think - and this has been quite on the forefront for a lot of organizations of all types and of all sizes - is really I would say, wellness, work-life balance and mental health.

Melanie Green (host):
Well-being is something Sevin had to think about with her own remote team at the university.

Sevin Yeltekin:
One of the things that I did for example with my staff is that we had a training session. We had somebody come in and sort of help us recognize the signs, especially when you're remote of folks that you work with who might be struggling, who don't really want to necessarily voice it.

Melanie Green (host):
Mental health is an important aspect to the flexible work equation. We’ve talked about it a lot this season of Remote Works. There are so many aspects of the working world that have changed now. And change is challenging. As students prepare to start their careers, another element of flexible work that weighs on the Dean is what inclusion will look like now and in the future.

Sevin Yeltekin:
A lot of times in a lot of organizations just the way that they have done business in a long time, you know, inclusivity is still a work in progress. And when we talk about sort of, you know, underrepresented groups or minorities or women, um, in the kinds of sort of, you know, organizations that most of my students go to, fields that they go into, which is consulting and finance and accounting and analytics, I do worry about sort of representation. I do worry about, how are they really being invited to the table, so to speak if they're not there physically.

Inclusion and hiring practices

Melanie Green (host):
Despite Sevin’s concerns about the impact of remote work on inclusion, she sees great things ahead for her graduating students. They’re smart. They’re adaptable. And they’re not just looking for a paycheck. They’re looking for meaning.

Sevin Yeltekin:
I've been in higher education close to 30 years and students have changed in terms of what they're looking for. It's not always that, that sort of the recognizability of the company, it's not just about that salary and signing bonus. They're very concerned about social justice. I have the most diverse MBA program and they see the power of that as they work in teams, how people from different backgrounds, different viewpoints, different representations bring so much to the table. And the sum of the whole thing is bigger than the sum of the parts and how they can carry that torch forward into whatever organization that they go into. So they walk into a room and look around the table and say, we don't have the right representation. Why is such and such not invited? They can walk into an organization and say, the hiring practices are lacking in X, Y, and Z. Our engagement is lacking an X, Y, and Z, so that they can really affect change. And that's what I would like to see. And that's what I hope I'm preparing our students to become.

Melanie Green (host):
That’s so inspiring. This new generation is out to change the world. And we have to make room for them -- if we are to reap the benefits of this new generation. For new employees and business leaders alike - Sevin says it all comes down to something that has come up so much on this podcast - empathy.

Sevin Yeltekin:
It's about listening. It's about meeting people where they are. It's about consensus building. It's about communication. It's about being able to put yourself in their shoes. And to me, that's all aspects of empathy. The best aspects of being a human being and understanding when, you know, we all learn from our mistakes, we all make mistakes. We all learn from - maybe certain risks we take that may not pan out - and to create an environment in which we can bat around ideas. We can be vulnerable. We can at times sort of say, I don't know how to do this. Show me, or where do I go, to learn how to do this? That it's an environment of nurturing and learning and making yourself and those around you better rather than an environment of cutthroat competition or who's got the corner office or who's got the right perks or what's the next step.

Melanie Green (host):
Dean Yeltekin knows that the more we rely on technology, the more important the human aspect becomes -- who we are, how we work, how we communicate.

Sevin Yeltekin:
When I think about technology, it's really that, that is for me, has made my job easier and my ability, my productivity higher, um, because it's not hard for me to, I am making big decisions. and I'm making a whole series of lots of small decisions every day. And those decisions rely on the information I get from my team, the information I have at my fingertips. I mean it's really been a huge enabler. I'm definitely a techno optimist.

Melanie Green (host):
Sevin Yeltekin is an optimist. It’s hard not to be when you’re around university students all the time. Their enthusiasm is infectious. They are the future. It goes back to Dave Cook’s question about what kind of world we want to live in - as office workers, flex workers, hybrid workers, wherever we work...what does the future look like? It’s simple. It’s you and me and everyone around us. We are the future. Dean Yeltekin sees that in all her students.

Sevin Yeltekin:
It's funny because I wear multiple hats. I'm a mother. I have two teenage daughters. You know, when sometimes I see a younger undergraduate, and I just think, well, you know, they're just a year older, barely then my own daughter. And I have a lot of empathy and sympathy for that. And I have a lot of empathy and sympathy for their parents and, you know, trying to make their way through college. And so I think that's the lesson. I think we just forge our path with understanding that we're all here to make our lives and other human beings' lives hopefully better.

Melanie Green (host):
Dean Sevin Yeltekin is always asking herself: what is my mission? What am I trying to accomplish? It turns out that the mission is all about people. What we are trying to accomplish is to ensure that we: you, me all of us, can create a work/life balance that ensures long-term success. If we can do that, then there’s a bright future for work in all of its iterations. I’m Melanie Green. You’ve been listening to Remote Works, an original podcast on Fieldwork by Citrix. If you head to our show notes you’ll find a link to explore all of their research. That’s it for this season. Thank you for being with us as we explored the biggest changes happening in work now, from keeping well-being front and center, to how flexible work can reshape our cities and our working lives. We’ve enjoyed being with you on this journey to learn more about how companies and individuals alike can thrive in the future of work. Subscribe and listen at Citrix dot com slash remote works.

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