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Revolutionizing how we work: an executive conversation at Fortune’s Global Forum

On October 27, Brian Elliott led a strategy session with the Fortune Global Forum titled “Revolutionizing How We Work,” hosted by Michal Lev-Ram, senior writer at Fortune.

Posted October 29, 2020 by Brian Elliott

Reading time 4 min

On October 27, Brian Elliott, Vice President of the Future Forum, led a strategy session with the Fortune Global Forum titled “Revolutionizing How We Work,” hosted by Michal Lev-Ram, senior writer at Fortune.

The panelists included Hayden Brown, president and CEO of Upwork; Andy Cohen, co-CEO of Gensler; Karen Fichuk, CEO of Randstad North America; David Kenny, CEO and Chief Diversity Officer of Nielsen, and Ravi Kumar, President of Infosys. 

Brian started off the session with an introduction to the Future Forum, the Remote Employee Experience Index, and the massive opportunities the pandemic has presented to rethink the workplace beyond the 9-to-5 norms rooted in the office of the past. He shared how employees’ expectations for flexibility and hybrid at-home/in-office models are at an all-time high. It’s good news for companies, because flexibility and hybrid models allow companies to tap broader distributed talent pools and create more productive, inclusive workplaces. 

What type of physical work environment do employees want?

Michal asked the panelists if they agree that their employees want a hybrid work environment with some time spent in the office and some time spent at home. 

“We’ve been keeping a pulse on our workforce and it’s definitely a hybrid model people are looking for. They get value out of the interaction, the collaboration, and the innovation that happens naturally in a workplace. But they also need flexibility now more than ever given the demands on both the personal side and the work side.”

Karen Fichuk
CEO of Randstad North America

Andy Cohen shared his opinion based on research from Gensler Research Institute, which shows that the majority of people want a hybrid work environment that accommodates both home and office work. 

“We’re working on reimagining the future of the office environment and looking at it from the perspective of how you can split your time from home and work. We’re moving away from one big open office space. Now we’re creating ‘living rooms,’ conference rooms with video screens, and nooks and crannies where people can collaborate in person and with people at home.”

Andy Cohen
Co-CEO, Gensler

Policies and practices have to be hybrid as well

David agreed, but added that policies (not just workspaces) have to become hybrid as well.

“It’s important, especially for underrepresented groups, to have mentoring opportunities and for people to build bonds. We need to have a hybrid model for everybody that is baked into the way we work, and we have to be super sensitive to everybody and where they are coming from.”

David Kenny
CEO and Chief Diversity Officer of Nielsen

With modular work, diverse workforces will become the norm

Ravi shared his opinion about the nature of work becoming more modular and more digitized, stating that this will open up possibilities for a much more diverse workforce globally. 

“As work becomes more modular, full-time workers will give way to part-time and gig workers. And work will move from rich urban settings to more diverse areas of the world and the United States. All these drivers are very important shifts that will give us the opportunity to create a much better, more diverse, inclusive workplace.

Ravi Kumar
President, Infosys

The upside

The shift to remote working models has an upside, because the focus on skills and capabilities opens access to opportunities to workers all over the world.

“This is a huge unlock for diversity and inclusion and an unlock for getting employees off the sidelines and into the workforce. It’s a huge positive for the economy and for workers who’ve been saying ‘we want more freedom and flexibility. We don’t want to be trapped in the 9-to-5.’”

Hayden Brown
President and CEO of Upwork

Leadership: empathy, generosity and transparency 

In this remote work context, expectations for leaders have changed. The discussion shifted to the leadership characteristics that will be required to motivate and inspire people. 

The key characteristics from the group included “empathy”, “generosity”, and “transparent communication” to ensure teams are inclusive, motivated and informed. Leaders also will have to be willing to move to networked structures. 

“We’re going to move to networked structures vs. hierarchical structures, fundamentally changing the organizational construct. We used to hire previously on IQ (intelligence quotient) and PQ (passion quotient). Now we’re going to hire on IQ, PQ, and EQ (emotional quotient). Trust is now paramount because a large part of your workforce is going to be outside your traditional organizational construct.”

Ravi Kumar
President, Infosys

Last, the concept of “productivity” is long overdue to be rethought.

“This is a great moment of transformation for us to reframe ideas we’ve had for far too long about how to measure employee productivity. When you chip away some of the “face time” cultures that we’ve had for far too long, you see that we can get back to the basics: What are people spending time on? Are they doing work that is valuable to the business? Let’s all pause and say, ‘Time out! It’s not all about face time. It’s not about clocking hours at the desk.’ This is the opportunity for us as business leaders to go deeper—and if we don’t have the systems in place to reframe productivity, let’s figure it out.”

Hayden Brown
President and CEO of Upwork

Learn more from these industry leaders by watching the session below.