West Coast Meeting Explores the Impact of Mobility and Technology on the Workplace of the Future

February 05, 2021

HR Policy Association’s annual West Coast meeting explored key insights on how the shift to remote work caused by the pandemic is shaping how companies are thinking about the future of work and the workplace.

During a panel discussion on “Creating Culture in a Mobile Environment,” Nickle LaMoreaux from IBM, Jennifer Christie from Twitter and Wendy Nice Barnes from GitLab shared how they approached preserving and strengthening their cultures in the midst of the pandemic.  While each company’s story is different, all agreed that a purposeful approach is essential to addressing employee needs for informal and unstructured communications and interactions in a virtual world.  Tools such as Slack play a critical role in fostering effective work-related and personal interactions.

On the second panel of the session, “Innovation and Productivity – from Tools to Practices,” Lynn Oldham from Zoom and Nadia Rawlinson from Slack discussed how technology continues to enhance the virtual workspace and provided a glimpse of innovations to come.  Entire business processes that previously depended on in-person interactions have been transformed, as evidenced by Salesforce’s $28 billion acquisition of Slack—completed virtually through the Slack app.  Importantly, both noted the limitations of these tools and emphasized the need for individual downtime to address issues of worker burnout.

David Smith and Tara Gibney from Cushman and Wakefield joined Eric Kline from Adobe to discuss the topic “Back to the Office in the Age of Mobility,” examining how office environments are adapting to become an integrated workplace experience that blends the digital and physical worlds.  Cushman and Wakefield noted how the purpose of physical office space is changing.  Productivity, innovation, culture, and social considerations are becoming more important than access to physical assets and traditional command and control needs.  The office of the future will be more of an ecosystem encompassing multiple locations.  Adobe’s use of work from home "employee personas" demonstrated a fascinating interdisciplinary look at how workers relate to the physical workplace, and how their needs will be met in the future.  By combining a "work profile" (the nature of the job being done) and a ’life profile’ (the nature of an employee’s home life), Adobe has created a spectrum of work from home combinations which will guide everything from workplace design to communications tools and resources.

The session concluded with a look at “Employment and Compensation Issues” arising from the virtual workplace.  Susan Lund of McKinsey, Catherine Hartmann of Willis Towers Watson, Dan Spaulding of Zillow and the Association’s Roger King discussed the practical aspects of a future characterized by more virtual work.  McKinsey’s work has shown that while most jobs allow for less than one day per week of remote work, nearly a third have at least some portion of work that can be done from home.  This will have implications for the larger economy including office space, retail, restaurants and transit.  Willis Towers Watson expects that the move to remote work will result over time in changes to the labor market, as more mobile professionals able to work remotely move from higher cost, dense urban areas to smaller metropolitan areas.  Zillow provided insight into how it decided to address the compensation impacts of a future of remote work.  Key to their approach was the centralized determination of which roles would be remote, rather than leaving such decisions up to an individual manager.  Zillow decided that, in order to remain competitive in the talent market, no employee would have their pay reduced in 2021 simply because they made a geographic move of their residence. 

HR Policy Association plans to continue this important dialogue on the future of work throughout 2021, bringing you insights from experts across multiple disciplines to help you navigate a post-COVID workplace landscape.  Join us for our next discussion at the upcoming virtual CHRO Summit, March 3–5, 2021.