Angela R Howard [00:02:13] Yeah. So first of all, Frank, thank you for having me, and thanks for inviting me to the podcast. This feels good to be on the other side, certainly, because I know we had you on our podcast. So I have worked about 15 years in a variety of different roles. I’ve had many different titles, but all of them are really surrounded around employee experience and culture change. So I’ve impacted probably about half a million employees, which some of the organizations that I’ve worked in, such as Walgreens, Beam, Centauri, Rotary International.
Frank Cottle [00:02:49] Centauri, meaning the liquor distribution company?
Angela R Howard [00:02:55] Yes.
Frank Cottle [00:02:56] Well, I’m all in for that. I’m all in for that.
Angela R Howard [00:02:59] Yes. A lot of people, when they hear that name, they’re like, oh, their ears perk up.
Frank Cottle [00:03:06] And I know we have some common friends over at Walgreens as an example, that you had worked with that are very active in our industry. Joe Brady from Instant Offices is a good example of that. So I know you’re very tied to the future of work and to things that we’ve been doing in the industry. But as an organizational psychologist, what is your outlook on the future of work and how do you think it might differ from what we’re seeing in the headlines from typical HR business experts?
Angela R Howard [00:03:45] Yeah, well, I think fundamentally we’re going to see kind of another revolution around work. I think a lot of our paradigms and structures and processes are based in, quite Frankly, just old and outdated paradigms that were created during the Industrial Revolution, for example. And we’re still holding on to these things. And I think we are seeing a large movement of change back to the human, back to focusing on sustainability around workers, less around exploitation of workers. And so I think the future work is going to be very focused on the humans that are doing the work, which seems like a novel concept, but it really makes a lot of business sense, and it also ensures that the people who are working for us are going to be able to continue to work for us. So there’s a big sustainability element to the future of work, I believe.
Frank Cottle [00:04:49] Well, you know, when you talk about the paradigm shifting and you mentioned the Industrial Revolution, the first paradigm shift, I guess, was when the pharaohs were building the pyramids. They weren’t real worker sensitive in that environment, and we’ve had several major shifts as they come along. But I guess what drives those shifts? We talk about, oh, these things are changing. What are the drivers really, and will those drivers stay consistent and how do we even define work?
Angela R Howard [00:05:31] Great questions. So I think the first driver is a change in the employee and employer relationship. So I think, quite Frankly, the power dynamics are shifting. I think we’re moving into more of a partnership model, and that fundamentally changes how we think about work. So rather than I’m clocking in, clocking out, I’m working for the man, I’m working for the woman, whatever that term is now I’m working to actually drive an experience for myself and to enrich my own life. And that’s a very different perspective than what I think we’ve seen in the past, which is I’m coming in for a paycheck and I separate this idea of work and life. I do think we’re seeing more of this overlap. And as that overlap happens, people are becoming more and more specific and pointed around what they need the workplace to be for them to feel fulfilled and enriched in their own lives.
Frank Cottle [00:06:39] Well, you know, it’s interesting when you say work for their own enrichment overall, I think as I think of historically and I would have thought of who were those people? They would have been craftspeople, they would have been artisans, they would have been artists, musicians, people that created things that were things of beauty or things of extreme craft that took real focus and talent. We’ve all heard the thing, oh, it was a work of love. We’ve heard that phrase before. And it could be a carpenter. It could be any number of people. So how is that changing today? Do we look at programmers and technology developers as artisans instead of just workers? Because really they are. They’re creating a product that we use in real life. How do we go through that today? And again, how sustainable is it? Jamie diamond says, everybody back to the office. I don’t care. Okay? And different large company CEOs are saying this today. So when you say there’s a revolution, does everybody have to quit from those companies and say, no, my revolution is to stand up and say, I won’t take it anymore and leave. We’ve talked about the great resignation till we’re all tired of it, quiet quitting and all those things going on. But where does it go? How do we measure that change in productivity? In terms of productivity? Most revolutions create a time of chaos and instability, not productivity. And you hope the outcome of the revolution is productivity and benefit for everybody. But I’m not sure that we’re seeing that.
Angela R Howard [00:08:44] Yeah, I think what we’re seeing right now is a real push and pull. What I’m feeling is a death of the old and kind of this birth of the new happening at the same time. So we have many people who are in leadership roles right now who have been taught a certain way, who have just subscribed to certain management practices that were not very human centered. What we know is that there are certain things, and this is why our methodology really focuses on sociology, psychology, and anthropology, because work itself typically requires some kind of collective goal to be achieved together. And if you can get everybody on board to feel pride and commitment to what you’re looking to achieve and to accomplish, you are going to get better results. We know that from the data. The problem right now is that organizations are not willing to let the old paradigms die. And it’s conflicting with these new ideas. We have gen Z coming into the workplace who are just unapologetically, very focused on enrichment and very focused on the workplace really needs to fit into what I’m doing. And that’s bothering some leaders because they’re used to this different power dynamic where I’m the employer, you’re the employee, and you’ll do whatever I say. And so that tension, I think, is the chaos that you’re talking about. But there’s also a lot of people just not willing to let go of things that just don’t even make a lot of business sense.
Frank Cottle [00:10:34] Well, I think you’re right. We’ve seen a number of conflicts coming up in that regard, at least a discussion of conflict, more than actual conflicts. And we saw certainly real conflicts in the Industrial Revolution as it came along. And I’m wondering if it’s you mentioned Gen Z, heard a great term the other day. Zillennial. That’s an old gen. Z. Young millennial. When are we going to stop with naming generations? I was happy to go just with young and old. I’m happy to go with that. So I’m old? You’re young. And the issue there that a lot of what you might be talking about is generational issues. So as the younger generation evolves that has absorbed some of these different values culturally, do you think that it’s just a matter of slow evolutionary matter of time? Or do you think it’s truly going to be a revolution where we’re going to go through a chaotic period? And as a result of which, some companies, some major companies that stick to the paradigms that you’re talking about may actually fail?
Angela R Howard [00:11:59] Yeah, I want to say it’s more of the latter. So I think that it is going to be this slowish revolution, but I think we’re going through it now. I think the water has been hot for a while and we’re now starting to feel it bubbling over and that’s where that tension is happening. And I’ll be honest with you, I do think organizations are going to fail if they continue to trust in paradigms that are no longer working or they’re using tactics around I use the word exploitation. I know it’s a really intense word, but truly that’s kind of what our system has been built in is how do we exploit people as much as possible? How do we suck as much productivity out of them as possible versus how do we create structures and processes and systems and leadership that ensure that people don’t burn out, that we’re not just sucking out of them. We’re also creating a partnership where we’re enriching them. We’re ensuring that our responsibility around their experience is tied back to the person, not just the work. So I do think organizations who don’t get on this revolution are going to fail. And we’re already seeing organizations fail and people leave and turnover is increasing and now toxic cultures, I think I read an article that they’re ten times more likely to cause attrition than any other factor within an organization. So people are fed up. They’re over it. The revolution has happened.
Frank Cottle [00:13:40] I think we have reached a tipping point. But I will say I think we’ve reached a tipping point in the US.
Angela R Howard [00:13:49] Interesting.
Frank Cottle [00:13:50] Okay. I think there are differing point when we talk about the future of work, we’re talking about globally. And I think that there are different tipping points in various cultures and work today. Let’s use two major factors. Technology doesn’t recognize borders or boundaries and the concepts of working anywhere or working remotely. We can talk about the failures in remote work and flexibility in workplace in a minute and some of the challenges there. But we don’t recognize borders for employment anymore in the same way that we would have just ten years ago. And different cultures have very different approaches to all of this, and different peoples have very different needs economically. So when you talk about exploitation, that’s something to consider. And then the flip side is when we talk about artificial intelligence, you know what, my artificial receptionist doesn’t need purpose. My artificial programmer doesn’t need motivation. My artificial manager of the technology that drives the lathe, that creates a car part doesn’t need patience. So that’s a whole nother simultaneous revolution that’s going on. Business doesn’t need to recognize borders to hire anymore. We all understand that. And it’s not just a matter of outsourcing a call center this or that. We just hired a very talented young lady in our marketing department. She’s in Kenya. She submitted her resume. She was the best candidate by far. Great. She’s in Kenya. Who cares? It just doesn’t matter that much anymore. Now we’re in a technology based business. We’re talking about different types of businesses. And many businesses can’t do that. If you’re a plumbing company, you can’t do that, right? Well, I wish they could. My plumbers are awful. But those are things that we really have to think about. So when we talk about this, we’re really talking about I don’t want to narrow this down, but you’re talking about a pretty thin slice of certain types of companies in certain industries. In one country or one culture. We’ll say American northern European culture issues. But I doubt that. We’re talking about Africa, india. I doubt that we’re talking about Indonesia. Or certainly we’re not talking about the People’s Republic of China on all of these shifts. And so how do you see that? How do you see this revolution, as you call it? Is it still a revolution in those other areas because the future of work is global? Or is it a slow evolutionary process that is going to happen that will slow down the revolution on one end and accelerate the evolution on the other?
Angela R Howard [00:17:34] Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m glad you brought up the global context here. But you bring up a good point, which is there are no borders necessarily anymore. We are thinking about the global talent marketplace very differently. And I will say, yes, think in the US. There’s probably a revolution happening. I’ll also mention there’s other countries that have a better version of work potentially, than we do here in the US. Even. There’s some countries who are already thinking about the four day work week. And we know that there’s long sabbaticals and holidays in some countries, especially European countries. Not that that’s the only thing that drives culture and productivity, but we do know that the US. Has a historically has had a different culture globally. And I can’t help but think that that’s going to impact the rest of the world as those borders start to diminish. And I would love to see, and I can’t predict the future. But I would love to see how we become more alike than different now that those borders are starting to really melt away and also how the US. Becomes more of a I guess we’re very US. Centric here oftentimes, right? Made in the USA. And we hire us. Workers where I think in the future, hopefully we’re going to become more educated on the global marketplace and we’re going to be able to be in a better position to understand globalization and how work happens across borders versus just being so US. Centric. I think language is also going to evolve, hopefully where we’re going to have more languages spoken at work. We’re not going to be English based or US. Focused. So I think all of those things are going to be impacted within the US. But the US. And the revolution that’s happening, which is probably more of an evolution globally, I can’t help but think it’s going to impact the the global market as well.
Frank Cottle [00:19:50] Well, language is a funny issue. It’s funny if a German company buys a French company, what language do they speak? I’ll tell you, it’s English. The Internet is English. Programming languages are in English, more or less so in technology. And if technology is going to take the advancement and continue advancing US. Then English becomes as a language, or we’ll say technology as a language becomes more and more consistent and prevalent overall. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had one language globally, not necessarily English, whatever it should be. And the challenge, I know even with we operate globally, our company operates in 54 countries and English is our corporate language, but even those people that speak very fluent English, the cultural interpretation of the language is quite different as we cross different cultures and borders. So our communications, even though it’s in the same language, doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning or certainly doesn’t have the nuance of meaning. So there’s a lot of challenges there as we go forward. But let’s talk about one challenge. Let’s talk about flexibility in the workplace. You’ve mentioned a four day work week. I’m all for it. I think that’s terrific so long as we have the same value proposition and productivity. Okay, just cutting somebody’s work week and reducing the hours they work and paying them for the same amount of productivity that they worked on, a five day work week that they created doesn’t work. Just like you can say in real estate, oh, we’re going to go to the four day work week. What does that mean to office? Occupancy, that means 20% vacancy factor. So that means that company shrinks its office footprint so that property company has that added vacancy when that shrinkage has occurred. And then the bank that financed that building has a challenge getting its loan repaid. And the insurance company that basically invested in the bank’s paper has a problem getting its yield to provide to its shareholders, which means its policy and rates have to go up, et cetera. There’s this trickle effect to all of these ambitions, I’ll call them, of flexibility in the workplace that I don’t think many people are considering what the long term or even short term impact of these things are as desirable as they are. I love a four day work week. I have very successful on a six day work week right now, and I’m happy with that. But I know that that’s a goal. But how do we accomplish that and still sustain the quality of life and the product activity of any country’s economy in doing so?
Angela R Howard [00:23:25] Yeah, so I think the four day work week is interesting. I think some of these tactics can be a little gimmicky to your point. I don’t think it matters if it’s a four day work week or a five day work week or a two day work week. I think what at the very foundation of these tactics is really around flexibility, autonomy, and agency. So let’s think about and this is some of the work that I do with my clients, which a lot of my clients are really they’re jumping on the trends, right? They’re reading about in Wall Street Journal about some CEO who did XYZ, or they read some book and they hop on the trends, when in reality, what we’re really talking about is if you’ve employed an adult into your organization who is talented, they get the work done. They’re being productive. Why do we feel the need to, for lack of better words, dictate where that work happens? As long as we’re creating intention around creating community within the organization, why the arbitrary numbers? Why the two days in the office or the three days in the office or the four day work week? People need autonomy and agency to feel prideful about their work. And if COVID taught us anything, it’s that people are able to manage their calendars and their schedules. They typically know when they need to get together with a group or a person in person to get work done or when they work best. Whether it’s in the morning or at night or the middle of the day. Or if they know that actually, once a week I really need to get out and get to a Starbucks or an office to get my work done. So I think just this idea of control needs to go away.
Frank Cottle [00:25:18] It’s hard to have direction without some sense of control. I would say keeping basically, it comes down to the herding cats theory a little bit. Okay. Herding cats is a good example of something that’s very challenging to do and so that you have to have some way to get all the cats in the same room at the same time so that they can accomplish what is the overarching goal. And by the way, the trick to hurting cats is very simple. Very simple. I met with it years ago because my wife loves cats. Just feed them, just put the food down and all the cats are coming. They’ll do anything you want to get. If you look at that, oh, let’s see if I want people to do things, if I just pay them, that kind of comes into that theory a little bit real quick and you go, no, that’s not what I want. That’s not what I want. The autonomy with control is a challenge, I think. I come from the flexible workplace sector and industry and I’ve been in that industry for 43 years now. So flexibility is everything we want to see. And we believe that in the history in the past, companies needed two things to succeed. They needed access to a customer base with a good product and they needed access to capital for growth. Today they need those same two things, but they also need a high degree of flexibility or they won’t succeed because change is an accelerating agent right now and it’s not going to slow down. Technology is not going to slow down the way our cultures evolve, way borders evolve. None of this is going to slow down. So flexibility is key. So when we talk about flexibility in the workplace, you’re talking a lot about roles and you’re talking a lot about management styles and empowerment. Recognizing that, well, I’ll tell you, when someone joins our company, I give them a little speech about how great the company is, but I tell them the one thing I will fire them for in a heart is if they’re unable to make their own decisions, okay? If anybody in your company can’t make decisions within their responsibility, area of responsibility and be, I don’t want to say responsible again, but I will responsible for the outcome of those decisions, they slow everybody down and they choke everything off productivity wise. So giving people the capacity and the confidence just to make decisions and knowing that you’ll stand behind them, if they screw up, no problem. They will screw up and you stand behind them. But they have to make decisions. And I think a lot of companies don’t do that and they should. That should be a very simple rule as we go forward. You mentioned days in the office, two days in the office, meeting at a Starbucks with a team, this sort of thing. A lot of people in remote work and we can talk about the challenges there, don’t have a suitable place to work remotely and so they have to work near home and not from home in possibly a business or a co working center. Teams are organizing that. We’re seeing a big shift in a lot of companies strategically looking at flexible workspace as part of their model as opposed to just the corporate office and basically a third workplace. That’s a genuine workplace. It’s not a Starbucks because as much as you might like a cup of coffee when you sit down and work. Working in a Starbucks can be extremely distracting place for focus. It’s also not a good place for corporate security and privacy. So that’s something to consider as well, I think, as we go forward. What do you think about AI? It’s buzz, that sort of thing. But I know we’re already using it in two or three applications in our own company and very excited about the outcomes. Very beneficial for us. How do you think artificial intelligence will impact the workplace and the future of work and impact the cultures in work? How do you build a culture if a third of your employees are technology and artificial intelligence roles?
Angela R Howard [00:30:28]
Yeah, it’s a great question, and I think it’s on everyone’s mind. So I’m glad you brought it up. First and foremost, I think it’s pretty astonishing. It’s undeniable that I think this is going to be a part of our culture at work. It’s going to be a part of the way we build systems at work, how we think about culture at work. I do think that it’s going to shift culture and that I don’t think some of the human needs are going to change necessarily. Those are pretty fundamental. But we’re going to have to obviously upskill and build capability within the organization. For AI. In an ethical way, it’s easy to just implement AI and say, this is great, we’re going to be so much more productive. But there is a responsibility and an ethical part of this conversation that I think people are starting to have around, first and foremost, bias in AI. We know that artificial intelligence basically duplicates the society that we live in. So I think that’s going to be an important part of how we build culture. And when I say culture, I mean thinking about the systems and the process and the people, but also the behavior in using the tool.
Frank Cottle [00:31:56] I think from our point of view, the way we look at it is we say, well, how can artificial intelligence improve the performance of existing positions and make that individual more productive and therefore more valuable to our organization so that both we and they can benefit from that value creation. That’s the way we’re looking at artificial intelligence. Ultimately, however, what it means is that I need less people to do a certain task because they’re more productive. I can afford to pay that person more because they’re more productive and they’re more valuable to us. But I need less.
Angela R Howard [00:32:47] Yeah. And maybe more strategic value. Right. Value that wasn’t even unlocked in the past.
Frank Cottle [00:32:51] Exactly. And that means I also need less office space and fewer computers, and I don’t need phones, and I don’t have the HR costs, et cetera, et cetera, because I have fewer people doing more benefit, which means plumbers and carpenters and stuff have less buildings to build. It’s that ripple effect that these things bring about. And as we look at the future of work. How do you think that ripple effect will play out not just in the corporate office, which is what we’re talking about, but across society in general and how are we going to support that difference? Is it going to be because we create new things, which is always the hope, or is it going to be through need to be through social support, social system support because that class of worker is no longer needed?
Angela R Howard [00:33:57] Yeah. So you’re kind of talking about the, for lack of better words, the the deskless worker. Right. You know, there’s a whole sector of people and we saw during COVID there’s all these essential workers, right, that when a crisis hit, we realized how much we needed them. And I think that some of those positions over time will be we will find different ways to do them or have an opportunity to use AI to replace in some cases. So I think it’s really important, I think there’s an overall responsibility for us to start to have those conversations at a broader societal level because like you said, there’s a ripple effect. Right. And this really starts in the educational system. So that is the pipeline into the workplace. So how are we having conversations around what are the skills that we are going to have to future proof the workplace in this new world as we evolve and using these tools? So trade workers, there might still be needs for that, manufacturing all those things. There might still need to be a human touch, but it might look different. And there might be more of an emphasis too on human skills. We call them soft skills, but they’re really not. They’re actually the hardest of all skills. So how are we focusing more on those human skills so that when people do come out of the educational system, they can take on higher level strategic knowledge work or to rethink some of our trades, which I do. Think are going to be focused on let’s use the human brain for human things and also use AI to supplement some of the work that people are starting to phase out of. We’re seeing certain industries just having a really hard time finding workers because people don’t want to do that work anymore. So I do think there is this change happening.
Frank Cottle [00:35:58] Yeah, I think you’re right. Nobody wants to flip burgers. Come on. There are certain things that nobody really wants to do and if we can come up with robotics and artificial intelligence, do a lot of tasks but you mentioned the educational system. I don’t want to get too far off topic, but I am terrified that the educational systems that are in place today, at least in the United States, are not in any way, shape or form preparing the youth, which is our future for any of this revolution in an effective way. And that there’s a massive we talk about wealth gaps. And other gaps. I think there’s a massive gap in education when it comes to the populace in general, the student populace in general, to where it’s an 80 20 rule or a 90 ten or a 95 five rule of some sort. To where a very small, limited number of people are getting the education necessary to lead a truly productive, both creatively and economically future of work, and that a lot of people in the educational system are getting left behind. I don’t know what to do with them.
Angela R Howard [00:37:25] Yeah. And this is where and I’m sure you’ve thought about this, Frank, with your own company. I think about this with Call for Culture and that we have to start intersecting these systems. We can’t just be talking about the future of work in a silo and not talk about the connection to all these other systems that it impacts or that it connects with. So we’re thinking about that quite a bit as to how can we be mediators facilitators of these different connecting systems. Because they’re not separate, they’re very much entwined. And that’s why we think about the societal impact part of our work. And I agree with you. I am also scared.
Frank Cottle [00:38:07] I hate to end this on a Fear Factor note, because we’re running a little long here. On a positive note, one of the things that we’re seeing is that employers, large employers, are embracing flexibility more than not embracing it. It’s always the loud minority that gets the press. But I think people are embracing flexibility overall. And I can’t think it’s a revolution because I don’t want to think about violent chaos so much as a high speed evolution. It’s almost a gene pool change that will happen generationally as we move into many of these things overall. And gosh, Angela, I really am grateful to you. You’ve shared a lot of interesting thoughts today, and I know your work is amazing with the companies that you work with. And I’m looking forward to you’ve joined the Allwork.Space team now as to be one of the voices of the future of work. So we’re going to look forward to your articles, to the materials you put out and to help guide where the future of work is going. And we appreciate that very much.
Angela R Howard [00:39:36] Thank you so much. It’s good to be a part of the team and community. And Frank, just thank you for all the work that you’re doing around this too. And this was a great discussion.
Frank Cottle [00:39:47] Take care. Bye bye.