Inovia-Portfolio HR & Talent Session: Future of Work with Prasad Setty

The workplace is rapidly evolving, with changing social dynamics and new technologies shaping how we collaborate and innovate. We recently held an Inovia-Portfolio HR & Talent Session on the Future of Work with Prasad Setty, a seasoned HR leader who spent 15 years in leadership positions at Google. When the pandemic hit, Prasad led Google’s response from the people side, thinking about their evolution and the future of work.

Prasad shared his insights on the future of work, focusing on trends shaping the current landscape and the near future, on connectedness, and on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). In this blog and accompanying actionable tips, we delve into the key takeaways from Prasad’s session and highlight the importance of embracing change and staying ahead of the curve. Let’s dive in!

The Current Landscape

The global pandemic gave rise to trends impacting what the workplace of the future will look like. Additionally, a new generation that recently entered, or is about to enter the workforce, is also seeking a different value proposition from employers than previous generations did – social, economic, racial, gender, and climate inequities are all at the forefront of what employees expect from their employers.

The tech sector, in particular, needs to prioritize these trends . According to Scoop’s Flex Index, >80% of companies tracked offer flexible or fully remote options. Tech companies also emphasize their Employer Value Proposition (EVP) and how they differentiate themselves to address growing needs across multiple generations in the workforce.

Understanding these trends and putting concrete actions in place is key to building companies that will endure in the current landscape and the near future.

New Tensions Amid the Workforce

With hybrid work models still at the forefront of discussions, and new and different expectations that the workforce is bringing to the table, it’s essential to address the new tensions that have arisen. First, there is tension between individual well-being and organizational and team cohesion. Striking a balance between these two is crucial to maintaining a healthy work environment. Second, there is tension between serendipity and structure. While structure provides rituals and clarity, it can hinder spontaneous conversations and interactions vital for creativity and innovation. Finally, physical distance can lead to distrust between employees and managers, with presenteeism playing a significant role. Managers may feel more comfortable with employees around them, which can influence organizational decision-making. To create a successful work environment, companies must address these tensions, carefully balancing the needs and desires of their employees with the needs and perspectives of leadership.

In designing effective work models to resolve these tensions, it’s crucial to address three fundamental needs to enhance the employee experience. Firstly, recognize that time is precious. Organizations should help employees use their time effectively and efficiently to accomplish their tasks.

Secondly, collaboration equity is essential, especially in knowledge-based organizations. This concept ensures that all team members can be seen, heard, and valued for their contributions regardless of location and time. 

Finally, the human and organizational connection is vital to building a deeper bond between employees and their organizations. While collaboration equity focuses on the task and project-oriented interactions, human connection emphasizes the broader, more profound relationships between coworkers and the organization. Nurturing these connections can lead to increased loyalty and commitment and prevent turnover during times of conflict or hardship.

By addressing these three fundamental needs, organizations can better adapt to the hybrid work model, create a more inclusive and supportive environment, and enhance overall productivity and employee engagement.

Enhancing Effectiveness and Efficiency

Building a work environment that emphasizes and enhances effectiveness and efficiency requires focusing on three key areas: 

  1. Increasing Focus Time: Encourage deep work involving distraction-free concentration, enabling knowledge workers to perform at their cognitive best. 
  2. Removing Low-Quality Interactions: Reduce time spent in unproductive meetings or distracting communication channels. 
  3. Fostering Psychological Safety: Create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and taking interpersonal risks without fear of judgment. 

Unpacking Collaboration Equity

Collaboration equity is crucial to the success of new work models, ensuring that employees feel represented, can participate equitably, and have access to equal information across locations and time zones. To foster collaboration equity, organizations can focus on two main areas: technology and structure.

  1. Collaboration Equity Enabled by Technology: Productivity tools today offer many ways for employees to make their presence known and felt, and for their voice to be heard. For this functionality to be useful, People and Technology teams need to establish workplace norms that make collaboration equity come alive.
  2. Collaboration Equity Enabled by Structure: Intentionality in designing collaboration equity is crucial. This intentionality involves examining the types of synchronous and asynchronous interactions that occur and ensuring that each type of collaboration (e.g. a 1:1 between a manager and their direct report vs. team brainstorming session) has clearly defined guideposts and ways to engage. 

Fostering Connectedness

Connectedness, referring to deep social interactions between coworkers and their organization, is vital in promoting well-being and innovation in the workplace. To foster connectedness in the new work environment, organizations can focus on the following aspects:

  1. Connectedness Enabled by the Physical Space: Designing workspaces emphasizing natural light, fewer columns, and horizontal layouts can encourage interaction and community building. Following these design principles can improve connectedness within the organization.
  2. Connectedness Enabled by Technology: Emerging technologies, such as Google’s Project Starline, hold promise for enhancing remote interactions and fostering a deeper sense of connection among employees, regardless of their location.
  3. Connectedness Enabled by Social Capital: Organizations can build social capital by focusing on three types of capital:
    • Linking Capital: this type of linking will occur most naturally or organically as it involves individuals linking or connecting across levels in a given hierarchy. For example, the individuals in a marketing department will deploy their linking capital to connect with one another.
    • Bonding Capital: typically, this occurs when individuals either come together or are brought together for specific projects, company sports teams, or employee resource groups. Individuals deploy their bonding capital based on a common theme.
    • Bridging Capital: this is the less obvious or organic of the three. Bridging capital is deployed effectively when individuals and teams come together or are brought together intentionally to innovate or creatively disrupt. Examples like Marketing working with HR on an internal solution deployment or Engineering working with Business Operations on a cross-company improvement project

By considering these aspects, organizations can create a more connected, innovative, and inclusive work environment, regardless of whether their employees work remotely, in-office, or in a hybrid setting.

The Near Future: Elevating Work Through People & Machine Synergy

As we delve into AI and ML, it becomes evident that the “not-so-far” future of work is rapidly unfolding before our eyes. The synergy between people and machines will be pivotal in shaping this new era. Our continuous advancements in tools and technologies have been a defining factor in human progress. With each generation, general-purpose innovations emerge, revolutionizing societies and shaping the way we interact with the world. These breakthroughs will only continue to accelerate as AI and ML become more sophisticated and integrated into our daily routines.

AI & ML in the Workplace

As AI and ML continue to advance, we are witnessing an unprecedented transformation in how we work. The line between human labour and machine capabilities is becoming increasingly blurred, raising the question of whether CHROs should become CHRMOs (Chief Human Resource + Machine Officers). This shift highlights the need for HR professionals to embrace AI and ML technologies and integrate them into their strategies. Tools and technologies that were once considered futuristic are now becoming commonplace, and we are only beginning to understand the full potential of these innovations. In the workplace, AI and ML empower employees to make faster, more informed decisions with real-time data and predictive insights. The result is a dramatic increase in efficiency and productivity across a wide range of industries and job functions.

From software development to legal work, the impact of AI and ML is undeniable. For example, GitHub Copilot is revolutionizing software development as an AI-powered coding assistant, reducing the time it takes to write code by more than half. Similarly, other companies are now developing AI-driven tools that aim to do for different professionals what GitHub Copilot has done for programmers. As AI and ML evolve, we expect more innovative solutions to enable professionals to work more efficiently and effectively. However, integrating AI and ML into the workplace raises critical questions about the future of human labour. The question on everyone’s minds is whether AI will replace people or augment them. 

As AI and ML take on more routine tasks, the human capacity for judgment and decision-making will become increasingly important. University of Toronto Professor Ajay Agrawal expresses it well: “Decision-making consists of prediction and judgment. AI will make predictions cheaper.” To prepare for this future, focus on developing your own judgment skills and seeking out opportunities to use them. In particular, there are many high value decisions (like hiring, credit, and housing) where fairness, explainability, and compliance with the law are paramount. Ensuring that AI and ML applications are transparent and adhere to ethical standards will be crucial in mitigating potential risks and biases.

Ultimately, our ability to harness the power of AI and ML and strike a balance between human judgment and machine-driven predictions will shape the future of work. By embracing these cutting-edge technologies and adopting responsible policies, organizations can transform the workplace into a more efficient, collaborative, and innovative environment. On the people side, enabling and supporting lifelong learning is imperative. That’s the only sustainable defense in the midst of large-scale disruption.

Embracing the Future of Work

The future of work is rapidly evolving, driven by emerging technologies and shifting social dynamics. We can better navigate this transformation and ensure effective collaboration and innovation by fostering connectedness and building social capital within our organizations, HR leaders must take the reins and drive the future of work, shaping a harmonious collaboration between human talent and cutting-edge technology.

We want to express our appreciation to Prasad Setty for sharing his valuable insights. Prasad’s keen understanding of the evolving HR landscape has broadened our perspective, and we’re excited to see what he’ll accomplish in shaping the future of work. Thank you, Prasad, for your dedication to helping individuals and organizations thrive in this dynamic era of technological advancement!

Start the Conversation within Your Organization

  1. What are some trends shaping the current work landscape that we should prioritize in our organization?
  2. How can we balance individual well-being and organizational/team connectedness in our work environment?
  3. What are some ways we can foster psychological safety within our organization?
  4. How can we ensure collaboration equity within our organization, especially in a remote or hybrid work setting?
  5. What strategies can we use to enhance the employee experience and build a deeper bond between employees and our organization?
  6. How can we use AI and machine learning to enhance productivity and efficiency in our organization while still ensuring fairness, explainability, and compliance?
  7. How can we build social capital within our organization to promote well-being and innovation in the workplace?
  8. How can we balance human judgment and machine-driven predictions as we embrace cutting-edge technologies in the workplace?
  9. What steps can we take to ensure our organization stays ahead of the curve and embraces change in the evolving work landscape?
  10. How can HR leaders drive the future of work and shape a harmonious collaboration between human talent and technology in our organization?