THE FUTURE WORKPLACE

Encore: June 18, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way we work in the short-term, but will it have lasting effects on workplaces of the future? Anat Lechner, a professor of Management and Organizations at NYU Stern, studies how businesses handle disruption.  She says the movement toward working from home when possible, the elimination of some jobs and creation of others, and the advent of new methods for employee interaction may all lead to a completely different work landscape.

Aired on June 10, 2020.

TRANSCRIPT

> HI, I'M MADDIE ORTON.

THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK HAS CHANGED THE WAY WE WORK IN THE SHORT-TERM, BUT WILL IT HAVE LONG-TERM EFFECTS ON THE WORKPLACES OF THE FUTURE?

I'M SPEAKING WITH ANAT LECHNER, PROFESSOR OF MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONS AT NYU STERN.

ANAT, THANKS FOR BEING HERE.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

SO FIRST WHY DON'T WE START OFF WITH SORT OF AN EXPLANATION OF WHAT YOUR PARTICULAR AREA OF FOCUS IS.

YEAH, I SPECIALIZE IN CHANGE MANAGEMENT, THIS IS A FIELD THAT SPROUTED OVER THE PAST TWO DECADES, TO BECOME NATURALLY MUCH MORE RELEVANT, ESPECIALLY FOR TIMES LIKE NOW.

I LOOK AT CHANGE MANAGEMENT, INNOVATION, DESTRUCTION AND ORGANIZATION.

WHEN WE TALK ABOUT CHANGE MANAGEMENT, OBVIOUSLY THERE HAS BEEN SO MUCH CHANGE IN THE WAY WE WORK.

NOW, YOU'VE SAID THAT THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK HAS ONLY ACCELERATED CHANGES THAT WERE ALREADY ON THE HORIZON FOR WORKPLACES.

CORRECT.

THERE ARE CHANGES WE ARE UNDERGOING AND THEY'VE BEEN GOING FOR A WHILE.

THEY'VE BEEN COOKING AND BREWING FOR A WHILE.

THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS IS JUST THE CATALYST, IT JUST DRIVES THINGS FASTER.

WE FOUND OURSELVES WORKING FROM HOME, THERE WERE MANY DEBATES BEFORE THAT ON HOW MUCH CAN WE DO AND WHETHER WE WILL BE PRODUCTIVE DOING SO.

SUDDENLY WE WERE FORCED TO AND SO I THINK THAT THE NUMBERS THAT WE GET TO SEE IS ABOUT 80% OF THE PEOPLE AT ONE POINT WORKED FROM HOME IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS AND WE'RE DOING QUITE OKAY.

SO I'M NOT SUGGESTING THAT WE'RE ALL SO PRODUCTIVE, BUT WE -- QUITE FAST -- DRIVES US TO DO SO.

SHORT-TERM CHANGES ARE GOING TO CONTINUE EVEN AS WORKFORCES AND STATES START TO REOPEN THEIR VARIOUS BUSINESSES, BUT IN THE STILL SOMEWHAT SHORT-TERM PERIOD LOOKING OVER THE NEXT YEAR, LET'S SAY, DO YOU THINK THAT WE'RE GOING TO STILL ADJUST TO WORKING REMOTELY IN MAYBE A SMOOTHER MORE SEAMLESS FASHION?

I WOULD SAY YES.

I THINK THAT WE HAVE FOR ONE NOT MUCH OF A CHOICE, ALL THE DISCUSSION ON SOCIAL DISTANCING AND THE ABILITY TO -- HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN BE, YOU KNOW, TRAVELING TOGETHER IN AN ELEVATOR, HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN SIT IN A CLASSROOM TOGETHER, HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN SIT IN AN OFFICE TOGETHER.

WE REALIZE THAT THE INFRASTRUCTURE THAT WE HAVE IS BASED ON SEVERAL ASSUMPTIONS AND THE NEED THAT WE HAVE AT THE MOMENT BASED ON WHAT WE KNOW AND HOW TO MANAGE THIS EPIDEMIC CRISIS REQUIRE THAT WE WILL DISTANCE OURSELVES FROM ONE ANOTHER, REQUIRE THAT WE WILL BE ABLE TO FUNCTION TOGETHER IN A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT WAY.

SO THE NOTION THAT SOME OF US WILL CONTINUE TO WORK FROM HOME OR THAT THERE WILL BE SOME SORT OF A, YOU KNOW, ALT NATION FROM THOSE WHO WORK FROM HOME AND WORK FROM THE OFFICE THIS OBVIOUSLY WILL NEED TO CONTINUE, BUT I WILL SAY ONE MORE THING, WE ARE REALIZING THAT THERE ARE QUITE A NUMBER OF BENEFITS WORKING FROM HOME AND WE ARE ACTUALLY ABLE TO COLLABORATE NOT WITH SOME CHALLENGES AND NOT WITH SOME NEED TO LEARN, BUT WE ARE ABLE TO COLLABORATE AND WE ARE ABLE TO WORK REMOTELY AND TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE I'M SEEING ORGANIZATIONS RETHINKING THE IDEA OF BRINGING EVERYBODY BACK TO THE OFFICE WHEN THINGS ARE FINE.

THERE WERE A FEW BANKS IN NEW YORK THAT JUST A COUPLE WEEKS AGO ANNOUNCED THAT SOME OF THEIR EMPLOYEES WILL NEVER RETURN TO THE OFFICE.

SO THERE IS LEARNING WITH WORKING REMOTELY AND SOME OF IT IS ACTUALLY VERY POSITIVE, AT LEAST IF YOU THINK ON THE ECONOMICS OF HOW WE WORK.

THERE'S ALSO A RETHINKING, TOO, OF THE BALANCE OF POWER BETWEEN WORKERS AND BETWEEN COMPANIES, CERTAINLY THERE ARE WORKERS WHO ARE NOW DEEMED AS ESSENTIAL WHEN WE LOOK AT GROCERY STORE EMPLOYEES, FOR EXAMPLE, WHO ARE BEING LAUDED FOR THEIR WORK IN A WAY THAT THEY HAVEN'T BEEN PREVIOUSLY.

DO YOU THINK THAT THAT'S GOING TO BE A CONTINUED SORT OF THING?

WILL WE SEE BETTER PAY FOR THESE NEWLY DEEMED ESSENTIAL WORKERS?

I HOPE SO.

I HOPE THAT PEOPLE WILL RECOGNIZE WHAT ESSENTIAL MEANS AND THE STATUS THAT COMES WITH WORK AND DIFFERENT TYPE JOBS MIGHT SHIFT EVER SO SLIGHTLY, BUT WE MIGHT ALSO THINK MORE CYNICALLY THAT THIS IS A VERY ROMANTIC VIEW AND ONCE WE GO BACK TO A NEW NORMAL WHATEVER THAT MEANS AND WHENEVER THAT HAPPENS, WE MIGHT SEE AUTOMATION COMING TO SOME OF THESE JOBS OPPOSED TO A BETTER PAYCHECK.

SO WE KNOW THAT THERE ARE SOME COMPANIES THAT ARE KIND OF PLAYING WITH TECHNOLOGY, VISUAL, FACIAL RECOGNITION AND TECHNOLOGIES OF SUCH THAT YOU WILL NO LONGER NEED TO HAVE SOMEBODY SITTING BY A CASHIER OR SOMEPLACE.

SO THE CHANCE THAT WE WILL SEE AUTOMATION COMING BEFORE A BETTER PAYCHECK AND A BETTER STABILITY IN THESE TYPE JOBS, IN MY OPINION UNFORTUNATELY SEEM TO BE HIGHER.

AT LEAST MAYBE NOT IN THE IMMEDIATE TERM, BUT IN THE COUPLE OF -- COUPLE MORE YEARS DOWN THE ROAD.

UNEMPLOYMENT IS ALSO OBVIOUSLY GOING TO BE A HUGE PROBLEM MOVING FORWARD, BUT FOR THOSE WHO ARE GOING TO BE IN A POSITION WHERE THEY'RE ABLE TO SEEK NEW JOBS AND THERE ARE JOBS TO BE SOUGHT, DO YOU THINK THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE LOOKING FOR A NEW POSITION ARE GOING TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT HOW EMPLOYERS HANDLED THEIR EMPLOYEES DURING THIS PERIOD OF CRISIS?

THIS IS AN INTERESTING AND PRETTY LOADED QUESTION.

SO ON ONE END YOU CAN LISTEN TO PREDICTIONS FROM THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION AND THEY HAD THE VERY SOMBER PREDICTION ANNOUNCED A COUPLE WEEKS AGO THAT SAID THAT IN THE NEAR YEARS, THEY DIDN'T REALLY TIME IT PRECISELY, BUT AS A RESULT OF THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS, REBUILDING PEOPLE ARE AT RISK OF LOSING THEIR HIGHLY HOOD.

MORE THAN HALF OF THE WORKFORCE.

WHEN YOU LISTEN TO A NUMBER LIKE THIS IT MAKES YOU REALLY THINK HOW SELECTIVE WE WILL BE AND THERE IS A CHANCE THAT WE WILL JUST TAKE ANY WORK THAT'S THERE, BUT TO THE EXTENT THAT WE CAN CHOOSE, I THINK THE TIMES OF CRISIS GIVE US A TREMENDOUS INSIGHT TO WHAT GOOD BEHAVIOR LOOKS LIKE, WHAT GOOD BEHAVIOR SHOULD LOOK LIKE AND WE WILL REMEMBER THE GOOD, WE WILL REMEMBER THE BAD AND THERE ARE CEOs, FOR INSTANCE, THE CEO OF AIRBNB THAT HAD TO LAY OFF A QUARTER OF THEIR PEOPLE THAT HAVE DONE THIS IN THE UTMOST HUMANE WAY.

EXPLAINING WHY THIS IS HAPPENING.

HELPING THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE TO TRANSITION OUT.

PRAISING THEM AND TELLING THE MARKET YOU ARE ABOUT TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO HIRE THE BEST EMPLOYEES THAT WE QUALIFIED THROUGH OUR SYSTEM OVER THE PAST LITTLE WHILE AND NOW WE NEED TO UNFORTUNATELY LET GO BECAUSE OF THE FINANCIAL SITUATION.

PEOPLE LISTEN TO THIS.

PEOPLE REMEMBER THIS KIND OF THING.

IF THEY CHOOSE THEN THEY MIGHT SELECT TO WORK FOR THESE ORGANIZATIONS THAT HANDLED THE CRISIS IN A HUMANE AND, YOU KNOW, WELL DONE WAY.

IT'S JUST THE QUESTION OVERALL IS WHETHER WE WILL BE ABLE TO CHOOSE.

THERE ARE CERTAINLY MANY JOBS THAT ARE GOING AWAY, BUT ARE THERE NEW JOBS, FOR EXAMPLE, CONTACT TRACERS, THAT ARE RISING FOR PEOPLE TO KEEP IN PLACE AT LEAST SOME OF THOSE LOST JOBS?

YES, WE SEE THAT.

WE SEE THAT CONTACT TRACING IS ONE OPPORTUNITY.

WE ARE NOT YET UNDERSTANDING THIS BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T SEEN THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CRISIS THAT IS STILL UNFOLDING.

BUT I THINK THE JOBS IN THIS AREA WILL DEFINITELY BE COMING FORTH AND DEFINITELY JOBS THAT WILL INVOLVE CARE, VERY IMPORTANT ELEMENT.

IT'S MENTIONED IN OTHER CONTEXT AS WELL AS AS SOME OF THE JOBS OF THE FUTURE, BUT WE HAVE SEEN A LOT OF NEEDS FOR PEOPLE WITHIN THE COMMUNITY THAT CANNOT REALLY HELP THEMSELVES SO WELL, I'M NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT HEALTH CARE EMPLOYEES, JUST CARE, PERIOD.

THE ELDERLY IS NOT A SEGMENT THAT WAS ABLE TO HELP THEMSELVES SO WELL DURING THIS CRISIS AND WAS HELPED JUST ORGANICALLY THROUGH A LOT OF COMMUNITY VOLUNTEERING.

CAN THERE BE JOBS IN THIS SPACE?

I THINK ABSOLUTELY.

WILL WE SEE GROWTH IN THIS AREA?

ABSOLUTELY.

PEOPLE THAT NEED TO LEARN DISTANTLY, NOT ALWAYS HAVE THE ABILITY TO DO SO VERY WELL.

WILL WE SEE TUTORING COMING, ABSOLUTELY.

THERE ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEW JOBS TO RISE JUST BECAUSE OF THE CONDITION THAT WE ALL FOUND OURSELVES IN.

IF YOU ARE JUST JOINING US I'M MADDIE ORTON, I'M SPEAKING WITH ANAT LECHNER, PROFESSOR OF MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONS AT NYU STERN.

AND NOW LET'S LOOK AT A LITTLE BIT FURTHER LONG-TERM.

YOU HAVE SAID THAT THIS PERIOD OF REBUILDING THAT WE ARE ABOUT TO ENTER INTO IT ALMOST ANALOGOUS TO THE REBUILDING AND REIMAGINING OF WORK AFTER WORLD WAR II.

CAN YOU TALK TO ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT?

YES, I THINK THAT IF YOU LOOK AT WHAT'S -- WHAT'S GOING ON, THERE IS A LITTLE COLLAPSE THAT'S HAPPENING THAT'S BEYOND ACTUALLY THE UNBELIEVABLY SAD AND DRAMATIC HEALTH CRISIS THAT WE ARE EXPERIENCING.

THERE IS COLLAPSE OF SYSTEMS THAT HAVE BEEN PUT IN PLACE OVER 70 SOME YEARS FROM RELATIONSHIPS WITH NATIONS TO SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT AND OTHER -- AND WE SEE SHALL I CALL IT THE BIG COLLAPSE.

ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER IS BEING CHALLENGED.

I THINK THAT THE REBUILDING OF THE -- WILL TAKE SOME TIME BECAUSE WE NEED TO INVENT.

IT'S NOT BUILDING REBUILD.

IT'S NOT SIMPLE RECOVERY.

WE NEED TO INVENT HOW WE WORK IN THE FUTURE.

WHO WE WORK WITH IN THE FUTURE.

WHAT TECHNOLOGY ARE WE RELYING ON?

WHAT IS THE PLACE THAT HUMANS ARE STILL NEEDED FOR?

THERE IS A LOT OF -- A LOT OF INVENTING, NOT EVEN REINVENTING, SIMPLY INVENTING THE NEW.

THE OLD IS COLLAPSING AND WE ARE EXPERIENCING THAT AND WE'RE SEEING IT IN TREMENDOUS ANXIETY TO VERY MANY PEOPLE FOR ALL THE OBVIOUS REASONS, BUT WHAT IS THE NEW THAT COMES TO REPLACE IT?

THIS IS GOING TO BE A PRETTY LONG BUILD.

SO THE CRISIS IS THE CATALYST IN THAT SENSE BECAUSE IT HELPS US RID OURSELVES OF SYSTEMS THAT ARE PERHAPS BEEN AT THEIR LAST MILE AND NO LONGER SERVING US WELL.

IF IT'S SOCIAL SYSTEMS, IF IT'S HEALTH SYSTEMS, IF IT'S INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS AND SO ON AND SO FORTH, THIS IS ALL GOING.

I'M NOT GOING TO SAY ALL, BUT, YOU KNOW, THE MAJORITY OF THINGS ARE NO LONGER WORKING AND WE SEE THAT, BUT WE DON'T KNOW WHAT WILL REPLACE IT.

SO THE REPLACING IS THINGS THAT WE WILL NEED TO BUILD AND WE WILL NEED TO INVENT AND THAT WILL TAKE TIME TO INVENT, IT WILL TAKE TIME TO BUILD.

IN MANY WAYS IT'S ALSO GOING TO GIVE US NEW OPPORTUNITIES THAT WE CURRENTLY DO NOT SEE.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEW JOBS, NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR JUST, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU BUILD THERE NEEDS TO BE WORKING HANDS, WORKING MINDS AND A LOT OF ENERGY BEHIND IT.

I THINK WE WILL SEE THAT PERIOD OF TIME EVOLVING.

WE HAVEN'T FINISHED THE ROLLING DOWN THE HILL, YOU KNOW, SEGMENT OF THIS CRISIS, SO WE NEED TO GET TO THE BOTTOM BEFORE WE CAN BEGIN TO REALLY CLIMB UP.

I THINK THAT IT IS IN PROGRESS.

SURE.

LAST QUESTION.

YOU MENTIONED WHAT THIS NEW WORLD ORDER MIGHT LOOK LIKE.

I FOR ONE MISS BEING IN AN OFFICE.

I AM SURE THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE LIKE ME OUT THERE.

YOU MENTIONED THAT THERE COULD BE SORT OF A NEW SPACE FOR WHAT HAPPENS A DIGITAL OFFICE DESIGN POSITION.

WHAT COULD THAT LOOK LIKE IN THE FUTURE?

I THINK WE SEE TWO MANIFESTATIONS, THE FIRST ONE IS WE HAVE SEEN IN ANY CASE PEOPLE GOING INTO FLEXIBLE ARRANGEMENTS OF WORK, PEOPLE WORKING FROM -- PEOPLE ENJOYING THE LIBERTY THAT THIS ARRANGEMENT BRINGS.

SO WE'VE SEEN THAT SPLIT ANY WAIST AND WE'VE SEEN PEOPLE SELECTING NOT TO WORK FROM AN OFFICE BUT NOT COMPROMISE THE SOCIAL ASPECT, WHICH IS SO CRITICAL TO ALL OF US.

WHAT WE HAVE SEEN RECENTLY, WHICH IS JUST AMAZING IS SOME OF THE COLLEGES HAVE HAD TO CLOSE -- ALL THE COLLEGES HAD TO CLOSE DOWN, RIGHT?

AT ONE POINT THERE WERE OVER 800 MILLION STUDENTS SITTING HOME WORLDWIDE, BUT SOME OF THESE COLLEGES HAVE HAD TO CLOSE, HAD STUDENTS IN THE COLLEGE GOING TO MINECRAFT, AN ONLINE PLATFORM, AND BUILDING THEIR COLLEGES IN THIS VIRTUAL SPACE AND YOU COULD LITERALLY WALK IN THE -- YOU KNOW, IN MANY OF THOSE HALLWAYS AND YOU COULD GO AND SIT JUT SIDE OF THE BUILDINGS IN THAT VIRTUAL SPACE.

I THINK THAT THE WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE WILL DEFINITELY HAVE VIRTUAL REALITY TO IT THAT IS SEAMLESS, IN OTHER WORDS, IT'S REAL, IT'S A DIGITAL TWIN TO WHAT WE HAVE ON SITE AND WE WILL BE ABLE TO TRANSITION TO THE CLOUD AND BACK TO EARTH, SO TO SPEAK, TO THE CLOUD, TO THE VIRTUAL SPACE AND THEN BACK TO THE ON-SITE SPACE QUITE SEAMLESSLY.

THIS BY THE WAY IS JUST ANOTHER JOB, ONCE UPON A TIME SOMEBODY WAS A DESIGNER AND AN INTERIOR DESIGNER AND THEN THEY BECAME A WORKPLACE DESIGNER, NOW WE HAVE TO HAVE DIGITAL WORKPLACE DESIGNERS DESIGNING THOSE ENVIRONMENTS AND SO I THINK THAT FOR US THE USER OF THIS ENVIRONMENT WE WILL FEEL -- IT WILL COMPENSATE FOR A LOT OF THE LONELINESS SHALL WE SAY THAT COMES FROM WORKING REMOTELY BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT NECESSARILY FEEL ALONE.

YOU WILL FEEL AS IF IT'S A VIRTUAL REALITY FEELING.

YOU WILL FEEL AS IF YOU ARE IN THE OFFICE AND WHENEVER YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE A HUMAN BEING IN, YOU KNOW -- WITHIN THE DISTANCE THAT'S ALLOWED, I THINK WE WILL GO TO THE NEW WORK SPACES THAT WILL BECOME SOME OF REWORK LIKE ON STEROIDS.

WELL, IF THAT HAPPENS I WILL MEET UP WITH YOU IN MY VIDEO GAME OFFICE OF THE FUTURE.

I WILL BE DELIGHTED TO HAVE MY AVATAR AS WELL.

THAT'S GOOD.

I'M MADDIE ORTON, I'VE BEEN SPEAKING WITH ANAT LECHNER, PROFESSOR OF MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONS AT NYU STERN.

THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

The WNET Group | Media Made Possible By All of You

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019

BBB Logo Charity Navigator Logo