Anita Lettink is an international keynote speaker, advisor, and author. After a global career in HR and payroll consulting and outsourcing, she started her own business to help CHROs and their teams understand how work is changing and what they can do to prepare their employees and companies to thrive.
In this Q&A style blog, we’ve invited Lettink to discuss workplace developments in an era of New Work. Along the way, she shares her expertise on future of work topics and provides advice for companies looking forward.
COLLATO New work
is a broad topic, but what do you see as the main components of the future of work?
It’s a good question because it's a vague and abstract concept. I really like to talk with people about the long-term view but then translate it into practical things. Understanding this, when I look at this upcoming decade, I see three major future of work topics: demographics
(or lack thereof), and automation
Considering these topics, what do you think are some of the biggest hurdles for workers and employers in this upcoming era of work?
In terms of demographics, this decade would be where Baby Boomers retire and younger generations
join the workforce. However, the influx of younger people will be smaller than the outflow of pensioners, meaning that the available workforce shrinks, leading to labor shortages. But that’s why remote work is so interesting - if you can hire people outside of their location, suddenly, the world becomes your talent pool as opposed to just your geographic area.
Regarding skills, we’re in a massive digital transformation that requires varying skills to fulfill new roles. Most companies haven’t been very forward-looking to help employees prepare for the growing expectations in upcoming years. Instead of supporting education and training for current employees, companies will often look to fill new roles in the outside talent pool, which is very tight. So, in the end, you have a mountain of open vacancies and not enough people to fill the job.
Automation is also an interesting topic because for a long time we’ve been told that robots are out to take our jobs. But since there’s a labor shortage, the remaining employees are overworked and burnt out because the same jobs need to be done, but there are fewer people to actually do them. Automation works very well with manual and repetitive activities. Imagine if the robots could free up an extra 10-20% of mundane tasks, that would free up time for people to do valuable work. So automation isn’t a threat, but an opportunity.
Circling back to the topic of flexible working, do you think that hybrid
and remote work is the future of work, or are they already the standard for applicable workplaces?
Hybrid work is not a topic for the future of work because it existed before the pandemic. We had all the tools, technologies, and procedures, but many companies didn’t apply them.
But there shouldn’t be a debate on whether remote work is good or bad because flexible working offers benefits and risks for both the employer and the employee. What really needs to happen is a discussion of the activities that make up work. For example, companies shouldn’t force people back into the office 9-5, where people sit in online meetings or read emails. That isn’t productive. Rather, they should go through the activities that need to be done at the office and make full use of the time people are there, like adding a lunch or social event.
I think the pandemic has shown that employees are absolutely responsible, and companies thrive from this model as well. So it’s not an either-or debate because it’s an open conversation. You can have the best of both worlds. Employees get the work done and make the employer happy.
Do you think hybrid and remote work affect diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Most companies are at a point where they put programs in place to foster inclusion. If these programs are successful is a different story. People realize it’s important to have a diverse workforce and an inclusive employer, but it’s two different things.
Can you expand on that a bit more? How can you differentiate between diversity and inclusivity?
Diversity is a numbers game. It means you have a workforce that’s spread across certain criteria. It can be cultural, age, abled-bodied, etc. Most companies have a KPI on diversity, it’s just a number. On the other hand, inclusivity embodies everything you do to create a sense of belonging - it’s how you run meetings
, talk to people, and have internal conversations. It’s a step beyond being diverse.
Is it possible to be inclusive in a totally remote team, or when there are fewer opportunities to work in person on a daily basis?
Yes, I believe it’s possible to be inclusive in a remote team because behavior is the driver behind inclusivity. In companies, it’s especially important that leadership leads by example
. If leaders show inclusive behavior, then hopefully it trickles down to create an environment where inclusivity is the norm.
You wrote a lot about the future of work in 2025
back in 2019, which is coming up very soon. Would you say the workplace is progressing in the same ways you predicted, or is it going in a different direction?
Many things that were predicted for 2025 were realized in 2021. One topic that stood out to us was flexibility
. Flexible location and working times meant people could structure work around family time or personal preferences.
This plays into another topic we identified which is personalization. People can choose their work and compensation based on the current phase of life. For instance, if you have kids, you might find it beneficial to have family-covered health insurance, or if you’re older, you may need more personal time to take care of your parents or other dependents. So a one-size-fits-all approach to salary and benefits doesn’t answer all the needs of employees in different phases of their lives. Having the ability to change compensation items based on the individual is something that stood out to us.
How would you see work evolving after 2025 based on what’s happening now?
One of the things I’m looking into is the creator economy and how work is organized. I predict that there will be continued movement toward entrepreneurship and small businesses
. People will have two or three income streams and structure their working hours accordingly. That, of course, will affect how people organize their work as well. Will they still be inclined to work forty hours? Or will they work three full days to cover basic expenses and then focus on purpose-driven activities thereafter?
What is one piece of advice for companies who are trying to prepare for the future of work? What should they be doing right now?
Companies are losing a lot of talented employees simply because they don’t explain the road ahead, and employees don’t understand what’s in it for them and how they can grow. Instead of building people up, there is a revolving door problem - where you bring in new talent, they stay for three years, and then they move on to something else. It’s a great loss of talent that is partly avoidable. So my one piece of advice would be for organizations to explain their plans and trajectory to the people that work for them
Would you say that loss of talent could be avoided by using OKRs
to give purpose to daily work?
In a way, yes. Clarifying how employees contribute to the company is the first step to retaining talent
. But if you also explain where you’re headed in the next two or three years, employees can prepare for the future ahead. If they know what to expect and what talent will be required, they can get the education needed to succeed in upcoming roles. So OKRs can be helpful, but having a larger view would help employees understand the company’s trajectory, if they want to be a part of it, and how they would actually contribute to that future.
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