Career flexibility. Individuals who are reconsidering their initial career path will turn to contingent work for a second chance at finding something better suited for their skillset and needs.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Kevin Akeroyd, CEO of Magnit. Kevin Akeroyd is the CEO of Magnit, the pioneer and leading Integrated Workforce Management platform. Prior to that, he was the CEO of Cision as well as the head of Oracle’s SaaS unit.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us about your background? Why you do the work you do?
I was born and raised in a small town in the Midwest, before heading out to Seattle to study business. After graduating, I went into marketing and sales — but my real interest was in management and optimization, and my primary motivation was to identify the ways “traditional knowledge” in business was failing us in the modern era.
I eventually moved into more senior management and executive roles, and often at these massive institutions like Salesforce, Oracle, and Acxiom. In my time at those places, I got a real sense of what worked and what didn’t and why that was so. All of that learning and experience led me to my role at Magnit, where my job is to run the company — yes — but also to bring what I learned at these huge enterprises to organizations across industries and of all sizes. It’s helped me develop a clear vision of work’s evolution and how businesses can adjust to not just survive difficult climates but thrive despite them.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
The labor market — and the world of work — has changed so rapidly over the past few years, and I believe it will continue to change at an increasingly rapid clip. However, that transformation will likely be rooted in the continuation of current trends. So, I suppose my answer to both questions is built on the same foundation: a rising preference for flexible, short-term engagements over full-time positions.
This is happening for a few reasons, and it’s happening on both sides of the equation. The first is employee preference. In today’s market, workers are more attached to their self-defined titles than the employers they work for. Workers, especially those who grew accustomed to a level of job insecurity and freedom during the height of the pandemic, are more willing to accept risk to get the chance to do work that speaks to them, challenges them, and helps them grow. For many, seeking a steady stream of project-based contracts offers higher wages for more exciting and fulfilling work — with the freedom to travel, take time off between assignments, work with and learn from a broad range of colleagues, build more robust networks, and live where they want.
On the employer side, strategically deployed contingent workers are helping businesses control labor spend more effectively while improving the quality of their teams. The agility and flexibility that comes with engaging workers only when they’re needed helps businesses adapt to changing market pressures and scale more effectively alongside demand. Of course, organizational knowledge is crucial to some roles and projects, but it can be a detriment to progress in others. In sectors where contingent work is already quite prevalent — like software development, for example — a fresh set of eyes can make the difference between stagnation and innovation.
With all this in mind, and an estimated 50% of the American workforce already engaged in contingent relationships with employers, I expect the shift toward more flexible work to accelerate greatly in the next 10 years. Honestly, I think that by 2033, full-time work as we know it will be a thing of the past in many industries.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Businesses need to invest in contingent workforce management now.
Today’s employers have platforms and partnerships to support almost every business objective, but few are investing in an integrated approach to managing their workforce, which will be detrimental as the contingent workforce expands. Without a way to gain a comprehensive view of both full-time and contingent employees, there’s no way for leaders to understand their labor spend, allocation, or how their pay rates stack up against the market — nor is there a way to offer contingent workers benefits that are on-par with full-time employees’. Put simply, everyone loses.
Employers that take the time to define what flexible work means to their organization and understand how contingent employees fit into the larger context of the organization will be better positioned for long-term success. To do this, they need comprehensive, unbiased, and timely data that can deliver actionable insights into operations.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
As the shift to contingent work continues, employers will need to develop the “worker experience.” For decades, HR departments have been focused on the “employee experience” and have created an inherent bias to full-time employees. However, the typical happy hour and free office lunch benefits don’t work when it comes to contingent workers, especially as many of them are remote. To attract the best workers, there also needs to be an appeal to their needs.
There needs to be a change in mindset, half or even more of your workforce will be contingent in the next few years, so it’s time to start preparing. Devising benefits plans, developing onboarding specifically for contingent workers, offering on-demand pay, and providing career development opportunities will make contingent workers feel as much a part of the corporate family as their full-time counterparts. Partnering with an organization that can act as an employer of record and pairing those services with a complementary integrated workforce management platform, can accelerate this process by optimizing the contingent worker experience and helping organizations manage the complexity of sourcing, compliance, and pay rates.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
We touched on it above — and I hate to sound like a broken record — but that “global experiment,” as you called it, has basically defined the future of work, in my opinion. The move toward contingent arrangements and more flexible career paths was already beginning before the pandemic, that’s true. But as more workers got a taste of what abandoning the traditional 9-to-5 could offer them? For many, there was no going back.
When employers tried to get them back… well, we all saw how that went. The pandemic wasn’t the beginning of the workforce transition, but it accelerated the timeline significantly, and I think it’s for the better.
Put simply, today’s contingent workers are demanding better experiences from application to offer and through the employee lifecycle. To deliver, organizations are adopting new strategies like direct sourcing. Through this model, they can leverage the power of their brand to strategically engage known contingent workers without the help of a staffing agency, take increased ownership of candidate and worker experiences, and expand their private talent pools into previously untapped locations.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
The pandemic kicked off some really important conversations about the ways people relate to their careers and whether the traditional model is working for them. I think those discussions will continue to play a prominent role as work’s evolution continues. However, another really important conversation found its footing during that time: the issue of racial biases and inequities in American workplaces. The sort of reckoning with racism that this country has been experiencing over the past few years has been fueled as much by the racial lines along which the pandemic’s effects played out as by the outpouring of frustration about centuries of systemic injustices.
The two things are not always connected directly, but I don’t think the rising awareness of the issue of racism in America — among white people, at least — can be separated from the pandemic. This massive divide in death tolls and the barriers communities faced when trying to get healthcare and other necessities was on full display, splashed across screens across the country. It was an awful and immediate illustration of what centuries of systemic racism does and how theoretical policies and microaggressions lead to very real and tangible suffering.
Diving into that truth — rather than ignoring it, as some have advocated — will be necessary as we move into work’s next era. In order to do so, those in positions of power will need to confront their biases and work through their own relationships with race. Just throwing money at “inclusion” won’t get it done. Without that reflection and acknowledgement of the history that drives injustice, there’s no way to devise policies and programs that support employees and candidates of color in predominantly white workplaces. It will take work, and a concerted effort to continue engaging with the topic even after the initial policies are put into place, but the prospect of building a future that’s truly equitable will be well worth it.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Honestly? It’s workers. At the end of the day, people like me — CEOs, COOs, presidents, what have you — we can’t do anything without dedicated, talented, and excited workers. And today’s workforce is all of those things, and they’re going to define what’s next.
Today’s workers are following their passions are and are willing to pursue them doggedly and in ways that work for them. Yes, they’ll leave when things aren’t working — but that’s an employer’s problem, as hard as it may be for those of us who own businesses to hear. People want to work, and they want to contribute to places and projects that speak to their values. There isn’t a lack of loyalty. Worker loyalty in the modern era given to the companies they feel deserve it, to the ones who treat employees with respect and recognize their value.
Sure, it’s a different approach than our parents had, but that’s because the world of work is different. It’s more focused on skills and contributions that ever before, and it’s more flexible than ever before. Employees are driving that change, and businesses must either get in line or get off the ride. I do think, now, that employers are getting that message, and they’re beginning to see the benefits of listening when their staff tells them what they need to succeed — whether that’s better pay, better tools, or more support. As more companies adopt this approach, they too will see the benefits of investing in things that keep employees engaged, like innovation, boosted productivity, and more effective teams.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Well, the fact that they’re paying attention to it at all is, unfortunately, innovative for many companies. Many people attribute that shift to the pandemic, and I do think it contributed. However, the shift of demographics in the workforce also played a significant role. Gen Z and Millennial workers are very different than their parents were. They are motivated and hardworking — I’ve never bought the “lazy” stereotype — but most don’t live to work. They work to live. They want to be seen as whole people by their employers and part of that is acknowledging their holistic needs and accommodating them.
Regardless of the reasons for the newfound attention being paid to employee wellness, employers really are stepping up. Many employers are starting to offer days off for mental health needs; access to employee assistance programs with mental health, financial wellness, and substance use counselors; and more robust health insurance plans that provide more access to mental healthcare among other things. Crucially, they’re also starting to offer these perks to both contingent and full-time workers, which is a refreshing (and necessary) change.
Overall, I’m optimistic about where we’re going — both in terms of mental and emotional health and in general quality-of-life boosts for workers — so long as we stay committed to continuous improvement. Throughout my career, I’ve seen plenty of “top workplace issues” come and go, and most go before they’re solved. With something as important as mental health, I hope that workers and leaders don’t let the conversation die out anytime soon.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
It’s all about retention and redeployment. Companies across sectors were doing this mad-dash to hire new people, grow, and expand — which led many to make huge cuts. Businesses must adjust their culture to reprioritize redeployment and retention over expansion. Known workers bring institutional knowledge and reduce risk.
This may sound counterintuitive to my “contingent work is the future” mantra but retaining contingent workers yields many of the same benefits as retaining full-time employees does. Once businesses have an integrated way to manage contingent workers across vendors and access critical data points — which will be a culture shift in and of itself — retention strategies like redeployment can be powerful tools for cutting costs, risk, and onboarding times.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- The growth of the contingent labor market. With nearly 50% of workers already in contingent arrangements, tracking how this market expands and changes will be crucial to success as work evolves.
- The shifting HR mindset. We can expect to see HR departments rethinking their existing practices, benefits offerings, and DE&I initiatives to meet the needs of the flexible worker.
- Skills-based hiring. Employers will be more interested in learning about applicant competencies than their academic background. This is not to say that employers won’t weigh both when there’s a large talent pool, but if demand for talent outweighs the supply, skills will play a larger role.
- Career flexibility. Individuals who are reconsidering their initial career path will turn to contingent work for a second chance at finding something better suited for their skillset and needs.
- Expanding pay transparency laws. We will continue to see states adopting pay transparency laws. More organizations looking to hire contingent workers will turn to integrated workforce management platforms for guidance on pay rates and identifying and hiring the best possible talent.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I said it last time we spoke, and I’ll say it again: Michelle Obama, do you want to talk?
I so admired the way she used her platform to elevate women and underrepresented minorities both as First Lady and during her time working on economic development in Chicago. She’s shown an unwavering commitment to affecting positive change, and I would love the chance to talk with and learn from her experiences.
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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.