Rise in self-service technologies. We are currently researching how this will affect our industry, and we know that all this technology must be balanced with human interaction. However, like other trends, the integration of self-service technology into the workforce has largely been exacerbated by the pandemic.
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 Lynn Shotwell.
Lynn Shotwell is President and CEO of Worldwide ERC, the world’s leading association for professionals engaged in global talent mobility. She is a mission-focused, visionary leader with unique expertise in the intersection of international employment law, global talent mobility and corporate social responsibility. For over two decades, Lynn has helped top organizations create global workforces by developing education and networking programs for HR, immigration and mobility professionals, as well as advancing public policy by building coalitions with key stakeholders in the U.S. and abroad.
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 please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
When I think about how I got to where I am today — the head of an organization devoted to global mobility — there are two things that really stand out. First, my dad was in sales, so I had 11 houses in 5 states by the time I was 14. This showed me that home is where you are not necessarily where you’ve been. And you pick up great memories and friends along the way. Secondly, I was fortunate in college to study abroad in France. This opened my eyes to a whole other way of life. I lived in a big city for the first time, ate new food and met people whose life experiences were different than mine. This experience led to an internship in Brazil, a husband who had studied and worked in Japan, and a passion for immigration and mobility. I truly believe the world is a better place when we can meet and learn about each other which is why I’ve been active in a variety of international exchange programs, including hosting students in our home.
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?
Work, the workforce and the workplace have always evolved and will continue to do so. The difference for the next 10–15 years is that change is likely to happen at a faster pace for two reasons. First, the pandemic accelerated workplace changes, e.g., the quick rise in remote work and more rapid adoption of automation and digitation to respond to fewer people being onsite. Second, Millennials and Gen Z are replacing Baby Boomers as the workforce’s backbone. Coupled with global demographic shifts, the effect will likely be a continuation and expansion of trends that have already emerged in the past two years: intense competition for talent, more remote work, a greater focus on sustainability, diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) efforts, and work-life balance. Employees will be in the driver’s seat to a greater extent than in previous generations, and businesses will need to further adapt to their wants and needs. We have already seen a glimpse of this with the “Great Resignation” or as some call it the “Great Renegotiation.” Talent is in control and will continue to be based on current trends, and it will be up to employers to make themselves more desirable to attract and retain workers.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Employers should focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies to future-proof their organizations. Sustainability commitments will only become more widespread and stakeholder-tested as climate change remains center stage in the business world. So too will DE&I efforts, with companies being asked to do more to address biases within their industries.
Both employers and policymakers will need to examine the new legal issues surrounding remote work. Employers will have to be prepared for the growing number of lawsuits involving home offices playing out across several different jurisdictions and the growth of digital nomads. As always, employment laws and regulations lag the rapid changes affecting the global workforce. It will be up to employers to work with policymakers to shape policies that make sense in today’s world.
Technology will also be ever more important for the future of organizations. Digitization and self-service technologies are on the rise, but we should not lose sight of the balance this must have with the human touch. In the global mobility industry, this goes hand-in-hand with the enhanced duty of care that is being expected from our industry and that we anticipate will only increase as business strategies adjust to the “new normal” of the post-pandemic world.
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?
Besides the fact that employees will continue seeking employers that embrace flexible work, I predict that skills-based learning and development programs will also set companies apart in the race to recruit and retain talent, and helping companies find locate and relocate talent is what the workforce mobility does best.
Employees will increasingly seek out a career “portfolio” rather than just climbing the corporate ladder. This means that we will see more workers switching jobs or sectors more rapidly. To do so, there is a need to freshen and expand skillsets to keep up with changing job requirements, especially technology-wise. Employers will need to commit to the lifelong learning of their employees in order to meet market demands and equip their workforce with the skills, competencies and mindset needed to navigate the future of work. Credentialing will likely play a large role in filling this gap.
Talent leaders can start by cultivating a holistic learning culture through cementing learning and development as a core value in addition to fostering strong change management practices. Proper skill development planning and an investment in learning technology can then take learning to the next level.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
First, we must remember that more than half the workforce never went remote. For everyone else, the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to act quickly and strategically to address unexpected considerations in navigating workplace policies. While the short-term consequences to the labor market were abrupt and alarming, the long-term benefits are modernized workforce policies and a change in power — putting potential employees in what used to be the employer’s driver’s seat.
These shifts have also prompted new challenges, with current laws and regulations straining to navigate an entirely different environment. It took 100 years for the Industrial Revolution to play out and, in many ways, we are still operating under the same rules that were built for that time. This policy framework will have to be updated to reflect the world we live in today.
The truth is, I don’t expect this to ever go back to the way it was, and there will be multiple versions of the “new normal” depending upon your industry, geography and corporate culture. Remote work/return to office covers a panoply of options, and experimentation will continue for the foreseeable future, as what works for one team, department or company will not work for all. Labor shortages have shined a light on which companies are willing and able to holistically address fundamental issues that employees tend to prioritize when evaluating a workplace, including remote and/or hybrid work policies and DE&I and corporate sustainability efforts. My advice to employers is: If you want to win over talent, you must adapt to employees’ wants and needs while staying true to your culture. Companies that take it upon themselves to truly understand what their employees value — and build a culture that supports that — will excel over the next 10–15 years.
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?
People often discover what is most important to them in moments of crisis, and the pandemic showed Americans just that. Over the course of a year, companies were prompted to rethink their policies and operations to keep employees safe and healthy while ensuring successful business continuity. We also celebrated essential workers like never before. Now, employees want companies to apply the same motivation and resourcefulness to other aspects of the workplace that have long been ignored, and I couldn’t agree more.
The pandemic showed corporations that pivoting away from traditional workplace formulas was okay and, most importantly, an effective business model. In a time where recruiting and retaining talent can be challenging, I anticipate more employers will enact policies that have a positive social impact on the communities they serve.
For example, we will see an increase in ESG strategies. Despite early optimism about the remote work movement decreasing the collective carbon footprint, the early evidence is less clear. Situational factors like energy sources and residential building materials are variable, and individual employee behaviors can have a substantial impact. What is sure is that measuring environmental impact is decidedly more difficult with a distributed workforce. In turn, companies will have to allocate new resources to better understand their role in global sustainability issues.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Based on a recent Worldwide ERC survey of 900 chief human resource officers and senior human resource leaders, more than 90% of multinational firms have adopted a sustainability strategy, and 89% have committed resources and funding sufficient to achieve their environmental goals. While changes to employee relocation are not a high priority in terms of meeting sustainability goals — 64% of respondents are not considering relocation reductions as part of their strategy — I nevertheless foresee companies implementing smarter mobility strategies to support a future of work that works for everyone. That makes me optimistic.
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?
If it wasn’t clear before, the pandemic confirmed that the mental health and well-being of employees are of resounding importance. To this point, senior leaders have generally done a good job at recognizing the need for support services to mitigate the toll that the pandemic and working remotely can have on their workforce — especially those who share their workspace with remote-working partners and remote-learning children. And, workforce mobility professionals played an outsize role in ensuring the well-being of employees who were far from home. They have also taken the lead in supporting employees impacted by the war in Ukraine.
During our 2021 Global Workforce Symposium, workforce mobility professionals discussed how the nature of support shifted during COVID-19 and how it will continue to take on new dimensions as society further cements the future of work. One takeaway was that the pandemic accelerated needed change, including a more permanent shift to enhanced mental health support and other benefits. Other lessons learned include how organizations can help deliver education and assist with disruptions in childcare. Above all, employers need to take a personalized approach to the way they define flexibility for their employees. Companies that make these factors a top priority will attract and engage a talented workforce.
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?
As I mentioned earlier, companies need to acknowledge that, based on current trends, it will be up to employers to make themselves more desirable to attract and retain highly qualified workers in today’s market. Global workforce mobility professionals have always known that open and reliable access to qualified talent is the backbone of every industry, and I think that companies throughout different sectors are beginning to realize that recruiting top-level talent is more competitive than ever. Workers are coming to the table with an entirely new set of expectations, ranging from remote work capabilities to an increased focus on ESG efforts and work-life balance. These new developments are compounded by existing issues in the immigration system and accelerated labor shortages, forcing companies to adapt to a quickly changing landscape. This highly competitive talent marketplace, coupled with the rapidly evolving needs of employers across the globe and the uncertainty fueled by the ongoing pandemic, ensure that companies need to remain flexible to face these challenges head on.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
The first major trend would have to be the increasing significance of sustainability issues to the workforce at large. A business’s environmental impact is steadily becoming a key factor in talent recruitment and retention, with more than 90% of multinational firms adopting a sustainability strategy, and 89% of those same firms having committed resources and funding sufficient to achieve their environmental goals. Corporations will also lean on their supplier networks to reach their sustainability goals.
The second trend goes along with the first, and that is the growth in global awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) issues across industries. This ongoing conversation around DE&I is expanding from a discussion based solely on race and gender into a broader definition of inclusion that supports physical disability, generational and LGBTQ+ representation, and I expect this conversation to not only continue, but to grow even further as more companies become aware of their significance.
The third trend we are watching is a rise in self-service technologies. We are currently researching how this will affect our industry, and we know that all this technology must be balanced with human interaction. However, like other trends, the integration of self-service technology into the workforce has largely been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The fourth trend to track is the continuing concern over supply chain issues and inflation. While there was some initial hope that the housing shortages, shipping bottlenecks and skyrocketing prices would normalize by sometime in 2023, experts are now predicting that these issues will persist into 2024. Companies must be prepared to manage the expectations of both clients and employees moving forward.
The last trend I would expect to see play out in the future of work is the increased need for collaboration in the workplace. As remote work continues to grow in popularity, collaboration within companies becomes a much-needed avenue for human connection, and I am confident that organizations will take steps to connect their employees when adopting hybrid work environments.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
There are two quotes I keep in mind, one from my mother and one from a friend. From my mother: “Always do right, and you will never do wrong.” This guides how I seek to treat everyone fairly and with compassion. From my high school friend: “In 10 years, will you be happy with how you’ve spent your time?” This helps me stay focused on the big priorities — both work and personal.
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.
For many years I was a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. I always tried to make sure I had meetings on the days Bono was promoting one of his social justice causes to Congress in the hopes that I would catch a close-up glimpse. I’d still like to meet him.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Readers can most easily access our latest news and research through two Worldwide ERC® publications: Mobility, a quarterly magazine, and “Mobility Minute,” a weekly newsletter with the most up-to-date news on the global mobility industry. You can also follow us on Twitter at @WorldWideERC or follow me on LinkedIn for the latest in talent mobility.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.