Future of Work: Trends in Remote Work, Automation, & Generational Change
The perfect time to build a future-focused company is yesterday. The industry-leaders of tomorrow will be businesses with modern, flexible structures that can update easily and adapt with the times. These companies have thriving, engaged teams who truly care about the business they’re in.
So what does that mean for CFOs and businesses right now? How can you build a company that works for customers and shareholders, but also the team that builds it?
We explored this question at our CFO Connect event, live in Barcelona on February 26, 2020. The goal was to identify ways that founders and finance leaders can make their workplaces more dynamic and modern, and help employees achieve their best.
And how they could keep employees around for longer.
Meet our experts
David Hooker is Director of Brand Marketing & Communications at TravelPerk. The company’s mission is to let employees own travel bookings and create their own itineraries, while keeping businesses in complete control.
How can European companies think globally about skills and attract the best talent?
European tech companies are quickly gaining steam. But compared with Silicon Valley, Europe still feels like the little brother.
In Stephen’s view, this comes largely from geography. “Europe has a lot of difficulties simply because we have so many countries. We need to be able to capture talent broadly across these, but still know how to deal with it locally (in terms of regulations).” While legally employees can move freely around the continent, companies still struggle with this.
“We also have a bit of a branding issue with European tech. A lot of Americans, for example, think you can’t come here if you don’t speak French or Spanish. So the more that local tech companies can build an inclusive culture, foreigners will feel more comfortable to move.”
To achieve this, Stephanie explains, it’s important that companies think globally (and inclusively) from the beginning. “Spendesk is in Paris, but the company is 30% non-French. From the beginning, the founders put a lot of energy and investment into working in English - even when the whole team was French. Internal documents, a lot of meetings, and obviously the product were all developed in English alongside French from day one.”
“This really pays off today. Spendesk can look for the best people without any worry that they won’t be able to speak French or understand our processes.”
For David, one key to successful recruitment is to highlight what makes working in the local tech scene special. “In San Francisco, the competition for talent is really fierce. There, you might interview someone who has three other interviews that day. There are other opportunities and bigger salaries out there.”
“But there are definite positives to hiring local too. There are people who really want to be part of the local tech scene. When I was at Prezi, we had engineers join us because they wanted to work specifically for a Hungarian company. We couldn’t pay as much as some of the bigger firms out there, but money wasn’t the only driver for these people.”
“And the freedom of movement in Europe is such a big advantage that it will always be a draw.”
How should tech companies approach remote work?
New technology and cultural shifts have made remote work a hot topic in modern companies. Many job seekers now expect to be able to work remotely as they wish.
“In this day and age, companies really can’t afford to be anti-remote,” says Stephanie. “At Spendesk, we only have a handful of team members who are 100% remote. But we’re absolutely remote-friendly. We have a very international team, and it’s important that those people can visit friends and family and work from their home countries for a while.”
So how do you set yourself up for success? “It’s all about adoption and making sure you’re well set up. In previous companies I’ve seen leadership create a really strong and ambitious remote policy, only to take it away because they felt that people were abusing it. But most of the time it came down to the fact that the company didn’t actually have the right tools and practices in place.”
Jobbatical is nearly 100% remote, which is new for Stephen. “It’s my first time doing remote work. And I don’t think it’s a perfect system. But the tools we have in place make it all pretty seamless. And I can compensate for what I’m missing in terms of work contact by establishing strong local connections. I visit co-working spaces, and try to plant roots around me.”
David, on the other hand, is not a huge fan of remote work. “There are completely remote companies that are highly successful. Hotjar is a good example. The thing is, they built it into their culture from day one. If your company is designed to be 100% remote, then I think you’ll be just fine.”
“At TravelPerk, we’re not big fans of remote. We do have four different offices, so we have great video conferencing tools and technically it’s not too hard to be separated. But we limit the number of work from home days for employees, because we believe that better work is done in teams when everyone is present.”
“And having managed people from a distance, I would always choose to do one-on-ones and meetings in person if possible. You just get better quality of work done, and can intersect easily. And you build so much better camaraderie in-person.”
This illustrates the fact that, even if remote work is a powerful trend at present, it still has to suit the company culture.
What is the future for automation?
Jobbatical, Spendesk, and TravelPerk all automate specific manual processes to some extent. So is there any push-back as people worry that their jobs may be replaced by technology?
“Not at all,” says Stephanie. “Most people just don’t want to do the boring stuff that comes with their job. There’s this rumor that’s been going around a really long time that employees in traditional office jobs hate it when you propose new ways of working. But our customers don’t want to chase people for receipts or do paperwork - they want to learn and have an impact. If they can save time by using a tool, they have more time for the work they want to be doing.”
“I agree,” adds David, “but at TravelPerk we’re really anti-A.I. One of the most important things we offer is travel support for people who are out on the road. If their hotel booking is wrong or a flight is cancelled, the best person to sort that is another human being. We’re replacing corporate travel agents for the most part, and we’re employing more humans than they would be because we want to offer a better level or service.”
“There are jobs that nobody wants to do - and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So we will automate those and there’s no issue. If we do fewer of those jobs and instead do more in the service industry - where you’re making a proper human connection - that’s something to embrace, not fear.”
A few extra topics
Thanks to questions from the audience, our speakers touched on a range of other topics. And as always, their thoughts were insightful.
Working styles for younger generations
Aside from remote work (explored above), what else matters to the new generations maturing and shaping modern companies?
“I’m 31,” says Stephen, “and a lot of my generation around me aren’t sure that they want to climb the career ladder directly. They work in rotations. So we have to plan for that and find ways to diversify their work, make it interesting, and keep it fresh. And we need to understand that not everyone would make a good manager - or even wants to be one. So management can’t be the only progression in the company.”
Strategies to retain employees
“Job-hopping isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” say Stephen. “Sometimes it’s best to let go of someone now so that they’ll come back more highly skilled later. Culturally it’s becoming far more acceptable, and it’s not seen as a negative on your CV so much. So to keep these people, the big keys are transparency, trust, ownership, and learning. Being human and warm helps you keep people around. I know that’s a fluffy concept, but it’s true.”
“It’s also about communicating with those people who are hopping,” adds Stephanie. “Maybe they need a new role, maybe they want to work remotely. Retention is about treating employees as people and understanding what they need. And smaller companies don’t always have the right feedback loops to get this information.
“It may not feel like the startup-y thing, but having formal feedback and reviews helps you capture how people feel in real time. The sooner you get this information, the better you can tailor the environment to your team.”
Opportunities to learn
A recent Deloitte survey found that upskilling and chances to learn on the job is the most important factor for job seekers today. So how should companies approach this?
Jobbatical offers allowances to employees to learn new skills, Spendesk has a robust knowledge base and frequent in-house trainings, and TravelPerk has its own learning program and even a VP of Learning.
But David doesn’t see this as a new trend. “We’ve always had this big desire to learn. That’s why we had things like apprenticeships in the past. I actually took this job, relocated, and took a paycut so that I could learn. And I don’t think that’s anything new. But perhaps people are less honest about why they’re doing it, which is often to make themselves more marketable (and to earn more money) in the future. And that’s totally fine.”
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