Two recent graduates share their thoughts on the future of work, from diversity and inclusion to remote working policies.
As part of a Women in Technology and Science (WITS) Leadership Series panel discussion that took place earlier this year, two recent graduates – Alana Devitt and Maxime Deckers – explored all things future of work.
Devitt is a social media executive at Accenture who recently graduated in the area of marketing, and Deckers is an astrophysics graduate currently undertaking a PhD in supernovae explosions.
We caught up with them after the event to learn more about their thoughts on hybrid working, diversity and inclusion and more.
‘I am optimistic about a more people-friendly future of work’
– MAXIME DECKERS
Do you feel hopeful about the future of work?
Devitt: I am hopeful about the future of work. At the beginning of Covid, I was very worried that I would not get to have my big start into the career that I wanted, and although it was certainly different, working from home has taught me balance at an early stage of my career.
Now I believe the future of work looks hopeful due to how much we have been forced to be productive where it counts, but also how to relax and de-stress when necessary. It’s exciting; the world is changing pretty quickly, but I think we have the chance to fully blend our work with our wellbeing and really feel what it’s like to love your work while achieving balance.
Deckers: I’m both excited and a little apprehensive. The pandemic has made people more aware of the importance of family and community. I hope this will encourage employers to become more flexible in their remote working policies even in the years to come.
I also feel that there has been an increase in empathy and compassion. Everyone is at home, either with a kid tugging at their arm or with a dog that has separation anxiety or a pair of noisy housemates. We have all been given a glimpse into people’s lives, and we have had to be considerate and accepting because we are all going through this together, each in our own way.
On the other hand, there is potential for people to feel significantly more isolated when most of the workforce moves to a digital setting. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about a more people-friendly future of work.
What are you most excited about?
Devitt: I expect to see a more fluid and flexible work life, which blends better into our lives and overall gives a greater work satisfaction. I expect to see work practices becoming more efficient while the appreciation for human interaction increases.
Deckers: I’m looking forward to a more diverse workforce. It appears that employers are starting to appreciate a wider skillset. In particular, it appears the focus is shifting towards soft skills. The cut-throat attitude that enabled leaders to thrive in the past is far less relevant when even the most important CEOs are sat in their kitchens apologising for the noise of their neighbour’s DIY project.
I also hope that instead of a nine-to-five system, working hours will become more output-dependent. Within academia, this is already largely the case; people will determine their own working hours to fit their working style, and as long as they produce results, nobody is too bothered.
Personally, I work better when my tasks and deadlines are clear as glass, but how I get there is self-determined. In order to work effectively, we probably need increased education in realistic goal setting. Working more efficiently could allow us to turn the four-day working week from a myth to a reality.
What will be some of the biggest challenges, do you think?
Devitt: I think our biggest challenge will probably be ensuring we don’t slip back to the way things were. Ensuring we continue to appreciate the little things that make us human and how important it is to take pauses during our day.
Deckers: In answering this, I am assuming that even post-Covid our work environments will predominantly remain digital. We need to make sure people do not feel isolated. Mental health has been a silent pandemic, long before the Covid pandemic hit, but people have been hit especially hard in the past year.
For some people, the pandemic was a great opportunity to reconnect with their local communities. For others, however, the lack of daily face-to-face interactions has made life incredibly difficult. I think that this is why hybrid working will be crucial in the future of work and employers need to be adaptable to ensure they are providing the support each individual employees requires.
Are workplaces currently doing all they can for diversity and inclusion, do you think? What can they do better?
Devitt: I think the work and focus being done by workplaces on diversity and inclusion is fantastic, however there is always room for improvement. I think catering better to different minorities and supporting them during the stages of life where they may need extra support is vital.
For example, women in leadership roles in the tech sector engaging with sixth-year students allows girls to begin to see role models that look like them in their interested career paths. This encourages them to pursue a path they may have subconsciously thought was not possible.
Deckers: A very complicated question to try to answer! Of course, it varies wildly from place to place. However, one of the key things I took away from a recent panel discussion on this exact topic is that we have to start teaching kids early about the wide spectrum of careers that exist.
I was always good at science and maths, but I had no idea about careers besides medicine or academia until I finished university. Workplaces can help to drive more diversity into STEM by having open days, letting early-career professionals speak at schools and creating more internship opportunities.
WITS is moving towards these methods to increase diversity, as we are currently working on a set of role-model videos that show young, inspirational women from a wide range of careers.
What’s one thing you think employers of the future will need to do to attract and retain staff?
Devitt: I think employers will need to keep in mind the severe impact and strain Covid has had on people’s mental health and lives. I think it’s going to be a big adjustment when life returns to normal and the effect of the pandemic may only be realised then.
Employers will need to be as flexible and understanding as they possibly can for their staff returning to work in order to retain them and continue attracting talent. No one wants to go back to major long commutes and burnouts.
Deckers: I think that creating a welcoming company culture is going to be essential. Moreover, companies will need to carefully consider the terms of their remote working policies, as there will be a lot of competition on that front.
At the same time, I think companies that completely eradicate office spaces will suffer as there is a large proportion of people who benefit from working around other people. In essence, companies need to strike the right balance and be flexible in order to both attract and retain their staff.
On a different point, I believe that companies should consider offering ‘family leave’ instead of maternity and paternity leave. I think empowering the family to make the decision about how they want to split their leave will help to balance childcare efforts as well as level the playing field. Finland, renowned as a gender equality pioneer, is already doing this.