Ryan Chambers On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work
Remote work remaining an option for a large proportion of the office-using workforce, and how organizations adapt space to bring people together. Twitter announced they will forever allow employees to work remotely. The world is paying attention to these announcements, and company decision-makers will take note if and when they reverse course.
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 Ryan Chambers.
Ryan Chambers is Senior Director, Consulting Services at Transwestern. Based in Dallas, Chambers supports and advances the data analytics capabilities of the Consulting Services team, as well as collaborates on the firm’s national data intelligence initiatives.
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?
My early childhood was very middle class. I grew up in a nice suburb with a lot of comforts. That came to an abrupt halt going into high school when my father was laid off during the dot-com bubble burst. This coincided with the period of rapidly outsourcing jobs in the technology hardware manufacturing industries, where my father was employed. We moved to a very small town in the country, and for five years, our family went through some difficult times — financially and personally. I experienced a big adjustment with the change in environment and financial reality. That said, the experience taught me to appreciate the things I had in life. It also gave me perspective about those who come from a different socioeconomic background than what I had starting out in life. I was inspired to focus more on school and my education, and to find skillsets I was both interested in and good at.
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?
I believe projects and tasks will continue to take up about the same amount of time as they do now. No matter how many new innovations, software solutions, or efficiencies are implemented, there will be new tasks to fill that free time. In other words, the free time technology opens for us will continue to create opportunities to increase the volume of work or widen the spectrum of work for the average worker. This trend is strongly backed by the 75 years of labor productivity tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. I’m fairly certain the workforce will continue to age on average year by year, as is the case now. In terms of generations, the biggest difference will be in the changing of the guard. Other than a very small proportion of the Baby Boomer generation that will work deep into (what should be) their retirement years, the entire workforce will have shifted to the younger generations. Generation X and Millennials will take over nearly all leadership and decision-making roles throughout the economy, and this will likely usher in a new period of change. The workplace will continue to be optimized for an organization’s team and department distribution. The big changes, in my opinion, will be the continued conversion of workplaces to better accommodate hybrid in-person/remote work setups. This implies more shared desks, privacy rooms and meeting rooms with the necessary systems for employees to remotely reserve time by the hour or day.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
I believe organizations will always serve themselves well by focusing on first principles when deciding how their product or service may need to evolve. In addition, decision-makers will improve the odds of successfully future-proofing by paying very close attention to technological changes that pose the possibility of disrupting their business model. That said, the best talent will be attracted to the companies that are successfully pivoting and innovating to best compete in their respective markets. I believe a company will always have an advantage if they implement a plan to either have as much access as possible to the talent needed to operate and push forward the business, and/or have a system in place for upskilling current employees, thus reducing attrition and turnover rates with such a strategy, or better yet, a combination of both.
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?
I think the fundamentals of employees being happy with their work situation is mostly tied to pay, a balanced workload and feeling fulfilled with their work. Pay is strongly influenced by monetary policy, and perhaps moving forward, post-pandemic supply constraints. Those factors will play a large role in the ability for a company to minimize any gaps in an employee’s salary expectations. As an example, I believe a company’s ability to optimize not just pay in nominal terms, but income to median home price ratio will be important. I don’t know if we are heading toward an inflationary or deflationary environment over the next 10 years, but either way, income needs to be normalized by cost of living. Companies can help by looking for ways to minimize any expenses associated with someone being employed, such as commuting to work or securing childcare. On the employer side, things like total leased office space and attrition rate might be areas companies can find some margin to reconcile gaps in compensation. This will be contingent on employee demand and a company’s willingness or ability to find a way to pay prevailing high wages. Workload is a function of labor supply in the market. With less-than-ideal demographic trends, and suboptimal results in our public education system, there may be pressure mounting on the workforce. It is likely companies will have to be more vigilant than ever to ensure their employees are not burning themselves out with increasing workloads if there are not enough qualified people to hire.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working from Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
In my opinion, it will have an enormous influence. It proved that it’s possible to operate with large portions of employees performing their duties from home and not the office. There are very serious risks to maintaining company culture and productivity, but it appears that it is a viable option. Furthermore, we haven’t even entered a stage where all companies can easily identify ideal scenarios involving which employees can fully work remotely versus which need a hybrid arrangement or a permanent workstation at the office. I believe the future of work will likely be more decentralized after this global experiment, yet the office will still serve an important role. I think employees will always benefit from and enjoy a professional office environment to go to.
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?
I believe a general refocusing on fundamentals in life is much needed. Health, work-life balance, family and community, and inventive spirit are concepts that some might consider trite but are necessary for a healthy and productive workforce. I also see further technological disruptions that will continue to benefit the technologists and tech-savvy. This could cause many to be left behind without some major changes to the industrial diversity of our economy and our education systems. Our society is faced with the task of better preparing our youth with the skills necessary to compete in a workforce that increasingly needs to address technological growth and change, and it can only do that with a technologically capable workforce. I also think it is necessary for the workforce to be provided with better tools to accomplish more economic activity with less friction. The growth of services like Fiverr, Uber, TaskRabbit, Etsy, etc., are showing a way forward for the portion of the workforce that is not interested in traditional employment, the harder sciences necessary to help drive technological innovation, or jobs that require college degrees.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I’m very optimistic about much of the workforce having more choices and the ability to work from wherever they want. This opens opportunities for people to travel the country, or even the world, without the need to be geographically tied down to where their company’s office is located. This will result in a happier workforce. Of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that the work they were hired to do is getting done at the same rate and quality as if they were at the office.
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?
For those companies that would benefit from a hub-and-spoke workplace strategy, employees would have the best of both worlds in that they have an office to go to with a very short commute time to get there. This might be a great situation for much of the workforce as it would reduce their time in traffic, while providing a workspace for employees to utilize as they and their team see necessary. Amenities and perks such as quality beverages and snacks will continue to have some impact, but the choices available to workers to conduct their daily duties will have the most significant impact on the mental well-being of the 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?
For me, the most important take away is that deep down, much of the workforce was unhappy with their work situation before the pandemic. For some leaders, it became apparent they were employing unhappy workers at a higher-than-average rate. If that is the case, it would be prudent to evaluate and determine what the root causes might be, and if there is anything they can do to affect positive change. I suspect improvements can be achieved if they have the right attitude and openness to make changes. Company culture is immensely important to some employers, and for most, its evolution is an ongoing initiative that requires conscientious effort and continual refocusing. How a company evolves is directly related to their success in bringing out the best in their employees, which in turn will bring out the best in their product, resulting in economic success.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends to Track in the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Remote work remaining an option for a large proportion of the office-using workforce, and how organizations adapt space to bring people together. Twitter announced they will forever allow employees to work remotely. The world is paying attention to these announcements, and company decision-makers will take note if and when they reverse course.
- The growth of VR technology in the workplace. I am waiting to see how soon the likes of Teams, Slack and Zoom will offer VR compatibility, further enabling a large remote worker base.
- For the workforce that does not utilize computers, how much mechanization will come to fruition is something I follow. While not trending as rapidly as tech-related innovations, I believe it is imperative our economy sees real progress in mechanical innovation. I will be looking to see if robotics fills the innovation gap in non-tech, specifically non-software driven economic activities such as construction.
- Will employment centers decentralize away from central business districts (downtowns)? Much of the office-using employment growth over the last decade went to city centers. I am paying attention to whether metropolises will develop at a higher rate toward several bustling employment clusters/nodes or if the recent trend of businesses locating in large city downtowns continues to be just as strong as before the pandemic.
- The great resignation showed that much of the workforce was unhappy with their jobs or line of work. I will be keeping an eye on work sentiment and happiness indicators to see if much of the workforce made permanent improvements to their career situation or if everyone reverted to being just as unhappy with their job.
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?
It is hard to just choose one, but a quote that has always inspired me in my work and career is:
“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” — Archimedes
This quote has a lot of metaphorical magnitude associated with it, but at the same time, it is a simple and practical reminder of what is true by the laws of physics. The quote always brings me back to the right state of mind when I’m feeling frustrated with any problem that gives me a hard time.
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.
-Elon Musk. I have always been a car enthusiast. Also, I would just like to have a laugh with him.
-Andreessen Horowitz. To hear his views on what is possible or at stake regarding web3 solutions.
-Charles Hoskinson. To chat about relationships between cryptography and economics.
-Patrick Collison. To discuss his views on the role payment platforms will have in the future economy. Learn more of what his thoughts are on centralized vs. decentralized payment networks.
-Cathy Wood. To get a deeper understanding of how she identifies growth industries.
-Tom Brady. To learn more about his golf game.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.