The Workforce Revolution: Authors Write the Wrongs of the Pre-pandemic Office
There are few jobs that haven’t had to shift at least in small ways during the last two years. Many authors seek to address the new ways and whys of the workforce in a slate of newly released books.
There are few jobs that haven’t had to shift at least in small ways during the last two years. (Outdoor dining, masked employees, hand sanitizers at every door, temperature taking at events, to name a few trifles.) But for many, the shifts have been seismic. Professions that once relied heavily on in-person encounters, like healthcare and education, now regularly meet virtually. Workers who can have abandoned the office, opting to dial in from their bedrooms or kitchen tables instead of commuting. And women left the workforce at the highest rate of any population segment at the pandemic’s onset, revealing just how fragile and dependent on reliable childcare their employment was. While men’s participation recovery has been total, to date, women’s still has not.
We’re all grappling with the fallout of two-plus years of uncertainty, isolation, and health anxiety. Dismal as it can seem—and some days when we’re monitoring municipal wastewater to do our risk assessments it can seem so dismal—the consequences of this historical blip don’t have to be purely negative. For example, for employers and employees, there’s never been a better opportunity to reprioritize occupational goals and desires. That’s the opinion expressed in a bevy of newly released books that seek to diagnose and treat our workplace malaise.
“During the pandemic, I found myself with two little kids, running an organization, and it nearly broke me,” says Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and the author of Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work. “I learned the hard way that having it all is really a euphemism for doing it all. And that we can't just color code our calendar and get a mentor or a sponsor, that we have to stop trying to fix the woman and fix the system.”
Saujani sees this new post-Covid normal, and especially the talent war that’s ensued, as a chance to redesign workplaces, primarily for working moms, but also for anyone who may not have been served by the traditional conference room and cubicle model. “I'm excited about that. And I really feel like there's a massive opportunity here in this moment, but it's not going to last for long,” she says.
Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Driven By Intention author and Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity at BlackRock, predicts increasing options, diversity, and flexibility as part of the push for workplace reform. “The future of work, as I see it post-pandemic, is going to look and feel a lot different than two and a half years ago,” she says. “There's going to be a lot more flexibility. There's going to be more discussions around inclusivity. And what does that look like in these organizations, where for the past two years, most of us have been working in a virtual environment or a hybrid of virtual and in-person?”
Almost six in ten workers who can state that they are continuing to work from home, which is a decrease from the 71% who were in 2020. Yet, it’s a huge upswing from a mere 23% of remote workers pre-pandemic. And most—64%—say that working from home allows them a better work-life balance.
“I think a lot of organizations nowadays are really wrestling with how do you give the workforce of the future the flexibility that they need in order to care, give, and do all those things in their personal lives, but also giving them the flexibility to realize their ambition internally,” Gadsen-Williams says. “These systems and places of employment, these were not designed and built for us at the beginning. I think they're now starting to become a lot more flexible and giving us the things that we need and want to be successful.”
“I laugh at this old conversation, about returning to this old normal of coming back to the office five days a week and, oh my god, it's like no one's doing that,” Reshma Saujani adds. “No innovative cutting-edge company is doing that anymore.”
While many white-collar employers may be able to easily enact a work-from-home policy or offer wellness days, the pandemic revealed how demanding conditions continue to be for a large swath of workers. Teachers, salesclerks, delivery drivers, sanitation workers, were not able to hunker down in their homes during the pandemic; they weren’t given the opportunity to do the impossible of juggling childcare and their careers. Under almost all conditions, they were expected to show up. Making any post-pandemic advances inclusive of employees in all industries, at all education and income levels, and races is a challenge, but one that the authors say we must confront.
It’s a challenge that VICE Chief People Officer Daisy Auger-Dominguez masterfully takes up in her new book, Inclusion Revolution. “I firmly believe that we can build radically inclusive and equity-minded workplaces, and that that looks like a place where leaders and team members are empathetically anti-racist, where creativity and innovation come from everywhere in the organization, where all aspects of our identities are represented equitably at all levels across the organization,” she says. “Where safe, fair, and dignified work is the norm; where wellness is built into our DNA.”
Auger-Dominguez’s book offers a roadmap—Reflect, Visualize, Act, and Persist—for companies and individuals to authentically embrace racial diversity and move away from the false promise of “colorblindness.”
Like her, startup investor and author Fran Hauser believes some of the revolution must come from within. The former media executive penned her second book Embrace the Work, Love Your Career as a response to the mired condition of many of her friends. “I was witnessing millions of women leaving the workforce, millions more just not feeling fulfilled in their careers,” Hauser says. “I was seeing so many of my friends and colleagues struggling, they were reaching out to me, one by one, just really struggling with their career, with their day-to-day work, feeling stuck and wondering if they should be moving on to their next chapter. I really wanted to do something to help, and realized that I was sitting on all of these techniques and scripts and strategies.”
Through a series of exercises, Hauser’s book guides employees at all career levels to examine, confront, and shape their professional path and milieu.
“One of the things that I recommend is taking a step back and being really thoughtful about what's working for you and what isn't. I go back to this idea of what's energizing you? What's draining you? Because really, the goal is to do more of the work that's energizing you and to do less of the work that's draining you. So being very thoughtful and intentional about that. And the other thing I would say is, if you're feeling stuck: Be open. Be curious.”
Doing the work of reflection and change on top of our already busy jobs can seem too much. But the moment is here and it’s ours to meet.
“Our biggest challenge is not whether we can redesign work and make it more purposeful, productive and fulfilling for all,” Auger-Dominguez cautions, “but rather do we have the will to not go back to our old ways of working and persist when biases, fear, and other obstacles get in our way.”
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