Sustainability: Prioritizing environmental sustainability is a must for modern enterprises. Wherever you look, organizations (and the investors therein) are increasingly giving sustainability a seat at the table alongside the traditional business functions. Beyond the obvious benefit of improving the health and future of our planet, companies that make sustainability a focus area have been shown to actually have higher profitability as well.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Bob Burnett, Director of Brother International Corporation’s B2B solutions deployment and planning program, leverages his decades of business technology experience to lead Brother’s teams of field engineers and business analysts, forging national partnerships with some of the largest enterprises to overhaul their IT backbones for them to thrive in the post-pandemic world. As a result, he has a wealth of knowledge as to best practices on everything from the latest knowledge- and document-management tools to how IT can play an essential role in ensuring workers’ health and safety when they do physically co-locate.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I started my career in the Office Equipment Industry with an Office Supply/ Equipment dealer while I was still attending high school. At the time, I was part of a career / work experience program associated with school and their electronics & science education classes. At the dealer my primary responsibilities were within the office equipment area, but I also gained experience in the office furniture and stationary business. After working for a dealer for several years (while continuing my education), I had the opportunity to join a large electronics manufacture. I was in their office equipment division where I managed their engineering teams. Twenty-one years ago, I joined Brother, where I have been in the Business Machine Group in various roles and I am currently the director of B2B Solutions Deployment, Product Planning & Marketing. So fast forward forty years to today, I have seen a lot of changes in the industry, but the core constant remains the same, and that people and the level of support you provide your customer is what makes the difference.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
Cybersecurity is at the front of the list, as it has gone from a niche specialty for IT personnel to something every single worker and workplace must be cognizant of. We are continually seeing hacks and other cyber attacks disrupting not just businesses, but in some cases, our very way of life (e.g. the Colonial Pipeline attack and subsequent gasoline shortages).
This is where digital transformation comes into play, as it can be a perfect opportunity to evaluate current security technology and practices company wide. Taking the time for a top-to-bottom look at security for the organization can mean the difference between spotting a vulnerability and addressing it or being the latest victim of another crippling cyberattack.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer.” But these days, it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
Whether or not a person chooses to go to college should depend on the goal they’d like to accomplish. Clearly, we’ve seen examples of successful college graduates, as well as dropouts who’ve gone on to become industry leaders, but each person must first determine the goals they’d like to achieve, and then plot out the journey needed to get there. Along the way, goals and priorities may shift, but the most important thing is to always be honest and true to your core guiding principles.
How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?
While remote work freed employees of certain constraints, it also led many to grapple with burnout as the separation between personal and business lives blurred. Working remotely also has the challenges of reduced collaboration, and less of the social aspects of working in an office. Whatever pursuits job seekers choose, they must have candid discussions with potential employers upfront about work processes and expectations.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
Automation is just the application of technology to get more work done in a shorter amount of time. In particular, automation is about transferring lower-level work tasks to machines. I see this in my work with enterprise customers who rely on document-management automation technology to ensure the precision of data inputted to databases. This frees up human personnel to focus on higher-value activities. So, if I were to recommend how employees could future-proof their skillset, it would be to focus on higher-level, creative tasks not suited for automation.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Recently, Brother International commissioned a study to uncover how work has changed. The “Back To Work In A Post Pandemic World” study provided a snapshot of the evolution of work and the future of the office, given that it is not necessarily just a physical space anymore.
Overall, many companies are looking to technology to help their workforce work from virtually anywhere. Among the key findings: the majority (65 percent) of respondents will either allow remote-work options after the pandemic or are considering it currently. Put simply, the new “hybrid” workforce, in which some workers are in the office, and some remain remote, is the future of work.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
There are many changes needed, but one I would highlight in particular is talent acquisition. Up until the pandemic, recruitment was largely bound by geography. Potential candidates had to be living in the same area or at least willing to move to be considered for job opportunities. Today, remote work encourages hiring from a much more diverse pool of candidates, geographically and otherwise, which gives smart firms looking to the future the ability to attract the best and most remarkable minds.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
Frankly, after the pandemic, feeling comfortable from a health perspective in working alongside your fellow colleagues is one of the main near-term challenges for employers and employees alike. Most employers are well-aware of the fundamental health lessons of the outbreak, such as the wisdom of hygienic practices like readily available sanitizer, as well as social distancing. Many businesses are physically reconfiguring their office layouts to adapt; employers are relying not only on their HR and business unit leaders to help with these changes, but IT also plays a key role in making employees feel comfortable through prudent distancing measures with respect to office devices. As with any cultural change, clear and consistent communications are needed so that these new protocols are well-understood and appreciated.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
Brother’s company motto is “At Your Side”, and it is our philosophy not only with respect to our business dealings, but our relationship to the greater community as well. I would simply say the world would be better served if every person and organization applied that mentality as well.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I am excited about our future products and technology that will help work become more flexible and efficient, and frankly, more enjoyable. For example, I help businesses with printing and scanning technology that results in better organizational document management, which not only makes those documents more cyber-secure, but also gives employees the flexibility to work from a variety of locations because a digital document can be amended from virtually anywhere. Helping organizations with their document processing allows them to work more efficiently, more securely, and with greater ability to do so remotely, which is a must in today’s work environment.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
Workforce development must be treated as a continuous strategy to build long-term resilience, so that workers have the tools and skills they need to thrive regardless of the circumstances. This way, workers (and employers) will be able to more quickly adapt to the ever-shifting job market.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The “hybrid” office: Pandemic or not, workforces will remain more decentralized than ever before, and IT leaders must be prepared to adjust accordingly. Planning for work from anywhere will be critical to success in a post pandemic world. IT leaders need to review their technology stack to determine what is required and just as important what is no longer required to support this new way of working.
- The “low-touch” office: Of course, the number one question for those who do return to colocated workspaces is of their health and safety. Office IT is often overlooked for how it can also play a critical role in helping ensure the health and safety of returning workers. Step one in allaying employee fears is by minimizing the need for contact with the numerous office devices, and this approach is called “the low-touch office.” For example, NFC-enabled printers allow employees to access these devices without ever touching the machine at all, leveraging the same technology that allows you to check out at a convenience store with a mere wave of your ID Badge like a credit card.
- Accelerated growth of subscription models: The “subscription economy” was already a well-known trend in software, but as we move into a post-COVID world, I believe customers in every industry will become interested in more flexible operating expense (OpEx) models versus the more common capital expense (CapEx) models. The pandemic taught businesses that expense flexibility is paramount in a decidedly uncertain world.
- Cybersecurity: Not only will current attack vectors continue, the coming proliferation of “Internet of Things” devices will open up drastically more channels of attack. A truly comprehensive look at security for every business in the future must assess all IoT devices, lest ransomware or some other form of cyber attack bring work to a standstill.
- Sustainability: Prioritizing environmental sustainability is a must for modern enterprises. Wherever you look, organizations (and the investors therein) are increasingly giving sustainability a seat at the table alongside the traditional business functions. Beyond the obvious benefit of improving the health and future of our planet, companies that make sustainability a focus area have been shown to actually have higher profitability as well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
“There’s a reason we have one mouth and two ears.” In other words, in business and in life, it is important to listen more than you speak — people will usually provide you with all the keys you need to help them solve a problem. All you need to do is take the time to listen first.
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 or she might just see this if we tag them.
Being a baseball fan, if I had the opportunity, I would love to meet with Mariano Rivera. I feel he would have great insight on how to take on stressful challenges and be successful, and at the same time, know how to learn from failures. Even if you weren’t a Yankees fan or even a baseball fan, he represents how you should act as a person by treating everyone with respect, kindness, and humility.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
I am a regular contributor to Business 2 Community, where I write articles on IT and technology topics. My contributor profile can be found here. I also frequently share my articles on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bob-burnett.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.