Transcript: Tech at Work: Collaboration

Transcript: Tech at Work: Collaboration


MS. ABRIL: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Danielle Abril, tech-at-work writer for The Washington Post.

Today we’re going to discuss how technology and the rise of hybrid work has redefined the way workers communicate and collaborate. Later we’ll hear from Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford. But first, I’m joined by Julia Pollak. She’s the chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

Julia, welcome to Washington Post Live.

MS. POLLAK: Thank you so much, Danielle.

MS. ABRIL: Absolutely. Julia, I want to start. An economist at the job site Indeed said that the pre-pandemic baseline of going into the office five days a week is, quote, “dead.” Do you agree with that characterization?

MS. POLLAK: I do. What was interesting before the pandemic was that companies sorted themselves geographically, and they also did things in very similar ways. If you went into any tech company, they had an office in Silicon Valley, they had a call center in Arizona, and the hours were the same. The coffee machines were the same. There was enormous convergence between companies.

Now we’ve seen a huge divergence. They’re all doing things differently, and in recent months, though, we’ve seen sort of a new convergence, a new normal, and that’s hybrid work, flexible work. But companies that have tried to get workers to come back five days a week have very, very quickly had to backtrack. That is just not the way it’s going to work.

MS. ABRIL: So that’s a great segue into the next question. You know, we’ve seen companies like Amazon and Starbucks recently face backlash from employees after announcing stricter return-to-office policies. Can you tell us a little bit about the power dynamics at play here and what the risks are in those kind of policies?

MS. POLLAK: Sure. So it is a very tight labor market still, 3.4 percent unemployment, the lowest in over 50 years, and job seekers still have tremendous leverage in bargaining power. About one in four workers who leave their jobs right now are getting–their current employers are begging them to stay and giving them counter-offers. Workers who apply for jobs are hearing back very quickly, within about a week on average, from employers, and so it’s difficult for employers to sort of crack the whip and tell workers to come back.

The other thing is that people learn something from the experience of working from home. Many know that they’re equally productive, if not more productive, when they work from home. They save 70 minutes of time a day that they would have spent commuting or preparing for the office. They save transportation costs, and so they know that the experience works well for them and that they’re trying to make that argument to their employers.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And so on the more extreme side, also, we’ve seen high-profile CEOs from Goldman Sachs to Twitter to Disney really push that back-to-office policy, but that’s not like other parts in the country where people are already back five days a week. I wonder how you see this evolving–

MS. ABRIL: –especially now that we’re, you know, three years into the pandemic and how you see these policies playing out.

MS. POLLAK: Sure. So in our new surveys, our surveys of new hires, we find that the plurality of people taking new jobs today are taking hybrid jobs. Hybrid actually continues to grow. It’s actually eating into fully remote work. So there does seem to be a little bit of a pullback from fully remote work, with some employers finding it doesn’t work so well for them, especially in recruiting.

There’s an interesting paradox with remote work. It can often have the effect of making workers more productive, but less productive workers are often more attracted to remote work.

We just saw Meta say today–Zuckerberg say today that he finds that those employees who started in a fully remote environment have not done as well as those who started in person and then shifted to being remote.

MS. ABRIL: Oh, that’s interesting right there, and, you know, when we talk about hybrid work, you know, I wonder if there are any benefits to hybrid work or perhaps drawbacks. I mean, you talked a little bit about remote. What about hybrid?

MS. POLLAK: So the benefits to employers of going fully remote are that you can recruit across the entire country and recruit in lower-cost places, and so the recruiting and retention benefits are huge, and wage growth pressure is reduced.

Hybrid workers, on the other hand, need to remain in those high-cost markets close to the office, and they’re in sort of high-wage industries typically. So hybrid workers, we find actually are paid the most, and so there are huge benefits for collaboration, for company culture, and also for workers feeling that they have flexibility and they have autonomy, which is what they want. But the firm might have some challenges in dealing with the cost, right, of having office buildings that are largely idle most of the time and then of having workers who are mostly remote but are paid like in-person workers in the high-cost areas.

MS. ABRIL: That makes sense. We actually have a reader question–or excuse me–a question from our audience, and it relates exactly to what you’re talking about here. George Hampton of New York asks, “Do you think that companies that don’t allow remote work will be at a competitive disadvantage since their talent pool is smaller?”

MS. POLLAK: Absolutely, without a doubt, the recruitment benefits can be enormous when you switch a job from being fully in-person to fully remote. You know, we see this. Many of our customers have converted jobs from in-person jobs to remote jobs, and it has allowed them to recruit talent across the entire country at a lower cost. It’s often allowed them to recruit higher-quality talent. Especially in fields like tech, where there are so many remote opportunities and where there’s a scarcity of specialized skills, workers have a lot of bargaining power and a lot of options, and so it can be very tricky for employers to compete. If they can’t compete on pay, companies are trying to compete on flexibility, and being unable to offer either of those can leave you at a severe disadvantage in recruiting.

MS. ABRIL: So I want to switch to a survey you guys recently did. ZipRecruiter found that job seekers on average said they would take a 14 percent pay cut in order to work remotely. I found that interesting. I’m curious. What else did you learn from that survey?

MS. POLLAK: Sure. Well, that number even rises for women and for parents with young children. We find in our monthly job seeker surveys we conducted throughout 2022 and our quarterly job seeker surveys since then that job seekers overwhelmingly prefer remote jobs. Those coming to ZipRecruiter say, 20 percent of them, are only looking for remote job, 40 percent would prefer a remote job. But there are huge imbalances and mismatches between the groups that most value remote work and those that have the highest access to it, with women and minorities mostly having put–placing a higher value on remote work.

MS. ABRIL: And, you know, we’ve heard that, you know, research shows collaboration, socializing, work-life balance. Those are things that benefit from going into the office. But I’m curious. When we talk about hybrid or even remote, you know, do those employees have any struggles with that, or does that affect those items? Can they still get those benefits?

MS. POLLAK: Absolutely. And the answer to many of these questions is it depends. It really depends on the company, on management. Many companies are trying to do what mid-career, MBA programs do. They don’t have students on campus all the time. These are busy professionals doing their jobs, but they bring them together once in a while for really high-quality, in-person collaboration. And that’s what many companies are trying to do, to have people in the office, say, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and have speakers and all-hands meetings and everything sort of compressed into two days or to have employees come from around the country and gather in an office or at a resort and have one to two weeks of really high-quality debate and innovation and workshopping.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And there’s, you know, a big group of workers that really just don’t have the option to work remotely or even hybrid. I’m curious, when we talk about this, you know, who gets left behind when we move and shift these working environments, and how should we think about that moving forward?

MS. POLLAK: So there’s massive variation across industries. There are some industries where fewer than 1 percent of the jobs are remote, right? You can’t be in food manufacturing or passenger transportation or air travel or any of a number of industries remotely.

In some industries like health care, we are seeing telehealth increasingly being used as a sort of permanent option for care management. So there are new jobs emerging as a result of remote work all the time, and various professions are seeing their norms change. But most jobs in America will still need to be done in-person.

There’s also tremendous geographic variation with the share of days being–workdays being done remotely ranging from something like 5 percent in Mississippi to over 30 percent in some other cities. So the West places with very high property values, with high transportation costs, and bad traffic tend to have more remote work than other places with lower commercial property prices and housing costs.

So there will continue to be massive variation and the jury is out on what the effects will be here. It’s not entirely clear. There are concerns that remote workers could be at a disadvantage when it comes to promotions and job security and layoffs. So we don’t yet know. What we do know is that the job seekers and workers like remote work a lot. They save a lot of money, and they save a lot of time.

MS. ABRIL: Well, speaking of the possible disadvantages of remote work, you know, it kind of bleeds into where I wanted to go next, which is the research shows that women often, if given the opportunity, go into the office less than their male counterparts. Does this have any impact on their career?

MS. POLLAK: It could, and I think here the onus is on companies to make sure that their management practices are the best they can be and that they measure what matters and that they base promotion decisions on real, sort of objective productivity, not on the kinds of sort of shoulder rubbing and, you know, trips to bars after hours that happen in an office environment. It is really up to employers here to make sure that highly productive workers who become more productive when they work remotely are not penalized in promotions.

The risk is that having those kinds of environments, if people know that they’re going to be penalized, then the highest quality people who are at greatest likelihood of being promoted end up coming into the office, even though it wastes time and makes them less productive. And the people who have no chance of getting promoted anyway and who are less productive when working remotely work from home. So you don’t want to have basically a huge deadweight loss here and give up on the possibilities of remote work by not measuring what matters and prioritizing productivity and objective measures of value.

MS. ABRIL: Yeah. Can you explain a little bit more about that? I’m hearing this a lot from people is, you know, leadership needs to change the way they evaluate people, but how exactly? You know, it’s kind of hard to take the human element out of evaluations, right? I see a person. I see how hard they’re working. How should we shift the way we think about evaluating employees and productivity?

MS. POLLAK: So this is all very challenging, but there are textbooks on the subject, you know, how to monitor people effectively, how to clearly define their roles, clearly define goals and measures of–by which those will be sort of tracked, having regular updates, providing regular feedback. There are many things that companies can do. There are sort of full playbooks on how to do those correctly, and having those kinds of structured discipline processes in place can help you get to a place where there’s clarity among workers about exactly what they’re required to do and among managers about who’s doing it and who isn’t.

MS. ABRIL: So I want to switch to layoffs. We’ve seen a lot of predictions from economists expecting more layoffs and future job–less future job openings. I guess, how do you see employers thinking about hybrid moving forward? Is that going to–is the layoffs and less openings going to play into those decisions?

MS. POLLAK: So on the one hand, workers will lose less–lose some leverage. On the other, companies are under pressure to cut costs, and so cutting labor costs is something you can do by becoming remote. You can also cut real estate costs by being remote or more flexible and having a hybrid environment where you require less office space.

So we see many companies announcing that they’re moving from occupying two floors of an office building to just one floor because they’ve shifted to hybrid work. So I think the effects will be mixed here, and it’s not clear that we’ll see a pullback in remote work.

What we have seen is that remote jobs were about 12 percent of job postings on ZipRecruiter last year and have since fallen to about 9 percent at the start of this year. That is largely driven, though, by the shift in the mix of industries hiring, so a huge pullback in hiring among tech and financial companies, the companies that are most likely to offer remote jobs.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And, you know, continuing with layoffs, obviously, you know, we’ve just heard about the new Meta layoffs today. We’ve seen quite a few over the past several weeks and months, both in tech and media. First of all, do you expect to see this continue for those sectors, and will that also expand to other sectors?

MS. POLLAK: Well, the Federal Reserve Bank has raised rates very, very rapidly, and monetary policy operates with a lag. It does appear to be starting to bite in the labor market. In the last jobs report, we saw that job growth, which had been very broadly spread across the economy, has now become more concentrated in just a few industries, and so, you know, the official projections from the Federal Reserve are that unemployment will rise to about 4.6 percent. That implies almost 2 million people losing their jobs over the course of the year. I think that’s sort of the base-case scenario.

There is huge uncertainty around it. The Fed’s projections have not been particularly accurate when it comes to rates or inflation over the past few years. So who knows? There’s tremendous uncertainty, but I think the most likely outcome is that the job growth will continue to slow and possibly even turn negative at some point this year.

MS. ABRIL: Gotcha. And I know it’s a guess and anyone’s guess really, but any projections on industries that are particularly at risk here or where we could see some cuts?

MS. POLLAK: Yes. The housing industry has experienced a large slowdown, and while construction employment is still growing, that may not last, given the decline in an activity in that market.

There are also many other industries downstream of housing like manufacturing and retail of building supplies and furniture. So there are many industries that tend to be affected when interest rates rise–construction, mining, manufacturing–and we haven’t really seen large job losses there yet, but those are definitely a risk if interest rates need to stay high and if inflation continues to come in hot, as we saw today.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And where have you seen job growth, and where could we see–I mean, we talked about a lot of job loss coming, but are there industries that would still grow in that kind of shift?

MS. POLLAK: Absolutely. So historically, outside of the covid recession, the health sector has continued to grow and add jobs even during past recessions. Health care also is an–has a pretty positive outlook because hospitals are finally shifting back to being profitable after taking a huge hit during the pandemic, and many Americans are eager to go and schedule that knee replacement or hip replacement that they’ve put off during the pandemic. So health care hiring is still extremely rapid and robust and strong.

We’re also seeing continued recovery in many of the industries that haven’t fully regained their strengths since the pandemic. Air travel and restaurant dining both experienced milestones in February which were–that volumes surpassed 2019 levels finally. So those industries–the personal care sector, travel, leisure, hospitality–are still likely to drive strong hiring and job growth for the next–for the foreseeable future.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And we have one minute left. I want to really quickly sum up. You know, if you had a crystal ball and you could figure out what the future of work looks like in terms of hybrid work, remote work, fully back in the office, I mean, is it just forever a mix of these things? Are we going to see more people permanently adopting hybrid and remote, or is it still a shifting experimental phase?

MS. POLLAK: I think we’re very much still at a shifting experimental phase where there are still arguments in C-suites about what the best way to do things is.

But increasingly, we’re seeing companies converge on hybrid work, on offering workers greater flexibility than they had before, but still requiring them to get together in person. That seems to be the new normal.

MS. ABRIL: Great. Well, that’s a great place to leave this. Julia, thank you so much for joining us on Washington Post Live.

MS. POLLAK: Thank you so much for having me.

And thanks to all of you for joining. Please stay with us for the next segment of this conversation.

MS. KELLY: Hi. I’m Suzanne Kelly, CEO and publishers of The Cipher Brief, a national security-focused media organization.

Today we’re talking about tech at work and specifically collaboration in the workplace, and joining me to discuss this is Amy Leschke-Kahle. Amy is vice president of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, which is an ADP company.

MS. LESCHKE-KAHLE: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Suzanne.

MS. KELLY: I’m excited to dig in on this topic with you because I feel like so many of us have some kind of connection to this issue. We’ve all accepted the idea really that teamwork and collaboration are both important in the workplace, but they’re both very broad topics. What do we actually know about teamwork and collaboration?

MS. LESCHKE-KAHLE: Well, let’s start off with teamwork, and first of all, there are so many myths out in the world of work around teamwork and what is teamwork and how important is it.

So, one of the things that we’ve learned through our data and through our research and, quite frankly, through our experience as well is there’s this notion of teamwork. Remember the old poster with people rowing in the boat in the same way? There’s this notion or this myth out there that when we’re talking about teamwork, we’re talking about a whole bunch of people coming together. I mean, teamwork makes the dream work, right? Well, not really, actually.

I mean, think about maybe when you were back in school and you did the group project. Like every–most of us hated the group project, and so we have this notion based on that, that we’re all supposed to be doing all this stuff together. What we know from our data, however, is it’s not teamwork as we typically think about it. It’s actually team membership that is kind of the magic thing that really drives a lot of productivity and output in work.

Same thing kind of goes with collaboration. We often, again, believe this myth that everybody needs to be collaborative, and when you think about that, well, what does that actually mean? We perceive that oftentimes as, again, being a whole bunch of people in–on a call or a whole bunch of people in a room together when, in fact, collaboration oftentimes works best when we’re doing work, sometimes independently, reaching out and connecting when we need to, and then coming back and doing more work. I think about it more iterative than really a whole bunch of people doing the same work at the same time.

MS. KELLY: I love that idea. I mean, you laid it out so clearly, sort of thinking about it more as being a team member.

You know, with so many people, Amy, working offline or working hybrid, does it change the way that the organization needs to be thinking about actually practicing team membership and collaboration?

MS. LESCHKE-KAHLE: I love how you just said team membership. I think that’s such a great switch to how we talk about this. So, we’re going to use that going forward. I think we’re going to start talking about team membership rather than teamwork.

And with the way that workers are working right now, yeah, it does kind of, sort of change that but maybe not in the ways that you would think.

One of the things that we know from some recent research that the ADP Research Institute did is that folks who are working hybrid or off-site actually respond more favorably to things like topics around, like, career and feeling like their career is developed and feeling like they’re paid fairly, for example. And when you think about why that is when it comes to being a member of a team in collaboration, it’s that oftentimes those interactions that we have with some of our most important people at work, they’re a lot more intentional, and it’s really that intention, those connections, that make the difference and the frequency of those connections.

That doesn’t mean they have to be long, for example, with your team leader or your boss or your manager, however you refer to them. It doesn’t have to be a big, long conversation, but the intentionality of that connection, that’s a game changer.

And when we’re working off-site, those connections oftentimes are more intentional. You have to make a point to connect with someone who’s important to you at work. Intentionality and frequency are really the things that make not only teamwork but, quite frankly, productivity work.

MS. KELLY: Yeah. I understand exactly what you’re saying.

You know, for a long time, I think, organizations have looked at collaboration as being a sign of something that is truly increasing employee productivity. Do you see that connection there? Is that the outcome?

MS. LESCHKE-KAHLE: Well, again, I think we have to be really clear about how we’re defining collaboration. If it’s kind of the assumed definition of a whole bunch of people getting together on a call or in a room, actually, a lot of times, no, that doesn’t lead to more productivity, doesn’t meet lead to more of a feeling of “teaminess,” if you will, more of a feeling of connection even, because it’s really difficult to get good work done in those big groups.

So, if we redefine collaboration as being reaching out to the right people at the right time, knowing who those connections are, if we think about collaboration like that, then yes, it is definitely a lever towards productivity and letting people almost like do work in a way that works best for them, kind of like going back to what we talked about just a minute ago. It’s like, why do hybrid workers or off-site workers oftentimes have more favorable feelings towards things about work? It’s because we’re treating them more like grownups and trusting them more.

MS. KELLY: Yeah. Yep. I think that’s a very important point.

You know, kind of quickly here, I wonder if we can wrap our conversation up today with a few sort of insider tips on how organizations might be able to sustain best practices when it comes to this topic.

MS. LESCHKE-KAHLE: Yeah. The best practice is– by the way, it’s the same for productivity and feeling like a member of a team and collaboration. There is one thing that we see the best leaders doing and the best teammates doing, and that is what we talked about before. It’s super frequent connections–and not just connections about drive-bys or how was your weekend–really intentional connections about the work that needs to get done and doing that through a lens of I see you for the best of you. In other words, how do we lean into each other frequently for those unique gifts that we bring to the world of work through outside of work as well as inside? We just need to embed that practice in the fabric of our work.

MS. KELLY: Yep. And fall into that process. I think that’s great advice. Just coming from a leader of a small organization that works hybrid, I definitely appreciate that.

Amy Leschke-Kahle is the vice president of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, which is an ADP company. Amy, thanks for spending time and talking about this today.

MS. LESCHKE-KAHLE: Thanks so much for having me, Suzanne.

MS. KELLY: Now back to my colleagues at The Washington Post.

MS. ABRIL: Welcome back. For those of you just joining us, welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Danielle Abril, tech at work writer for The Washington Post.

I’m now joined by Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford. Nicholas, welcome to Washington Post Live.

MR. BLOOM: Thanks for having me.

So, you’ve studied the history of remote work for quite a while, and to be clear, this predates the pandemic. What do you think more employers need to know about remote work?

MR. BLOOM: Firstly, I think the big thing is to be clear that there’s fully remote on one side and hybrid on the other, and fully remote is like you work from home full-time, five days a week. That was a big thing during the pandemic. That is now phasing out pretty fast. So, fully remote, the problems with it is it’s hard on mentoring. It’s hard on innovation. It’s hard on creativity. And a lot of the media clips you’ve shown and a lot of this, you know, concerns over remote is really about fully remote.

On the other hand, hybrid is typically you are coming into the office three days a week, normally Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That’s associated with higher productivity, happier workers, pretty much a very positive scene all around. So, the future for managers, professionals, probably most people listening, is hybrid. Fully remote works for some folks, but that is certainly something that we see kind of dying out versus 2020.

MS. ABRIL: So, that’s a great segue into hybrid work, which is what I want to touch on next. Hybrid works seems to be growingly popular, both among employers and employees. What practices, though, make hybrid work effective?

MR. BLOOM: I think the big thing to make hybrid work effective is basically coordination. So, when you ask people, why do you want to come into the office, you know, they never say for the free bagel or playing on the ping-pong table or, you know, spending time with my manager. They say basically socializing and spending time with coworkers.

So, you know, when I come in, you want to be with others and others. You know, they want to work together, and that means you have to coordinate. So, what you got to avoid is, you know, I’m in on Monday, you’re in on Tuesday, Sarah is in on Wednesday, Jim is in on Thursday, because people say, “I came in. I spent, you know, most of the day on Zoom because no one else was there.” So, the key thing is if you’re going to, say, have folks in for three days of the week, coordinate on what they are.

And the advice will be, avoid Friday–no one wants to come into the office on Friday–and probably avoid Monday. So, at this stage, if you’re choosing three days in the office, it’s relatively a simple choice of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And then I would kind of enforce that and say, “Look, Monday, Friday is your time. You can work from home. You’re not going to be expected to come in. You should plan around that. But Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, if it’s a three-day in the office or, say, if it’s two days, maybe Tuesday, Wednesday, you really should come into the office.”

MS. ABRIL: And that makes sense, and I think you’re right there on nobody wants to come into the office on a Friday.

MS. ABRIL: So, you know, when we talk about this hybrid environment, I wonder how can employers best measure success there? And, you know, we spoke about this with ZipRecruiter as well, but it’s almost like you have to shift the way you evaluate and measure success across the organization.

MR. BLOOM: Yes, so great point. So, there’s two things here. One is you can measure success in terms of recruitment and retention, and that has been the big thing driving hybrid.

So, to give you one number, we’ve surveyed more than a hundred thousand Americans. We’ve asked them how they value hybrid, so working from home two, three days a week versus fully in person, and the numbers they give us are about 8 to 9 percent of salary. So that’s a huge number, and it tells you people really like hybrid. It’s one of the big three perks. It’s now health care, pension, and hybrid. And so, you can look at your numbers.

If you try and force people back full-time, you’re going to find, you know, massive quit rates, and it’s one of the things–in fact, in the clip, you had Elon Musk saying everyone had to come back to the office full-time, and then he reversed his decision because he was faced with this, you know, mass exodus and tons of employee–I mean, he’s been firing a lot, but he wants to keep some of them. And those that were left apparently en masse said, look, you know, we’re going to leave.

So, one is retention and recruitment. The other is performance, and what’s critical is when folks are in the office full-time, you can kind of watch them. You can see what they’re doing. So, I wouldn’t say it was great management. It’s kind of like a four out of ten. But if I’m there, you can see am I on the computer typing away, do I appear to be at my desk, or am I, you know, asleep or watching Netflix or something.

When I’m working from home, you don’t have that visual cue. You can’t see what I’m doing, which is why we need performance management. So, this is evaluating output, do I meet my targets, you know, if it’s sales or producing material. It’s not, to be clear, about surveillance. So, it’s not like how many emails do I spend or how long I’m on the computer, and this performance management is something you should have been doing for a while, but it’s become pretty critical now.

So, for example, it’s 360 reviews, regular check-ins with your manager, feedback, to make sure that on those Mondays and Fridays I’m working from home, I can work kind of the hours I want, but at some point, I need to get my job done.

MS. ABRIL: Mm-hmm. And, you know, a lot of employers, I’m hearing, are worried that without bringing people together in person, creativity will be stifled. How do you think about creativity in a remote environment?

MR. BLOOM: So, firstly, they’re right. There’s some great research. There’s a paper that came out in Nature recently that shows for fully remote workers, creativity is harder.

I’ve actually spoken to a lot of fully remote companies, and even they say, look, once every other month, we try and meet up for a week or so, firms like Upwork, Automattic, Quora, Airbnb. And, you know, the more frequently you can meet up–so if you’re meeting two, three days a week, that’s certainly going to boost creativity.

You may ask why does anyone do fully remote at all. I mean, you know, it’s harder to mentor. It’s harder to innovate. It’s harder to be creative. The upside of fully remote, of course, is you save on cost. So, you don’t have to have an office, and you can have folks, you know, nationally or even globally.

But if you’re looking at being creative, you already have an office in the U.S. You already have employees in the U.S. I think it makes sense to have folks come in two, three days a week at least, and that’s what you heard from ZipRecruiter.

I’ve probably talked to a thousand or more managers, employees, organizations over the last three years. It’s kind of what I’ve spent my entire life doing since the pandemic began, talking about work from home. It’s something I’ve been working on for 20 years. There was not a lot of excitement until March 2020, and then everyone kind of wants to discuss it.

And yes, creativity is a big issue, and by this point, pretty much, you know, large firms for managing professionals, small, medium firms are getting folks in two, three days a week because of the issues you mentioned about creativity.

And the other big one is mentoring. So when you talk to kind of 20-, 25-, 30-year-olds, like my students from Stanford, they say they want to be in the office, you know, three days a week because they want to learn from others and they want to socialize.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And how can employers make the most of technology to make sure employees are collaborating when they’re remote, whether that’s in fully remote environments or hybrid environments?

MR. BLOOM: Great. So yes, when they’re in person–so if we take a kind of plain vanilla flavor, it would be Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in the office, Monday, Friday at home. So, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is relatively straightforward. The idea is on those days, you try and schedule as much in-person events–lunches, trainings, presentations, people–folks having coffee with each other, catching up.

Then on Monday, Friday, your crack people are remote. There’s various ways to get around this. I mean, partly that’s deliberate that they are remote, and that’s time to read, write, kind of decompress, what is often called “deep work.”

But also, there are software solutions. I’ve been working with a company called “Roam,” for example, that has a–it’s like a video system that allows much more collaboration with different rooms. There’s also ways to organize in terms of desk booking, things like Slack.

I think the main focus, though, is on just coordinating when people are in person. The big upside for collaboration is if you come in on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays, to make sure that folks actually have meetings, have presentations, have lunch and coffees together, because the innovation and the mentoring point you mentioned tends to happen most strongly in person. And so what you don’t want is some folks on Monday, some on Tuesday, some on Wednesday, because that never really happens.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And, you know, last week it was reported that ChatGPT is coming to Slack, speaking of Slack, the messaging app–just for those that don’t know, the messaging app that many businesses use so that coworkers can collaborate. With the AI bot–excuse me. With the AI bot, it can summarize conversations on Slack, draft replies, help research topics. Do you expect to see more of this, considering that workers are still used to meeting in person less often than pre-pandemic era? And what do you expect from adoption levels of using AI like this as we move forward?

MR. BLOOM: Great. So, I think the big impact of AI on work from home is actually going to be on fully remote workers. So, if you are hybrid and you’re in the office three days a week, you need to be there physically in person. So, you know, when–I teach, for example. I teach, you know, a bunch of students at Stanford and have research seminars and meetings. It’s very hard for AI to replace me. Even as AI is as smart as me, it’s got to physically have some kind of presence, and right now, you know, this is mostly code. And sure, you know, in 20 years, this may be some big clunking robot, but right now it doesn’t exist.

The folks I think that are going to be under threat from AI are fully remote workers, particularly doing lower-level tasks. If you think of call centers, payments processing, some basic HR benefits, a lot of these folks are now fully remote. Some of them are moved out in the U.S. from expensive coastal cities, then to kind of lower coast inland area. Some have moved abroad. I’ve spoken to a lot of companies that are offshoring this.

The longer run–I’m thinking five, ten years out–more and more of this activity may be replaced by AI. So, it’s kind of a strange thing to say, but I think the best way to protect your job is to have a job that is hybrid because it’s hard to replace the in-person activities for two, three days a week if you are fully remote. If it’s a high-end creative job, say, a journalist, you know, that’s not–and you’re interviewing people, even though that’s all right, it’s hard to replace it by AI. But if it’s a relatively repetitive task, that’s definitely at risk of AI.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. And, you know, I am interested. I’ve been looking at AI in the workplace and really trying to understand, you know, this idea of replacing jobs, and so far, what I’m seeing in a lot of AI systems is, you know, there’s a lot of problems that can happen and even problems that is hard for humans to determine there is the problem and how we got there. I’m curious when you talk about, you know, lower-level work and possibly even remote work sort of possibly being replaced by AI, you know, are we there yet? I mean, it seems like there’s still a lot of bugs in the AI.

MR. BLOOM: Yeah. So, with all technologies, it both replaces jobs and creates new jobs. So, in the U.S. right now, we have incredibly low levels of unemployment. In fact, as you know, we have very high levels of inflation because it’s hard to hire folks and wages are going up. So, we’re not really in the situation now–and we may not be for many years–where there aren’t enough jobs to go around. If anything, there’s–you know, there’s what? There’s two vacancies for every unemployed person.

But it is the case that AI will replace some jobs, but it will create others. So, take someone that’s doing very basic call center work. AI may come along and deal with some of the most mundane questions. I mean, they’re kind of, you know, personally, like even they’re quite annoying, but they will get better. And eventually, you know, you’ll have a kind of, you know, Space Odyssey-type voice that will deal with your basic questions. If they can’t deal with it, of course, they’re pass it up to someone that will be a higher level, and a human will step in and say, “That’s a complicated issue. I’m going to deal with it.”

In some ways, that’s great. It means for the simple things, they get answered very quickly, and if you have a more complicated task, it gets passed to a human. So, I’m not fearing a loss of jobs. I’m just saying there will be a change in the labor market and particularly for the U.S., which is very expensive globally, a bunch of fully remote jobs risk going abroad or going to AI. Hybrid jobs and in-person jobs, I don’t see really at any risk of this in the near future.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. Got it. Okay. But always still like a human sort of supervising or overseeing or maybe even moving up to that secondary level of work versus, you know, the basic kind of easier answers is what I’m hearing. Is that right?

MR. BLOOM: Yes, exactly. So, you know, just to step back, we’ve had incredible technological improvements over the last, you know, 200 years. 200 years ago, we were driving around in a horse and cart. There was no electricity. There wasn’t even–well, 250 years ago, there wasn’t the steam engine. You know, we have record-low unemployment levels right now.

So, it’s not like technology on average gets rid of jobs. It just changes them, and you just don’t want to be in the type of job that disappears, but instead, you want to be in the type of job that’s about to appear and be created. There are things at risk of AI, fully remote, relatively repetitive low-level jobs. They are also, by the way, at risk of offshoring, so the same types of jobs that are at risk of AI are also at risk of moving out to Mexico or Bulgaria or India or wherever it is.

So again, in many ways, that’s good for Americans. It’s good for them to be promoted up into harder, more complicated jobs because it’s more rewarding. I mean, most people probably don’t want to do very repetitive call centers. They’d rather deal with more complicated cases because it’s more engaging.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. I want to move to sort of the world we’re in where many workers are dealing with, like, a lot of digital tools at once, and you add AI in there, that may be a new tool workers have to deal with too. Since most of our workplace communications seemed to have moved online due to the pandemic, but a lot of that has still continue today, what advice do you have for workers who may feel overwhelmed by all the digital services they have to manage and track and check? How do you sort of help workers navigate through this?

MR. BLOOM: So yes, it’s–you know, it’s hard. I even find it, you know, personally hard. I’ll be 50 later this year. I am not–I wouldn’t say I’m low tech. I live in Silicon Valley, but I’m not particularly high tech either. I tend to focus on, you know, a few things that I use well. I try not to use hundreds of apps and different business software because it’s, honestly, a bit overwhelming. I think the same is important for companies.

So, you know, one of the things I’ve noticed is the explosion of different methods of communication. My kids, I text. With other people, I use WhatsApp, et cetera. For companies, it’s probably important to have a strategy around communicating, around, you know, one or two modes.

Again, I think the most important thing is just coordinating on how you do things. So much as it’s important to coordinate on which days you come in the office, it’s also important to coordinate as to whether you have an email system or it’s more of a Slack system, whether it’s, you know, a texting system, which is kind of rare. The problem I see is when companies try to use six or seven things, and people feel left out. They’re like, “I didn’t hear about that meeting.” It was like, “Well, it was on WhatsApp.” It’s like, “Well, I don’t use WhatsApp.” So, with all of this, I think clear leadership and coordination is important.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. I want to move to a question we received from our audience. Michael Stebleton from Minnesota asks, “What long-term impacts will remote have on higher education?”

MR. BLOOM: Fascinating question. I’m living this right now, so I’ll tell you my experience. So, during the pandemic, at the peak of the pandemic, I taught remotely. So, I did that for about a year. I would say it’s a pretty poor–as hard as I tried to make it, you know, engaging and lively–and to be honest, roughly half the amount of material I taught to have much more class discussion, it was still hard. And you still had those occasional students that I could see their faces were changing color because they clearly weren’t listening to me. They were watching some movie or something in the background.

So, I’ve–you know, as soon as I can, I’ve gone back to in-classroom teaching. So, I think if you can be taught in person that it seems to be a better experience.

I think a lot of it is what I’ll call the “personal trainer effect,” the fact that if I have a student sitting in class, they kind of feel obliged to pay attention because I’m looking at them, and, you know, these are not huge classes. These are 30, 40 people.

On the other hand, there are certainly parts of the world, including pretty rural America, where you don’t have access to that.

So, it’s fine if you’re, you know, out in Silicon Valley or New York or Boston or, you know, Houston where you have great universities, higher education places around. If you’re in very rural Alaska–I remember talking to someone that grew up in the Outback in Australia. That isn’t there. And so, for those folks, it will be definitely useful to have some online education. So, I’m not saying online education is–compared to the classroom, you know, it’s maybe a three or four out of ten, but if your alternative is honestly nothing, it’s a dramatic step up. So, I don’t see that online stuff really taking over that much.

The only area where I use it is for one-on-one meetings, say, with PhD students that I’ve met them earlier in the week. So, you know, it was the two of us working together. We’ve met, you know, twice in the week. You know, we know each other well. I have to catch up for 20 minutes. That’s the kind of thing that works well on Zoom or Teams.

The same in offices. When you talk to employees, their managers, they say, “As long as I’m seeing somebody. You know, I’ve seen them on Tuesday. I’ve seen them on Wednesday. It’s totally fine to have a video call with them on Friday.”

MS. ABRIL: So, do you think universities play–or should play a role in sort of preparing students for the possibility of remote work or hybrid work, since it does seem to be a little bit different than sort of going to the office every day?

MR. BLOOM: You know, yes and no. I have to say students are much more technically advanced than, you know, the typical professor who’s probably 20, 30 years older than the students.

Hybrid work–hybrid work is honestly pretty similar in many ways to what we had before. So, if I think of typical graduate students, the folks, you know, as in college grads that are probably listening, your readership, you know, pre-pandemic, sure, we came in Monday to Friday, but most of us did a bit of work in email in the evenings, maybe sometimes worked on the weekend. Hybrid is not so different. So sure, we have two extra days, maybe at home Monday, Friday, but we still have, you know, a lot of in-person interaction.

Fully remote, it certainly is different, and I think the difference is you are almost entirely remote, and you are also losing that social connectivity. To put numbers on it, very few, less than 25 percent of 20- to 29- year-olds actually want fully remote. So fully remote is appealing to some folks. It turns out, if you look in the data, it’s typically people in their 30s and 40s with young kids. They tend to have, you know, strong social connections out of work. They maybe have been in work for 10 to 15 years.

So, universities, I don’t think play a huge role in particularly–you know, but they prepare people by teaching them and by getting used to in-person discussion and debate and presentations. That’s great. But I don’t think there’s anything particular about hybrid, per se, they need to be thinking about.

MS. ABRIL: Got it. Nicholas, we only have about a minute or so left, and I wanted to ask you this while I have you. You know, obviously, we’re seeing a lot of commotion around the fall of Silicon Valley Bank, and I know that’s not necessarily your area of expertise. But I’m just curious. You know, do you expect to see more fallout, or should we expect to see more fallout, whether it’s in innovation or jobs or banking or any other fallout from what we’re seeing with Silicon Valley Bank?

MR. BLOOM: So great question. I’ve definitely been directly affected. I’m involved in a few work-from-home startups, and they were hit last–the end of last week was pretty scary because firms had all their money locked up, and they were like, “Can we even make payroll this week? I have employees, and I need to pay them.”

As of, you know, today, Tuesday, things look a lot calmer. The government has basically stepped in to–it hasn’t bailed out. It’s forced all the other good banks to effectively bail out, you know, the bad banks.

In the short run, I don’t–you know, the major impact could be the Fed won’t raise rates as aggressively. There may be a little bit of a slowdown in the startup industry. I think the longer run impacts could be greater actually, which is banks are going to be forced–and I think appropriately–to hold more reserves, to be more cautious, will put up the cost of banking.

And also, Silicon Valley has lost a pretty critical part of the infrastructure. You know, if I step back, you can hear I’m British. You know, I was born in the UK. I only came to the U.S. about 20 years ago. When I look at the UK and Europe, they have much lower growth rates than the U.S. Americans–you know, it’s hard to appreciate–they’re much wealthier than Europeans, 20, 30 percent.

And the big thing, I think, driving a lot of American wealth is tech. Americans through our pensions, through employment, through tax have done really well out of technology, and in the short run, we could, you know, probably kill most startups and not suffer that much. But 5, 10 years, 20 years from now, America, per se, would be a lot poorer. It would have more like European growth rates.

So, the other thing is I–you know I think it’s–for all Americans, it’s important not to kill the tech. It’s like, you know, killing the golden goose. We’ll regret it five, ten years from now. And Silicon Valley Bank was an important part of that infrastructure.

MS. ABRIL: Absolutely. Well, we’re following the story and hope to see, you know, some developments there, but, Nicholas, thank you so much for your insights today. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have. So, thank you again for joining us at Washington Post Live.

MR. BLOOM: Thanks for having me on.

MS. ABRIL: And thanks to all of you for joining us. To check out the interviews we have coming up, please head to WashingtonPostLive.com to register and find more information about all of our upcoming programs.



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