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Salesforce's futurist: If companies don't adapt to remote work, employees will leave

A new Salesforce study found that 60% of people expect remote work to be the norm, and most are embracing it.

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz, Salesforce's senior vice president of strategic planning, thinks remote work is here to stay.

Photo: Peter Schwartz

It's not a surprise, and it's no longer a new idea, but Salesforce executive and futurist Peter Schwartz thinks we need radical social change to embrace the shifting future of work. He shared his thoughts about how companies and society can prepare for the future following the release of a new survey from Salesforce, which shows that more than half of the global population believe remote work and flexible schedules are the new normal.

  • Salesforce surveyed more than 20,000 global respondents in a range of industries and income levels, and more than 60% said that remote work will become the new norm. Around 40% of Americans said they would switch jobs if it meant they could work remotely.
  • Schwartz, the senior vice president for strategic planning at Salesforce, said that means companies need to cater to a range of expectations to make workers happy and attract talent. "There's a lot of diversity in people's expectations," he said. "Companies are going to have to respond to that diversity."

Remote work obviously doesn't affect everyone equally. The shift to remote work has caused what's been called the "first female recession," a reversal of a decade's worth of progress in the fight for pay and workplace equity. Career advancement opportunities often change for women when they have kids, Schwartz said: They are generally expected to shoulder a larger burden of the child-rearing responsibilities, which can create a disproportionate drag on women's advancement in the workplace.

  • Schwartz's solution? Changing how couples agree to split home and childcare assignments, and even redesigning the home to include spaces like "the classroom room" and "the home television studio."
  • "We were agricultural and semi-agricultural, husband and family and wife all worked together," he said. "Life was centered around the home. That's in many ways where we are heading once again."

Aside from the huge interest in remote work, the survey illustrated the importance of technical skills and job training in addressing the global social and racial inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic. Minority communities were hardest hit by the pandemic's economic consequences, and, according to the survey, about 74% of Americans and an even larger portion of the global workforce believe that access to job opportunities is not improving.

For Schwartz, the answer to some of that inequality lies in the fact that 67% of U.S. workers say they don't have in-demand hard skills. By designing job training programs to change that number, businesses — but not really governments, which don't have the resources, he said — can help address the inequalities laid bare by the last six months of crisis.

  • Lots of leaders in tech and business agree with him. Google has planned a massive investment in job skills training at HBCUs, and nearly half of IBM's job openings don't require a traditional four-year college degree.
  • Scott Galloway, notorious for railing against the high cost of private universities, has long urged a massive public investment in trade schools, although he might disagree with Schwartz's assertion that businesses and not public institutions should do the work.
  • "It needs to be pervasive and large-scale," Schwartz said, "but the particulars are not that expensive. The honest truth is it's a hell of a lot cheaper than building a university."

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