Future of work

“Rules are being broken and new cultural norms are being created, but will it last?”

— John Winsor, CEO of Open Assembly and executive-in-residence with Harvard’s Laboratory for Innovation Science


COVID-19 has kick-started new work practices that align with values that brands have been pursuing for a while, like agility, collaboration and inclusion. After the immediate crisis is over, how do we keep the best of what we’re doing? Hosted by Sid Lee’s Fanny Eliaers and Kirstin Hammerberg, this round table explored how brands can use this time to rethink what work looks like.



Andrew Chern, Principal and managing director of strategy at SYPartners, a boutique consultancy focused on team and leader transformation

Stacy English, Culture evolution director at semiconductor giant Intel

Courtney Lawrence, Director of strategic insights and foresight at Lululemon, the technical athletic apparel company

Stephanie Nadi Olson, Founder of We Are Rosie, a network for freelance marketing experts

Steve Rader, Deputy director for the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation at NASA

John Winsor, CEO of consultancy Open Assembly and executive-in-residence with Harvard’s Laboratory for Innovation Science


Key takeaways: How do we keep the best of what we’re doing?

    1 — Take advantage of the fact that we are primed for a behaviour overhaul. We’re already re-evaluating how we work and getting familiar with alternative practices.

    2 — Think about your brand as a system in a particular moment in time. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so reframe innovation in a way that makes sense for that organization on that day.

    3 — Recognize that seeing the impact of an organization and feeling involved in what it’s actually doing can be a powerful motivator for employees.

    4 — Make open talent a viable, secure and flexible option for all through marketplace platforms and use open ecosystems and networks to manage growing complexity.

    5 — Bring people along. This crisis pushed us into a more fluid—and potentially more inclusive—way of working, but it could also exacerbate underlying inequities. Use technology, platforms and marketplaces to upskill those with the least education and the least access to opportunity.



“Adoption is not a technology or business model issue; it’s a personal identity issue.”


This crisis has created new types of work practices. How can we start to institutionalize the best of what we’re doing?

John Winsor, Open Assembly and Harvard: When I was chief innovation officer at the French holding company Havas, we tried to string together an internal collaborative network called Havas Crowd. The clients loved it, the C-level loved it—it was mid-level managers that killed the project. Their identity was threatened.

A lot of the tools we work with, like A.I. and open talent, are better, faster, cheaper—they remove friction. But there’s cultural resistance, and my hope is that in this crisis, that breaks down. Rules are being broken and new cultural norms are being created, but will it last? Adoption is not a technology issue or a business model issue; it’s a personal identity issue.


Courtney Lawrence, Lululemon: Three things are needed for behaviour change. The first, which was mentioned, is a set of new cultural norms. There’s been a reset. What I’m seeing now in my research is that both employees and employers are taking the time to re-evaluate and re-prioritize. They’re not on autopilot anymore. The second aspect was also already mentioned: the removal of friction. Right now, everyone has Zoom, everyone knows how to use FaceTime. Previous barriers are broken down by necessity in order to maintain contact.

The third piece is repetition. Like with any behaviour change theory, it’s all about repetition and frequency. The more people get used to things like virtual meetings, the more the habit becomes easier to access when needed.


Stephanie Nadi Olson, We Are Rosie: We’ve seen a big change in our psychographic makeup. Over the past two years, 4,000 people joined our platform to work in a more modern, flexible, agile capacity. Since March 15, we’ve had four to fives times the growth. So we have people who were here previously, by choice, and now 4,000 more whom I refer to as “guests.” We’ll have them as part of our community for a while as they figure out how long this economic downturn could last and how it impacts the marketing industry. How do we capture value for all the people we get to serve within our community?

We have an opportunity to establish new cultural norms. It ties back into what Courtney was saying: we can remove friction and help establish repetition to show that independent work is a viable option. The platform has a job to do by helping people think differently about how work is going to happen after all of this.



“We have to accept the notion that it’s a changed landscape; it’s not a return to normal.”


Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Understanding the system in which change needs to occur will improve adoption. How can systems thinking help instill lasting change? 

Steve Rader, NASA: NASA is very innovative, and we hire some of the most amazing people from around the world, but it’s also really siloed. And if you ever suggest that somebody else has a better idea, the response is, “What are you talking about? I’m the expert.” So when we brought in open innovation—suggesting crowds could help us find the answers—nearly ten years ago, it got lots of resistance. Over the years, we’ve changed the storytelling. Now, we focus on open innovation as a way to find the best starting point. There is so much going on in technology that you, as an individual, can’t possibly know it all. We’ve made a lot of progress. In fact, I don’t know what it is about this crisis, but we’ve gone from 30 projects to 95, almost overnight.


Stacey English, Intel: We’re 14 months into a cultural evolution affecting systems that haven’t changed in 40 years. With organizational design specialists and change management experts embedded in every part of Intel, we’re changing not only behaviours—how we run staff meetings or plan manufacturing roadmaps—but also how we reinforce behaviour—how we pay, who gets promoted and when. We’ve been reshaping these systems since before all this happened, and now the world has suddenly changed. What does that mean for the changes we’re been implementing?

We had a six-month plan to get employees committed to our new mission, and it all has to start with our clients, but now our jobs are done. I’m watching an organization I’ve seen move slowly move very quickly to respond to our customers. And in this case, our customers are helping save lives, connect people, and get care to regions around the world. It’s no longer just a tagline; we’re reaching people where it matters.


Andrew Chern, SYPartners: At a time like this, there’s a rush to get people motivated or to stabilize them. But we’re reminding leaders that what they’re feeling—what their people are feeling—right now is trauma. Before you tell people to move on, allow them the time and space to grieve what they’ve lost. Some prize the commute to decompress and transition from professional-SVP-woman to mom-of-two and that’s real. So the conversation we’re having is aimed at accepting the notion that it is actually a changed landscape; it’s not a return to normal.

We love Ray and Charles Eames and their documentary Powers of Ten and looking at systems from different levels. In this conversation we’ve hit every single level, and it’s a question of which levers in each level are most relevant to us in the roles that we play.



“There’s going to be an embracing of the side gig by companies.”


With so much technology, there is no way that one human—or increasingly, one business—will be able to solve or know everything. How can organizations use open ecosystems and networks to manage growing complexity?

Andrew Chern, SYPartners: I was talking to a Boeing engineer who was afraid that knowledge was atrophying. He said, “I guarantee you none of these kids know how to design an engine with a slide ruler.” Is it okay to let knowledge like that fade? 


Steve Rader, NASA: It’s not a question of “is it okay or not”; it’s just what it is. We live in a complex world and the need to integrate and orchestrate lots of pieces is why a distributed, open-talent model is important right now. Think of your IT department. You used to be able to hire one person. Now: networks, security, the cloud, apps, all the platforms. How many skills does it take? This complexity has to be managed through ecosystems of people.

We’re trying to steer the crowdsourcing conversation to the future of work. Companies have no idea how much of their workforce has a side gig. But side gigs are a new training plan, allowing people to learn by doing and getting the knowledge necessary to keep up with change. There’s going to be an embracing of the side gig. How do we make it work for us?


Stacey English, Intel: At Intel, we’ve been working on the idea of a fluid workforce for a while, which people in the cradle-to-grave career culture find terrifying. But we can make use of this time when people are already going through change.


John Winsor, Open Assembly and Harvard: A lot of change in culture comes from the bottom up, and then C-level is business as usual: drive shareholder value. But cultural change takes top-down leadership, too.

When IT behemoth Wipro acquired the cloud consulting firm Appirio, they didn’t even know Topcoder, an IT crowdsourcing marketplace, was part of the package. When the Wipro CEO found out, the first thing he did was find out how many full-time Wipro employees had moonlighted as Topcoders. Instead of admonishing them, he thanked them for expanding their expertise and bonused them for the hours they worked as Topcoders. That kind of leadership shifts the mindset inside an organization.



“When you tear down the constructs around how work has to happen, inclusion, diversity, innovation and agility all manifest themselves.”


We’re in the midst of a move from binary organizational models towards more fluid roles and modes of thinking. How can we make use of this moment to create more inclusive organizations?

Andrew Chern, SYPartners: It’s come up in recent business development conversations. This could be an inflection point that exacerbates inequity. What does that mean for employers and employees and the communities they serve?


Steve Rader, NASA: We’re at a pivotal time where we need to look at new ways of bringing everyone along. Paro.IO, a financial expertise marketplace, uses machine learning to match freelancers to assignments. But they tweak it so that, every so often, they assign someone to a task that’s a stretch for them. They make sure they have the resources and support necessary to accomplish the task, but by the time they’re finished, they know something new. That’s a brilliant model. Given that some of the regular educational institutions are not gonna come out of this the same, some of these platforms have a big opportunity. I’m just waiting to see who makes the necessary strategic alliances.


Stephanie Nadi Olson, We Are Rosie: We were talking about this pre-COVID with our Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 clients. If you’re saying everyone has to be in the office from 9 to 5, you don’t have an inclusive organization. What does that mean for people who are disabled? For people who have medical conditions or are caregivers?

When you tear down rigid constructs around how work has to happen, a lot of what we’ve been working for in the corporate world—inclusion, diversity, innovation, agility—all manifest themselves. They’re a byproduct of more flexible thinking. That’s a beautiful thing.


Courtney Lawrence, Lululemon: We are in a shift of paradigms from this old, hierarchical, patriarchal approach to a more fluid ecosystem. We started this Zoom call by noting the different tone because we can see each other in a different way, and the work-persona and personal-persona are blending together. That captures the essence of what’s going on right now. It’s a blend of different aspects of life and getting rid of this cognitive bias we have to box people in.