This is an audio transcript of the Working It podcast episode: ‘The future of work: trends and predictions’

Bruce Daisley
I bought a £7 stand from Amazon. I painted the wall. I think it was £25 kind of marbly paint. It’s amazing how a little bit of theatre, a little bit of staging and people like, “Ooh, little studio!” No, no, I’ve got a £7 stand.

Isabel Berwick
Topped it there for the FT and it’s great. (Laughter) This is Bruce Daisley. He’s the host behind the podcast Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. And he’s someone I really rate because he has such a lot of corporate experience and is very plain-speaking. He’s just written a great book called Fortitude, which debunks one of the most pervasive workplace jargon words, resilience. But Bruce isn’t the only podcaster we’re going to hear from in this episode.

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Emma Gannon
Hello and welcome back to Control Alt Delete.

Steven Bartlett
What is the greatest fear you have about how you’re currently living your life? I was very insecure about admitting that I . . . I was crying.

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Bruce Daisley
Hello. This is Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. It’s a podcast about workplace culture, psychology and life.

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Emma Gannon
I’m a small-town mama who took a $300 camera, grew a successful photo biz, and now I work from home and run a seven-figure online business.

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Isabel Berwick
Today on Working It with me, Isabel Berwick, we’ll be talking to the greats, the royalty, the Avengers Assemble, if you like, of work and business podcasting to discuss trends and predictions for the modern world of work. ’Cause let’s face it, we’re not the only podcast out there that talks about this. In fact, we’re just one of thousands among the two-and-a-half million to three million podcasts in the world. One big survey I read recently showed that work and business shows are the fourth most popular category, just behind arts and ahead of religion and spirituality. Make of that what you will. So I thought it’d be fun to pool our resources and expertise as we look to the future. And we asked the same set of questions to some of the world’s most successful business and career broadcasters, including one that always fascinates me. Do you read books or look at your smartphone in bed?

Jenna Kutcher
Books all the way. I mean, I get three pages in and then I fall asleep. (Laughter) Books 100 per cent.

Bruce Daisley
Smartphone.

Isabel Berwick
First up on workplace predictions, here’s Emma Gannon.

Emma Gannon
I’m a author of five books, mainly non-fiction and two novels and a podcast out of Control Alt Delete.

Isabel Berwick
What do you think are the biggest or most surprising trends you’ve noticed in the world of work since the pandemic started?

Emma Gannon
I would say a huge collective reassessment of what success means. Rejecting the hustle culture, really looking at burnout properly. And I think, unfortunately, the decline of the numbers we’re seeing into the freelance space, which was really taking off before the pandemic. So I’m hoping that bounces back.

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Isabel Berwick
And now moving speedily along to our next stop: from London to the Midwest in the US.

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Jenna, hello. It’s lovely to see you.

Emma Gannon
This is fun. We’re together.

Isabel Berwick
Here’s Jenna Kutcher, another big name in business podcasting.

Jenna Kutcher
So, first and foremost, I’m a mom of two amazing daughters and I am a Midwesterner who hosts the Gold Digger podcast, which is the number one marketing podcast in the country. We are approaching, oh my gosh, I think 75 million downloads or something bananas like that.

Isabel Berwick
Jenna, like the rest of our podcasters today, has been releasing episodes throughout the pandemic and these rocky few years have revealed a lot of common anxieties in her listenership.

Jenna Kutcher
People are struggling with wearing all their identities in the same space. So a lot of people thought working from home would be amazing and magical. And it can be. But it can also be a massive challenge, specifically when you’re juggling more roles such as parenthood or spouse or partnership all under one roof. And so I think people are really finding it hard to create boundaries that protect their work life and their personal life and finding a way to separate them. I think that’s one of the greatest struggles right now.

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Steven Bartlett
One of the things that’s kind of coincided with the pandemic is this shift to what we’re calling the metaverse and Web 3 — this idea that we’ll have an even more immersive relationship with the internet, I guess, and with digital experiences.

Isabel Berwick
This is Steven Bartlett, who first became famous for founding the multimillion pound business Social Chain, aged just 22. Since then, he’s become an investor on the BBC’s Dragons Den programme and is the host of Europe’s number one business podcast, The Diary of a CEO.

Steven Bartlett
All of my companies are way more reliant on technology to communicate. So my companies in San Francisco, they actually have digital worlds where we literally walk into as avatars and we walk into a room. It’s on a website called Gather where when we have our weekly meetings or daily meetings, our avatar walks into a room. And when the meeting is done, we literally walk out of the room and go hang out in the kitchen. So the office has become a digital experience now, and that is definitely changed. But I still really, really value the role that an office and being in-person plays and our teams will always be in-person because I think work is more than just work. It’s where you learn a lot of your interpersonal skills, your social skills.

Isabel Berwick
Steven’s first company, Social Chain, which is an advertising company working with social media, relied heavily on the pre-pandemic culture that its office provided.

Steven Bartlett
Our culture was heavily predicated on having a great office environment, especially the workforce we were hiring was so young. They were like social media natives that understood Snapchat and TikTok and to be able to offer them much more than work, to be able to offer them big friendship circles. You’d find your roommates there and then you’d find your best friends there, then you’d find your sports club. So when the pandemic happened and our offices all closed, it was the first time we saw an exodus because it became about remuneration when you removed all the other factors that made work great. When you remove the community, you removed all the social stuff, you removed everything else we were given. People are now choosing other factors, lifestyle factors mattering a lot more in this conversation and debate. For many companies who reimagine the role of the office, it will become a tremendous upside and hiring advantage.

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Isabel Berwick
The future role of the office in a post-pandemic world is still a hugely uncertain area for managers and workers. It’s been two-and-a-half years since millions of us went home to shelter from the pandemic, but many offices are still pretty empty. Nine in 10 UK employers are currently operating some kind of hybrid model, and it seems that two or three days in the office is the most common practice. I talked to Bruce Daisley of Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat about the current state of play with hybrid work. Where are employers getting their ideas from and does he think there’s an end to uncertainty in sight?

Bruce Daisley
It’s so fascinating to observe. There’s one guy, Professor Nick Bloom from Stanford, very well-regarded, but you can see his fingerprints on, I think, on the actions of organisations like Google and Apple. So he’s very much that we need to be in the office two or three days a week. Three is what he says, uncoordinated days. And so you see Apple do that, you see Google do that. And it turns out to be an incredibly unpopular decision. And in fact, when I chatted to him, I said, “I think the three-day ship has sailed”. And I get the sense that these organisations, their missteps are partly down to the fact they’ve brought in outside counsel. And the outside counsel is actually as uncertain and confused as the rest of us. It’s so fascinating to watch these companies who’ve built this idea, this projection of themselves as understanding the technological future and their workers are just telling them, “Well, we think you’ve got this wrong”.

Steven Bartlett
There are some companies that, in the height of the pandemic, decided to go fully, fully remote. And having spoken to a lot of leaders in those organisations, I’m talking CEOs, founders. They’re trying to claw back to some degree and for various reasons. If you go and see Twitter in San Francisco now, the office is a ghost town and they’re trying Pizza Tuesdays to try and beg people to come in. I’m seeing them understand that there’s a balancing act, this hybrid solution, which is probably the best way forward, and clarity for employees when they’re in a job is the most important thing. I don’t believe that saying to your entire team everyone should do whatever they want is conducive with a culture where people would actually want to work. Because so much of our work is synchronous, it’s collaborative, there does need to be freedom within defined parameters. And the parameters for some companies are, you know, we meet on Wednesday and Thursday in the team and outside of that, do what you like. But having some parameters I think is really important. And in fact, your company culture should be squarely reverse-engineered from your mission in the world. Your mission is more likely to be accomplished if your teams are happy. So giving them an environment where they are happy and they have the freedom that they want is part of accomplishing your mission.

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Isabel Berwick
Here’s Jenna Kutcher’s predictions on that hybrid point.

Jenna Kutcher
I think that people are craving a hybrid model. I think they are seeing that there are benefits to working from home. But I also think that, you know, I have a neurodivergent brain, I’m ADHD. And so I really struggle with focus. And so throw two kids and two dogs and life into the mix of it can be really challenging. And so people are craving more real, like, intimate connection in a world that is so hyperconnected digitally but so disconnected interpersonally. I really think that we’re craving just more vulnerability, more real reminders that, like, we’re all normal and we’re doing the best we can and the quest and the journey is worth it.

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Isabel Berwick
So if the three-day week is too much time in the office but fully remote is not enough, what’s the magic formula? Here’s Bruce Daisley.

Bruce Daisley
There’s a professor from Harvard Business School called Professor Raj Choudhury, and he strongly believes that we’re destined for work from anywhere because top talent normally sets the standards of organisations. So top talent in the past demanded email on their phones. They demanded Apple devices. They demanded that they wanted to use their own phone rather than a Windows mobile phone. You know, top talent has set, in very small incremental ways, has set the standards of what work looks like. Now, that’s really alarming, especially if you’ve got an organisation that’s saying you need to be in the office at least three days a week. But I think whereas maybe we anticipated three days in the office was gonna be the norm, it’s very quickly falling to two and quite often one. And I suspect we’re gonna end up with something that looks far more like one or two days a month in the office.

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Isabel Berwick
So if we all go down to a handful of days a month in the office, well, for many of us, that’ll be quite a shift. And I wonder also about the impact of that. Will a move towards spending less and less time together in person ultimately devalue us as humans? There’s already an epidemic of isolation and anxiety, and remote work, which does have many advantages, also erodes trust. I read a report in the Harvard Business Review that summed it up. As humans, we want and need to see people face to face — that helps us to trust each other. And the absolute worst outcome is one that’s actually on the rise — that of employers who let people work remotely and then they don’t trust them. So they use software that monitors what staff are doing all the time. (sound of technology) I asked Emma Gannon how workplace technology, both good and bad, and the rise of artificial intelligence and robots, is going to impact the future of work.

Emma Gannon
I think a lot is gonna change. I think we are gonna be seeing more jobs being automated and the rise of technology actually helping people live their lives better. But with that comes so much change in politics.

Steven Bartlett
I think the issue you’re seeing in a lot of industries and companies with shortages as it relates to personnel is pretty alarming. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I’ve never gone to a restaurant up until last week, and seen a poster on the front of the restaurant that literally read: “I know you can see empty seats and tables in this restaurant, and I know you’re wondering why there’s a really big queue, but it’s because we just don’t have the staff”. And I’m looking into this restaurant and it’s like 75 per cent empty and there’s a massive queue. I remember thinking, that’s crazy, that’s absolutely absurd. But I think the consequence of that is gonna be that we turn to automation. I think iPads will do much of the role of me ordering my food, but it means we need to think about upskilling the next generation of our workforce to meet the demands of a changing world. I’m all in on that space.

Isabel Berwick
For Bruce Daisley, this move towards tech is both a blessing and a curse.

Bruce Daisley
The reason why everyone’s feeling frazzled, the reason why everyone feels completely broken by the way we’re working, is that since email came on to mobile phones, which was sort of the advent of about 15 years ago, and we all hungrily begged the IT man to let us have the internet on our phone because it just sounded so exciting. I can do my emails while I’m on the bus and then I can mess around in the office a bit more, that was the promise of it. In that time, the average working day went up 2 hours a day. In addition, Microsoft say that during the pandemic, the average working day went up an additional 45 minutes. Oh, OK. So the last 16, 17 years, the average working day has gone up 3 hours a day. Is it any wonder that we’re all feeling like we’re on our knees? But then someone turns up with a webinar, someone turns up with a long email saying, “We can beat your burnout.” And it’s brilliant reframing! The reason why you’re burnt out isn’t because of you. It’s ‘cause we’re operating in a sort of ridiculously overstressed, toxic environment.

Isabel Berwick
And Emma Gannon feels the same way about how we’re now reframing that rather old-fashioned and binary work-life balance debate.

Emma Gannon
I don’t really believe in balance, or at least I feel like it’s a myth that we’re sold, especially as women, and then we feel bad about ourselves. It would be about setting boundaries in order to reassess that balance, because even people who pretend they’re not people pleasers, they actually are. And some of the most hardened people I know just wants everyone to like them. So I think it’s saying no more often and just turning down things, making space again in your calendar, I would say.

Isabel Berwick
And your focus is on creativity and how that impacts our working lives or our ideas about work. What’s the best advice you could give someone on how to be more creative or innovative in their thinking?

Emma Gannon
Well, I would try and take my own advice on this, but it would be to put your phone down for a bit. And by that I mean, go for a walk and don’t listen to a podcast, don’t listen to music even just for one walk out of the week because we rarely have enough quiet time, I don’t think.

Isabel Berwick
I think I could take that advice on permanently . . . 

Emma Gannon
Mmm.

Isabel Berwick
Plugged into a podcast.

Even Steven Bartlett concedes that this move to being constantly plugged into our digital world and to social media, two areas he’s heavily invested in, could have lasting negative consequences.

Steven Bartlett
I’m somewhat cautious about the world becoming entirely digital. You know, we spend a long time complaining about how every other aspect of our life has become digital, whether it’s ordering food or connecting with a friend or finding a date. And with the surge towards the metaverse and whatever that will look like, everyone’s got their own biases. You know, everyone’s got their own situation so everyone has their own opinion. But I think we should have had the conversation about social media, but we didn’t. We just got sucked into it ’cause there was a clear upside, but there’s always a cost. I think in hindsight, we’re gonna wish that we had a greater conversation about the inevitable trade-offs.

Isabel Berwick
Well, it was amazing to talk to these podcast greats. I’m a bit of a novice myself, so I’ve learnt a lot and from people who immerse themselves in the world of work. They know where the trends are coming, they can see what’s happening. And we’ve talked a lot about tech here, but actually the thing that links all of these people is their belief in the value of connection of our humanity. And I think as we go into 2023 and beyond, that is going to balance out all our anxieties about hybrid work, about being in the office. We’ve started to reconnect with each other in maybe a profoundly different way than we did before the pandemic, and that will only continue. So I have pretty high hopes for workplaces in 2023, and I hope you do too.

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Isabel Berwick
Thanks again to Steven Bartlett, Bruce Daisley, Jenna Kutcher and Emma Gannon. We’ll put links to all of their podcasts in the show notes. And if you like this episode, please do leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. And please do get in touch with us. We want to hear from you. We’re at workingit@ft.com or with me @IsabelBerwick on Twitter. If you’re an FT subscriber, do sign up for our Working It newsletter. We’ve got behind-the-scenes extras from the podcast and exclusive stories you won’t see anywhere else. Sign up at FT.com/newsletters. Working It is produced by Novel for the Financial Times. Thanks to the producer Anna Sinfield, executive producer Jo Wheeler, production assistance from Amalie Sortland and mix from Chris O’Shaughnessy. From the FT we have editorial direction from Manuela Saragosa and production support from Persis Love. Thanks for listening.

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Bruce Daisley
And look, you know, if anyone has got all the answers about what’s gonna happen to the future of work, if you can just get in touch because I’ll eagerly listen to everything that you’ve got to say, because I’m constantly in pursuit of trying to work out what the answers are.

Isabel Berwick
Well, hundreds of people email me every day, and probably you too, with apparently (laughter) the answers. But none of them seem to be working.

Bruce Daisley
(Laughs) Yeah, the people who email me don’t really have the answers. They have their CEO who would like to talk to me about what the answers are. I’ve never met a CEO who knows the answers to anything.

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