Distributed asynchronous work. Companies are still figuring out what iteration of the workplace makes the most sense going forward. The sudden shift to virtual work due to the pandemic was a crash course for many, forcing employers to take a hard look at how employees want to work, what challenges they needed to solve to get there, and how to optimize their workplace to enable it. Many organizations will land on distributed asynchronous work, letting employees work from wherever they are and however is optimal for them to do work.
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 Arvind Jain.
Arvind helped found Glean to make it easy for people to find the information they need to be more productive and happier at work. Prior to Glean, Arvind co-founded and led R&D at Rubrik, one the fastest growing companies in cloud data management, and worked at Google, where he spent over a decade leading various teams in Search, Maps, and YouTube. Outside of work, Arvind enjoys playing tennis, soccer, bridge, and chess.
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 grew up in India and was first introduced to technology through my older brother’s PC. The driving factor for me to get into the tech industry was from my desire to be an engineer. I wasn’t necessarily fixated on software or coding though, but rather a desire to build things — that was the excitement for me. I studied computer science in college and was enjoying it more and more; it was there that I really discovered my love for programming. The dot com boom was happening right when I was in grad school so while I continued to build my engineering skills, I simultaneously was developing a big interest in the startup world and all of the possibilities that existed there.
My first job after graduation was at Microsoft, where I worked as a software engineer on the Windows operating system. After a couple years there, in the midst of the startup boom, I had a growing desire to get into that world and experience getting to work on something from its inception. I joined Akamai Technologies, one of the first Internet-focused technology startups (it would help companies speed up and scale their websites to handle a large number of visitors), which is where I learned a lot about how startups work and got a lot of hands-on experience. From there, I joined IT company Riverbed Technology at its very early stages; there were just 4 of us there to start with and we didn’t even have an office; I joined it as the first engineer. Here, I was living out my dream, going through the whole journey of building a company from scratch.
I then joined Google, which is where I spent most of my career. My time there shaped my trajectory and perspective; I gained a lot of confidence and had the chance to build products and technologies that everyone around me used on a daily basis. My mindset has never been about needing to be an entrepreneur, but rather to solve important problems and make a big impact on the world around me. I credit that curiosity and drive from my experiences working at Google.
The idea for Glean came when I was at my previous startup, Rubrik. We grew very fast to about 1,000 employees in four years — but this fast growth made it challenging to onboard new employees efficiently. We did an employee survey, which revealed that employees couldn’t find where documents or information lived, among all of the applications and data that existed. Not only did they not know where to find the information they needed, new employees also didn’t know who to ask for help when they had a question. As an introvert myself, I could identify with this problem personally and professionally. As the person in charge of corporate technology at the company, I decided to look into this further and figure out how to solve it. That’s where the idea for Glean started: realizing the need for a unified search and discovery tool that understands context, workflows, and relationships with others to return personalized answers to workplace questions in real-time.
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?
The ramifications of the new dispersed and remote workforce. While opening the door to more talent, employers will need to figure out the best way to maintain an efficient and productive workplace that takes into account everything from onboarding to retention for employees who may be spread across different locations and time zones. Asking a quick question to the colleague in the next cubicle will no longer be a reality for many; instead, the internal infrastructure of a company’s resources must be optimized so that employees have easy and immediate access to anything they need to get their work done. All of these factors are accelerating the need for companies to examine their digital transformation efforts, especially those that impact employees.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
I would give the same advice I give to my own children: focus on learning, in whatever form makes sense for you personally. Work hard with dedication and don’t be overwhelmed by external expectations of getting good grades or a one-track vision of what success looks like. All one can do is put effort behind whatever it is they’re doing and continue to grow from there.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?
Because of the current labor market, many candidates right now will find themselves with a lot of power. Interviewing should always be a two-way street; candidates should be evaluating a potential job as much as the company is evaluating them. Getting a job with a strong culture fit is so important for overall success, from finding fulfillment in your job to advancing your career trajectory.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
Absolutely. It seems like nearly every company is hiring and strong talent is in such high demand that employees have more flexibility and options to decide how, where, and when they want to work. Many workers want the ability to work remotely at least part of the time, and employers who want to recruit and retain top talent must offer that option. Opening up remote work will significantly expand the talent pool for many companies.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
Overall, businesses and leaders need to adjust to the new way of thinking about all aspects of work, including where and how we work. This shift in power from employers to employees in today’s labor market is forcing companies to provide better working conditions to recruit and retain talent, DEI and ESG programs, better tools for getting work done in a way that’s more enjoyable, mental health support for employees, and more. The future of work is bigger than any single initiative and companies need to commit to evolving their workplaces along with the world.
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?
Research shows a disconnect between what business leaders think employees want and what employees actually want. The most successful companies will consider employee preferences and the realities of how their workplace needs to function to find the setup that works best for them.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
It’s an exciting time for companies to envision what possibilities lie ahead with the new structure and flexibility coming out of this time of change. At the end of the day, a company’s most valuable asset is its employees, so optimizing the workplace to support the way they want to work is going to be extremely beneficial in the long-term.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?”
- Distributed asynchronous work. Companies are still figuring out what iteration of the workplace makes the most sense going forward. The sudden shift to virtual work due to the pandemic was a crash course for many, forcing employers to take a hard look at how employees want to work, what challenges they needed to solve to get there, and how to optimize their workplace to enable it. Many organizations will land on distributed asynchronous work, letting employees work from wherever they are and however is optimal for them to do work.
- Changing employer/employee relationships. The current talent shortage is shifting power away from employers and putting employees in the driver’s seat. Interviewing is more of a two-way street than ever before, giving candidates more flexibility to find a company with the best culture and strongest fit based on how they want to work. With this shift comes an expanded role and responsibility for employers, who need to offer compelling benefits and support to employees to be able to recruit and retain talent. We’ll continue to see the trend of employers offering mental, physical, and financial well-being support to employees (e.g., more sick leave, flexibility for childcare). Recognizing the importance of employees’ mental wellness in particular will continue to be important.
- More international collaboration. Companies who embrace remote work will have a larger talent pool to choose from, giving them a necessary leg up in the race for talent. This will result in hiring employees from different geographical locations and the opportunity to get valuable fresh and new perspectives that come with a more diverse team.
- Increased optimization/efficiency. The rise of remote work will also require companies to come up with a longer-term strategy for supporting a dispersed team. From collaboration software to a way to manage all the information employees need to get work done (e.g., documents, files, materials), the onus is on companies to provide all of the technology and tools employees need to work most efficiently and productively — no matter where or when they do it.
- Unlimited potential of the hybrid model. Companies are thinking up creative and unique work models that fulfill all employee and workplace needs. We’ll see more examples of offices serving as a gathering place for brainstorming, and certain days earmarked for collaboration while others are focused on asynchronous work with less interruption. The sky’s the limit as companies adjust to the workplace of the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
My favorite quotes come from tech’s biggest leaders and have influenced my own entrepreneurial journey, inspiring me to take risks and start Glean to make the world a better place.
“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today.” And whenever the answer has been, “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. — Steve Jobs.
For a lot of companies, it’s useful for them to feel like they have an obvious competitor and to rally around that. I personally believe it’s better to shoot higher. You don’t want to be looking at your competitors. You want to be looking at what’s possible and how to make the world better. — Larry Page
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.
I love the work that Adam Grant is doing to help people find motivation and meaning in what they do. That’s so important. I’d love to sit down with him.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.