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Preparing For The Future Of Work: Mark Rosenthal of HqO On The Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work

An Interview with Phil La Duke

Increased Flexibility — Flexibility isn’t necessarily measured in days or hours. It’s measured in results and accountability. In fact, it’s not new. It’s always been this way. Employees who deliver great results have long enjoyed more flexibility from their managers. While the “trend” toward flexibility is being talked about more openly, it’s really about trusting employees to get their work done and focusing on deliverables and results rather than clock-punching. Some employees at our company choose to work late nights and weekends and sleep a little later in the morning. Depending on the role and the team, that’s okay if the results are there.

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 Mark Rosenthal.

Mark Rosenthal is Chief Operating Officer at HqO, the leader in workplace experience technology. At HqO, Mark is responsible for driving business operations across departments. Prior to HqO, Mark was the Head of Google Display Advertising Sales for North America, leading a team which helps Google’s largest advertisers leverage Machine Learning and Automation of advertising to achieve transformational business results. Earlier at Google, Mark was Head of Industry, Health Services where he led a team which provided digital marketing strategy consultation for many top U.S. companies in the consumer health and wellness industry. Mark is a graduate of The George Washington University. He and his wife work closely with charities including Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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 Wayland, MA, attended The George Washington University, and interned in the Clinton White House, among other things in college. After deciding that I would not attend law school as planned, I started my formal sales career in radio sales at CBS. I went from there to an ad tech startup and then to Google, where I spent eight years in a variety of roles.

The last role I held at Google was running the Programmatic Advertising sales team for North America for two years. It was cool to be part of the reshaping of an industry — advertising was this antiquated business for a long time, and Programmatic brought along the ability to use technology and data to create efficiency and intelligence in a system that hadn’t previously had a lot of it. Of course, it was also really exciting to work at one of the best companies in the world.

However, by 2018, I was ready to start the next chapter in my career. I wanted to work for a company where I could make a big impact, and help build something from the ground up. One day, in a JetBlue airport terminal, I ran into Chase Garbarino [HqO’s CEO]. I already knew Chase after networking with him in 2010 — we had touched base every few years since then. Over a cup of coffee, he explained his pivot from VentureApp to a new company called HqO.

I really liked Chase’s vision, and found a lot of parallels between Programmatic and commercial real estate: in both instances, we were infusing tech and data into an archaic system to give them more efficiency and intelligence, and to consequently strengthen the connection with the product’s end-users. Additionally, I liked that the company was based in Boston, so I wouldn’t need to relocate my family. It was going to allow me to stretch, to give me a chance to be a marketer, to continue to leverage my strengths in sales and account management, as well as to be a part of the executive team building an impactful company.

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 first disruption is where and how people work. Recently, there has been a democratization of those decisions, where employers are sending out surveys and asking employees about their preferred way to work, such as: Do you want to be fully remote, hybrid, or fully in the office? Employees have more choice than ever over these decisions, and employers need to show they’re addressing those needs.

The second is that the trend of employee retention and turnover — or lack thereof — will continue, if not accelerate. This is what many people are referring to as ‘The Great Resignation.’ We’ve seen this happening over the last few decades already. When I was growing up, the people that I knew had lifelong careers at the same company or firm. They also had pensions, and all of these other financial vehicles that drove retention.

Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a major shift in that. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shared data that reveals younger adults ages 25 to 34 tend to spend an average of only 2.8 years in a position. That number decreases to only 1.3 years for adults ages 18 to 24. These workforce trends create a significant difference in how employers need to think about talent attraction, retention, growth, recruiting, and how to drive value. The cascading effects of these considerations on how employers compensate, promote, train, and develop talent are enormous. The companies that invest in their employee experience (and the overall workplace experience) are the ones that are going to succeed.

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?

For every Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, there are an exponential number of people who try to achieve these high milestones and fail. If it were easy to do, of course everyone would do it!

If you look at the most successful and accomplished individuals in the world using whatever criteria fits your definition of success — they are college educated. In fact, many of them have advanced degrees. There is no substitution for education other than experience. At 20 years old, you can’t get the experiences you would need in most cases elsewhere.

College is also about more than the education you receive, it’s about those valuable experiences and the network you can build. It’s about learning how to be an adult who can contribute to your community and society in a meaningful way. It provides optionality in skillsets. To keep it simple: my advice to young adults about whether or not to go to
college is to go.

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?

It all goes back to the importance of networking. Whether it’s your network from college, high school, your parents’ friends, or your professional life, everyone should have a personal board of directors that they are able to tap into for help. First, however, you need to really assess and determine your criteria for employment. You need to know yourself, your talents, your strengths, your passions, and the economic engine — and then apply those things to your career.

There’s a professor at Harvard Business School named Dr. Scott Snook who talks a lot about something called “the sweet spot.” He defines it as the intersection of your personal strengths, passions, and what others would pay you to do. So, you should start by identifying your “sweet spot,” and then put your criteria together for the type of company you want to work for.

This means determining your preferred location, type of role, size of company, leadership style, all of that. These categories become your filter for specific opportunities. Then, you need to leverage your network to find your way into that career path.

To put that into perspective, nearly half of new hires came through as referrals this year at HqO. And we’re just a mid-sized company! For larger companies like Google that get about 3 million applicants a year, how do you get yourself into the consideration pool if you’re one out of 3 million? It’s all about knowing people. Employment studies reveal that employees who are referred are four times more likely to get hired than those who don’t.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

It’s been proven time and time again that technology creates jobs, it doesn’t eliminate them. For example, everybody said that ATMs were going to be the death of the bank teller, but people still go into physical bank locations to do a lot of things that need to be facilitated by people. Though the types of jobs and the necessary skills may change, job creation will always continue to accelerate — even with AI and automation.

In fact, tech companies are the most valuable companies in the world right now, and they are also the top employers. In 2017, Forbes reported that four of the top eight spots of the World’s Best Employers rankings were tech companies. In 2021, all of those spots were taken over by tech companies. Especially in a world of hybrid work, they tend to be the most agile and resilient companies to work for. Jobs are still there, people just need to adjust to the necessary skill sets of the current economy.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

The democratization of work is a very real thing, but I am a big believer in the office. There have been a number of studies that show important work functions like productivity and collaboration are better in person. They also show that hybrid work — with some people on video conference calls and some people physically in the office — can be extremely challenging for both parties because it doesn’t create an environment for open debate and discussion. Some of the biggest losses with remote work are in learning (which includes training, coaching, development, and learning from the people around you), collaboration, trust, and empathy. In person, it’s much easier to gauge the effectiveness of meetings or tasks by asking for quick and direct feedback on the spot. On Zoom, we just can’t do that.

The resulting impact of these things is a separation of career advancement and opportunities for those who are more present and in the office. At the same time, flexibility is here to stay. People need and want more flexibility. Particularly in the U.S., we work insane hours compared to some of our global counterparts. There is definitely a better balance that we can strike to make work a healthier experience for everyone. However, I don’t think that flexibility should be defined by the number of days worked between the office and remote. It’s more about your schedule in general. Maybe some people want to work 10am-4pm in the office instead of 8am-6pm, and work the other hours remotely. Some people are going to prefer to put in a couple of hours on the weekends and take a half day on a Friday. We are moving towards a place of results-driven work environments, and not hours spent in the office. I think that’s a really positive shift.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

Work and the workplace have been evolving for decades, if not generations. When I was young, most of the people I knew in the workforce (namely the parents of my friends) held the same job at the same company in the same office for their entire careers. They climbed the corporate ladder and a trajectory that was generally vertical. Today, career paths are more like jungle gyms than ladders. People move forwards, backwards, and sideways trying to find the right role where they can add the most value and impact. But the key word there is that they move. The average Millennial will hold over 15 jobs in their career — that’s a huge difference from only a few decades ago. The most successful companies going forward will understand that transiency. Rather than trying to stop it, they will try to slow it through better workplace experiences, tech enablement that removes friction for the worker, and flexibility in ways that are meaningful to employees but still drives organizational value for the employer.

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?

It’s all about finding the arrangement that works for everybody in the modern workplace. It’s no longer just about what employers want. It’s about the new normal for work, and how employers can strike a balance between what they want (which is maximum results and productivity from employees), while giving employees what they want (which is flexibility and support from their employers) at the same time.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

The most important need for many people after food, water, and shelter, is human connection. It’s right there in the core of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Connections are best built and maintained in person. It’s really hard to build a strong, meaningful connection on social media or video conferences. COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted the way we engage, particularly with new people. We have to find ways to get back in person, building those connections with one another. This will help slow the spread of depression and other mental illnesses that have skyrocketed during the last two years.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

My greatest source of optimism is that we have an incredibly talented workforce, filled with people who want to do good and do it well. That gives me a lot of hope for the future; that we can continue to build great things together with companies that can make a genuine impact on the world.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

I think the bigger issue is not about the gap between job loss and job gain, but the skills gap. As I said before, technology will ultimately create new jobs, but those jobs will require specialized skill sets. Is a delivery driver going to be able to find a similar job where his or her skill sets match, or will they have to build a new set of skills to become a software engineer programming the next driverless car? They are entirely different skill sets.

The solution to the skills gap problem requires rethinking our public education system. For what we need today, public education needs to help build the workers of the future with the roles and skills that they need to have. We also need to continue innovating technology in every industry, whether it’s driverless cars for the delivery driver, or new approaches to healthcare with robotics.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Increased Flexibility — Flexibility isn’t necessarily measured in days or hours. It’s measured in results and accountability. In fact, it’s not new. It’s always been this way. Employees who deliver great results have long enjoyed more flexibility from their managers. While the “trend” toward flexibility is being talked about more openly, it’s really about trusting employees to get their work done and focusing on deliverables and results rather than clock-punching. Some employees at our company choose to work late nights and weekends and sleep a little later in the morning. Depending on the role and the team, that’s okay if the results are there.
  2. The Career Jungle Gym — As I said earlier, career paths today look more like jungle gyms than ladders. Employees move up, down, and across roles within their organizations and out when changing companies as well. This is a new dynamic for employers to address when thinking about talent attraction and retention.
  3. Tech-Enabled Office — With companies spending the vast majority of their operating expenses on their employees, and employees more transient than ever before, it’s imperative that employers focus on removing friction and creating a workplace experience that is sticky for employees. Of course, productivity tools like video conferencing and the ability to work from anywhere are important, but equally important are tools and technology to improve the way employees are able to engage with the physical world — be that other people or the built environment. Make it easy, enjoyable, and frictionless for an employee to navigate their workday and watch retention improve.
  4. The Data-Driven Office — Even before COVID-19, office utilization trends on any given day showed somewhere between 60% and 80% occupancy. Between time off, business travel, remote work, and other reasons, it just wasn’t realistic to have 100% of the team in the office; however, companies still planned for 100% of people to be in the office. There has been a rise in sensor technology and other methods of collecting occupancy data. As that data becomes more widely available, expect real estate heads to be making decisions about the office footprint, layout, density, and more based on that data.
  5. Re-Densification — COVID-19 forced a conversation about density in offices. Social distancing and plastic dividers were seen to be the norm going forward. As we’ve learned more about COVID and transmissible illnesses, I expect the trend of de-densifying offices to reverse. Within a few years, offices will re-densify as companies look to maximize space based on the data they are collecting from sensors and their employees.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

I don’t really live by any quotes, but if I had to pick one, I suppose it would be: “Do your best and forget the rest.” The most ardent competitor we all face in our lives is ourselves. We set artificial limits about what we can and can’t accomplish. When we push ourselves and allow ourselves to go beyond our limits, that’s where true change and improvement occur.

Last year, I shared the story of Hicham El Guerrouj with my team. El Guerrouj is widely considered the best middle-distance runner in the world. He set the record for the mile run in 1999 with a time of 3 minutes 43.13 seconds. That pace is nearly 20 mph.

What’s really astounding about this story is that until Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mark in 1954, it was widely considered impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Since then, the record has been reset 18 times including El Guerrouj. In fact, once Bannister broke the record, it only took 6 weeks for someone else to beat Bannister’s time. People didn’t suddenly become faster. They just changed their view of what’s possible.

I find these inspiring stories to help remind myself that most limits are mental. I share these stories with my team and with my kids in the hopes that they always remember the ultimate competitor is the voice inside their heads.

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 would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney. I just finished reading his book, called The Ride of a Lifetime. It was an incredibly engaging read. His approach to risk and growth at a big company, where the stakes are really high, is exciting. He also has an inspiring approach to people, team, and humanity. I’d love to pick his brain about the great career that he’s had, and the additional advice and learnings I can take from him.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markarosenthal/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarkRosenthal
HqO’s Website: https://www.hqo.com/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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