Preparing For The Future Of Work: Miles Everson of MBO Partners On The Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work
In the future of work, a larger portion of the professional workforce will be made up of independent professionals vs. full-time employees. And we need to look no further than the 34% growth in the last 12 months of independent professionals in the U.S. workforce, 68% of whom were millennials and Gen Z’s, and 55% of whom were women. When workers stand up and declare their wishes, companies will be forced to adapt.
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 Miles Everson.
Miles Everson is the CEO of MBO Partners, the definitive market leader in enabling the future of work and improving the well-being of professionals and businesses throughout the world. Before joining MBO, Everson had a rich career with PwC, almost three decades in total. Everson has worked with many of the world’s largest and most prominent organizations, specializing in executive management. He helps companies balance growth, reduce risk, maximize return, and excel in strategic business priorities.
Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you, in your own words, tell us about your background, where you come from, and the life experiences that shaped your current self?
I currently live in Austin, Texas. Before joining MBO Partners as CEO, I spent about three decades working with Price Waterhouse Coopers, where I had the opportunity to lead our advisory consulting businesses of 60,000+ people.
I have had the opportunity to travel worldwide, engage in multiple cultures, and serve large and small companies across numerous industries. This has provided me perspective on different viewpoints and ways of doing business. I grew up as the son of an entrepreneurial family in North Dakota. Conversations — both about how to grow a business and how to treat people, workers, and customers alike — were the lifeblood of our dinner table chats. This instilled in me the importance of holding true to your values and having a strong work ethic. On the personal front, I had the opportunity to summit Kilimanjaro. This experience helped me reinforce the importance of focusing on getting to a specific objective and outcome, which also contributes to how I think about where I spend my time and energy.
I’ve had an affinity for building a new future of work for about a decade, and this is something that weighed heavily in my decision to join MBO. I think of this role as a culmination of many of the experiences in my life. MBO is a platform that makes it easier for people who choose to be independent professionals to work with large enterprises and likewise makes it easier for large enterprises to build and enhance an agile total workforce strategy. Today, there are over 51 million independents in the United States, a number that leaped more than 34 percent since 2020. This surge is just one of many signs that the future of work is not just coming — it’s already here.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10 to 15 years, and how should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
I’ve tracked four key trends for more than a decade. These trends are shaping the future of not only employers’ relationship with their workers but the entire business model of our nation’s economy:
- The Rate of Change is Accelerating. There is no question that the rate of change is accelerating. This is resulting in more innovations occurring at an increasingly rapid pace. When innovations converge, you see a demonstrable impact on societal issues and opportunities. For example, we can now carry the power of a supercomputer (a smartphone) in our pockets, whereas this would not have been thought possible just decades ago. As changes accelerate and innovations converge, work and the workforce will need to evolve faster than ever before.
- Progress is deflationary. This is the case as long as the rate of innovation is outstripping the cost of capital, which it has done for decades at this point. And with the pace of change accelerating, I continue to see deflation as an ongoing societal impact. Converging innovations not only change societal norms but also often disrupt existing industry value chains. Innovative companies can beat well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, and/or price at which value is delivered by taking advantage of these changes in the supply chain and distribution.
- Knowledge stocks to Knowledge Flows. Traditionally, companies have been built on an ethos of knowledge stocks; meaning, they developed a proprietary product or idea and then defended that innovative advantage against all rivals. In today’s business climate, the value of these breakthroughs is quickly eroded by rapid innovation and the unbridled power that comes from instant access to the best ideas and talent.
-Modern businesses find innovation at the edge of their companies as opposed to their proprietary core. They measure competitiveness, not by the number of engineers on their payroll, but by their degree of access to a global talent pool — knowledge flows, instead of knowledge stocks. Just twenty years ago, opening a company’s proprietary code base (knowledge) to others would have been heresy. Today, even the biggest tech giants are doing it. Moving from knowledge stocks to knowledge flows helps industry innovate more quickly and creatively to create new products and outcomes:
* The ability to tap into knowledge is the highest it’s ever been in humankind. You can find knowledge in places all over the world, and not always from the traditional areas in which people think to look. Look no further than open source technology and how technology has been opened up so thousands, even millions of people, can contribute to the improvement and enhancement of that technology that is continuing. Employers need to think about doing that, not just with technology but with the totality of their workforce.
* If companies are honest, if they want access to the best talent to impact their company and their share value, they will, in fact tap into the totality of the workforce, which is no longer limited to the full-time employee.
- The Fractionalization of Everything. When you fractionalize assets, you make it possible and easier for more people to use that asset or to take advantage of it. For example, you can think of publicly traded companies. It makes it possible for retail investors to invest in mortgage-backed securities, and de-risk the investment in a mortgage that fueled the U.S. economy over the last 30 years. Now you see fractionalization of assets like rideshare platforms, lodging platforms, and more. The next significant asset to be fractionalized is the most valuable asset of any company, which is its workforce and its people. You will see that they will fractionalize their workforce to get the right people with the right skills at the right time and the right price. Workers can also take advantage of this, fractionalizing their workday and their career in a way that has never been possible in the past. With that fractionalization, workers can bring liquidity to the way work gets done and how it gets done, effectively reducing what has historically been a significant barrier to entry to the relationship between the worker and the employer.
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 to go to college?
The most valuable capability that an individual can have is an enhanced learning capability, and it’s both the capability and the interest in learning.
If you are good at learning and you practice a learning discipline, you will be able to adapt to changing skills, changing careers, changing jobs. It used to be that people would pick a job based on their education, whether that was high school or college, then they would go, and they would work in that job for decades. That is no longer the case because it doesn’t have to be. If you know how to learn, you can continue to pick up new skills and capabilities. You can work well into subsequent decades beyond what has historically been the experience. This advice applies to knowledge work and, in fact, any job that requires technical skill development.
My advice is to make sure you learn how to learn and leverage that skill. Whether you do that through college or other learning mechanisms is a personal choice. The most successful and satisfied individuals will pursue a path of becoming constant and continual learners.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are and likely will still 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?
The term ‘employment’ implies that I work for a single company and report to a manager. We’re seeing that individuals are choosing to be independent professionals instead. They no longer want to be beholden to one manager of one company, they want to take control of their career, and part of the reason they want to do that is that they can. A new Emsi report on national and global demographic labor trends finds that businesses already face a labor shortage of more than 6 million workers, and this number is poised to grow as more baby boomers exit the workforce. Data from MBO’s State of Independence research shows that younger workers, Gen Z and Millennial, are choosing independence at a significantly higher rate than their predecessors — in the past year, 68% of all new entrants were under 40. These workers aren’t going to wait to mold to what an employer wants — the era of choice is here, and employers must mold to the job seekers to find future success.
Further, barriers to entry to work are the lowest they’ve ever been. The pandemic perhaps accelerated remote work by a decade. As soon as you get to be able to work remotely, it brings liquidity to the opportunities that an individual can seek. It brings liquidity to the company in terms of the population of people they can seek out, and so I see that people will be able to choose who they work for and how long they work for much more easily than what used to be the case.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs appear 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 so that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or machines?
There are two ways to look at A.I. and Automation from the worker’s point of view: you can look at this as if it’s going to replace your job, or as if it’s going to change the way you work. The answer is dependent on your mindset.
If you’re continuing to learn when automation and A.I. arrive, the key thing to contemplate is “how can I use that technology to augment my relevance to producing good value for customers and society in general.” By taking this approach, A.I. is not replacing your brain, but augmenting and enhancing your ability to create more value. It’s all about how you approach the change — this concept isn’t unique to A.I. and automation, but rather for all change and change processes.
Let’s return, for a moment, to the accelerating rate of change. A.I. is widely credited with being invented in 1959. It meant nothing until the 1990s when you had innovations around technology and data structures that made it possible for technology to house large sums of data and for A.I. to learn on it. It was used in electronic trading. It was being used in smartphones only ten years later to help people navigate things as simple as their directions because in their phones, they had geo-mapping capability. The bandwidth from communications was large enough to handle it.
This is a brief digression to say that our question today about A.I. and automation is, in five years, going to be a question about something else taking jobs. Innovations are going to continue to accelerate and change how society operates and what is acceptable to society. If you’re not willing to learn and adapt, you’ll get left behind.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
The pandemic accelerated the social acceptance of and the individual desire to work remotely by probably a decade. While I do believe that there will be more back-to-work arrangements and it won’t be completely remote, we will see a hybrid model have permanency. In short, we will not be in the office as often as people were before the pandemic.
Part of the reason for that is that very talented people are choosing to work remotely, and employers’ companies want access to the best talent. They will, in fact, make it work and make it work well for people to work remotely.
Remote work — even burgeoning trends like digital nomads, of which the U.S. has 15.5 million — has become a lifestyle choice for many people. We know from our research that independent professionals are happier (87%), feel healthier (78%), and more financially secure (68%). While you can be a remote worker as a full-time worker or as an independent, there is a correlation between the acceptance of remote work and those who have the best talent.
My advice to employers is you need to embrace change. Do not choose to be a protectionist around protecting the old traditional methods and approaches — rarely does protectionism work.
It doesn’t mean that you need to eliminate the physical presence and human connection in a company, but it does mean that your culture needs to be activated in ways that don’t rely solely on physical presence.
There’s an old saying to contemplate here as well: “when you think that things need to change, perhaps you should first focus on what you need to change.”
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support fundamental changes to work?
The pandemic has accelerated and cemented the fundamental shift and acceptance of remote working and learning, and with it, comfort, systems, and protocols for communication synchronously and asynchronously. Remote education is now embedded from the earliest stages.
Look at children — they don’t believe physical presence is required; most have friends they’ve never met. As these generations grow and evolve, they will drive further adoption of societal changes that will, in turn, continue to push changes to business, many of which we’ve not yet contemplated.
An example of this is the adoption of A.I. and nanotechnology, which started with the consumer long before it became commonplace for business. Consumers got used to being tracked and consuming and using A.I. to give them a better experience before the company’s A.I. did it. Consumers adopted cloud technology faster than business to business captured the use of cloud technology. Consumerization will lead the enterprise; it always has.
Another primary societal change is the relationship and the ecosystem of workers relative to the ecosystem of companies and the societal change occurring. The worker has a stronger balance of power in the relationship with the company than it used to have. While companies used to dictate terms, conditions, and arrangements much more than they do today, that trend will continue to change, and the workers will increasingly have power.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept?
Perhaps the most challenging change for employers to accept is that they believe full-time work is a permanent workforce for them, when in fact, all the data shows that it’s not.
In the United States, if you’re under 45, you’ll change jobs every 4.1 years. If you’re under 35, you will change roughly every three years, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Enterprises are already operating a transient workforce and haven’t yet embraced that they need a comprehensive workforce strategy that includes the extended humans that are not part of their full-time employee work base.
What challenges are most difficult for employees to accept?
When it comes to the employee in the future of work, the biggest challenge is the balance of having a community, a set of friends that you rely on at work.
There is a fair bit of evidence that people primarily stay at companies because they have friends there. This could become a generational divide; one wherein the younger generations will develop their friendships remotely and electronically with ease. In contrast, older generations will not be as quick to adapt to that change. The shift, however, is in mindset, so it is surmountable.
Challenges for Gen-Z/Millennials?
Gen Z is widely coined as the most ‘entrepreneurial’ generation to date. If that’s the case, and we see evidence it is, their challenge will be becoming an entrepreneur and developing those skills and resilience without an experience base behind them. Behind every entrepreneur that has been successful are several that have failed, and even those that have been successful have often failed multiple times in their quest.
Create and develop a high resilience to failure. Set challenges and standards for success. Build mental (and physical) agility. Learn, wherever possible. Gen Z and Millennial workers will encounter different challenges than their X and Boomer parents. Among them is the need to develop relationships with multiple customers (or employers) and learn how to take care of their own financial and health arrangements without having a corporation provide it for them.
Challenges for Baby Boomers?
For the Baby Boomers, their challenge revolves around adaptation — whether they can operate longer than originally planned, remotely, and adapt to the ever-increasing rate of change.
A challenge across all segments is to have purpose and a willingness to adapt as circumstances change.
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?
If I’m making $500k a year and incapable of saving and putting away capital for bad times, that’s a personal choice. That’s very different from someone who, whatever the reasons might be, is not in a position to earn even a minimum amount of money to survive the social cost associated with living in America.
Yes, there should be social safety nets available for those who are disadvantaged or, for other reasons, cannot go out and produce at a level that provides adequate food, shelter, and water.
I’d also submit that the social safety net structure is being disproportionately taken advantage of by some and, at the same time, not being accessed by others.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My optimism about the future of work is quite high. Number one, there is increasing liquidity, i.e., increasing opportunities for people to find work with more places and companies than ever, so the opportunity is high. Technology has made it easy to go into business for themselves with very little capital if you have energy and discipline. You can do so with essentially zero capital. That’s a great opportunity for people.
If you look at how technology can augment humans to be more productive, there’s an opportunity to spend less time working because you’re more productive when you are working. You can achieve your work financial outcomes, perhaps in less time, and have time to spend on other things than just working.
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 job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
The length of the gap between eliminating one job and creating new jobs returns to the fundamental issue of humans being effective learners and adapting to change. This is obvious — the ability to adapt is essential. The choke point on adoption and adapting is human capacity, not technological innovation.
What are the five top trends to watch in the future of work with an example of each five trends, each one with an example.
- In the future of work, a larger portion of the professional workforce will be made up of independent professionals vs. full-time employees. And we need to look no further than the 34% growth in the last 12 months of independent professionals in the U.S. workforce, 68% of whom were millennials and Gen Z’s, and 55% of whom were women. When workers stand up and declare their wishes, companies will be forced to adapt.
- Companies will increasingly utilize project-based outcome arrangements over full-time hourly rates. The reasons for this are manifold, including the increasing need to tap into specialized, deep skills vs. broad generic skill sets and the need to accomplish work in quicker sprints. If you look at the current extended workforce, including consulting, BPO, talent platforms, and more, that’s growing at more than 12% per annum, significantly faster than GDP.
- We are in a talent shortage, not a talent surplus. More than three million Baby Boomers exited the workforce in 2020 alone, a number that will continue to grow as this generation retires, a trend that’s been dubbed an upcoming sansdemic, or a growing trend of a world without people. Broader recruitment strategies, targeted and ongoing skills training, and better plans for talent retention — regardless of employee status, can keep companies fresh and free from so-called ‘talent droughts.’
- Global wage scales are normalizing for white-collar jobs. This is because the same job and function can be accomplished remotely and therefore done by people operating in lower cost of living locations. As such, the balance of power can again tilt towards the worker as we grow used to having both a remote and more transient workforce.
- Politicians will continue to pursue protectionist policies until shown otherwise. It is a bad thing because those policies tend to treat every member of society as if they are the same. People choose to work in the way they want to work, and they will, regardless of the policies. It’s detrimental for both the economy and society to regulate human desire. Until forced otherwise, political pressures will push towards homogeneity in the workforce and continue to be a structure challenging to this new workforce model.
What’s your favorite life lesson and quote, and how has it shaped your perspective?
I’ve always followed the mantra that “the truth is more unbelievable than fiction.” There’s very little that surprises me, and it’s given me the ability to step back and evaluate systems, situations, and people with a cool and level head.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in business V.C. funding sports and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
Elon Musk. I think about his work — from PayPal to Tesla to SpaceX and see him as someone who believes in making the impossible possible. He demonstrates a maniacal commitment to lifelong learning, understanding the deep and complex, and ensuring that society benefits from his results. Further, he isn’t afraid of grand dreams or failure; his resilience is admirable.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.