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Preparing For The Future Of Work: Tyler Scriven of Saltbox On The Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work

An Interview with Phil La Duke

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 Tyler Scriven.

Tyler is the co-founder & CEO of Saltbox. Previously, Tyler has served as the managing director of Techstars Atlanta as well as a member of the senior leadership team at Palantir Technologies, where he was chief of staff to the president and head of operations, including people operations, recruiting, IT, real estate, and corporate development. During his tenure with Palantir, he was broadly engaged in scaling the operations of the business from 100 to nearly 2,000 employees and saw the company grow to become one of the most valuable in Silicon Valley. Tyler began his career with J.P. Morgan and worked in the fields of private equity and investment banking. He received a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and Economics from The University of Virginia. He currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.

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 was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. As a kid, I was always very entrepreneurial. I started my first business at age 14, and by 16 I’d somehow convinced my high school principal to allow me to leave school early every day in order that I could focus on running my business. I was grateful to have the opportunity to attend the University of Virginia, which opened my eyes to a world of opportunities that I’d never known as a child.

After about four years as a junior Analyst working on Wall Street, I was fortunate to join a startup by the name of Palantir Technologies in 2009. All of a sudden, I found myself in an environment that was radically different from anything I’d ever experienced, in the very best of ways. The company was full of radically ambitious, smart and hardworking people, and we were deeply mission-oriented. I loved every minute of my six years at Palantir, and walked away with a fundamentally different perspective of how to set and achieve ambitious goals.

In 2016 I made the decision to relocate from Palo Alto to Atlanta. While I loved my time at Palantir, I’d long felt that there was an even more interesting set of problems to be solved and opportunities to be had outside of the cozy bubble of Silicon Valley.

Ultimately, my interests led me to acquire and lead an Atlanta-based consumer packaged goods (CPG) company, True Glory Brands, which opened my eyes and sparked a deep interest in solving the complexities that millions of small e-commerce merchants nationwide face across supply chain and the physical world.

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?

I can speak specifically to what we’ve seen in our industry and how I see it evolving. Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the digital transformation dramatically disrupt the world of commerce, enabling more individuals worldwide to stand up an online store in minutes. Today, this kind of entrepreneurial opportunity coupled with the shift to remote work has created a totally new energy for what it means to ‘work’ in our society.

Employers’ ability to focus on what it means to offer flexibility for its employees across a unified workforce will be paramount. The shortsighted direction leans towards employers being highly specific about workdays in the office or pushing all group meetings to virtual. The real work is for employers to recognize that flexibility and employees’ focus post-COVID will continue to evolve and must be evaluated on an ongoing basis with deeper listening to their workforce.

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?

It’s difficult to generalize about the efficacy of a college education without knowing the particular field a student wants to pursue or the skills they have or would like to acquire. However, I will say this: Business (and life) constantly present opportunities where we’ll learn more about ourselves and what we really want to do. After I graduated college, I started a position that, on paper, was a pretty prestigious role. As I checked off my post-graduation goal of landing a job in finance, I found myself deeply unhappy with what I was doing and knew I had to make a change. So I quit, and that decision ultimately led me on a path to growing the team at Palantir and more recently, co-founding Saltbox. My journey serves as an example that the idea a young adult may have about the direction they want to take doesn’t have to be absolute. Things change, circumstances change, even passion may change as we move through the different seasons of our career. There is no one set way to find success, and the traditional notion that you can only accomplish it with a college education has been obliterated thousands of times over by some of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs. Ultimately, it’s freeing to know that finding your professional purpose is not a function of the path others think you should take, and instead is a byproduct of your decisions and how they make you feel.

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?

From my perspective, job seekers will continue to search for employment that is enriching and rewarding. As I have seen, people want to work for a company that aligns with their values and is a good career and culture fit. In our case, we are simplifying the hardest aspects of running an ecommerce business, with purpose-built workspaces offering warehouse suites, on-demand labor, fulfillment, and everything else ecommerce companies need to run their businesses. This sense of making a difference for local businesses has become very much an important piece of how we attract and recruit talent in cities where we currently have or are launching a Saltbox location. At Saltbox, we know that building towards our ambitious vision is challenging and brings new focuses every day. We find that job seekers who value aspects of our culture like humility, determination, and risk-taking will fit as it aligns with our overall mission.

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?

In spring of this year, we launched one of the first fulfillment offerings designed specifically around the needs of the small-business merchant, not just their goods. Whereas traditional third-party logistics services are confusing and very much automated, Saltbox offers its fulfillment members direct access to their facilities, transparent and simple pricing, and an invitation to train and get to know the Fulfillment team personally. The importance of having someone you can rely on, not a machine, is a huge selling factor for our business and for our members. While automation may threaten certain industries, I believe we will always need and want a human element in our business operations, and that fundamental preference is never going away. For those worried about planning a career in the wake of ever-growing automation, I’d say focus on skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and communication and be willing to adapt as technology continues to change.

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

In our industry, ecommerce companies operate best in a purpose-built workspace like Saltbox, and throughout the pandemic we have together figured out how to do it safely. For ecommerce companies, a commitment to continuing to receive and ship products for customers is imperative. Rather than shutting down this operation completely, we see members seeking new ways to operate their businesses in this ‘new normal,’ working with our Elastic Workforce to augment their operations or spread out production hours.

As we’ve grown at Saltbox, our team has become distributed across our network. The efficiency we’ve seen over the past year and a half has taught employers that work-from-home is a viable option, and it’s shown employees the benefit of a more flexible working environment. While some employees will eventually return to the office, many will be permanently work-from-home or on a hybrid model of at-home and in-the-office work. What we do know is that our team has experienced more connectedness and productivity with occasional focused time in-person. I suspect more companies will pursue this hybrid approach in building distributed, remote teams.

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

The traditional use of industrial real estate, the typical locations that we have envisioned as our office or warehouse, has fundamentally changed. The concept of where we work, how we work and what we do for work has rapidly evolved over the pandemic and Saltbox has been at forefront of this change.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed in April 2021 about 4 million people quit their jobs, which is the highest monthly figure since the agency started publishing quit-rates in December 2000. Here are other statistics to consider: The Census Bureau reported Americans filed paperwork for 4.3 million new businesses in 2020, up from 3.5 million in 2019. NRP also reported people began more than 440,000 businesses in June 2021, and from March 2020 to June 2021, there has been a record-high number of new startups in the U.S.

So, what we’ve experienced during COVID-19 is not only an exodus from traditional jobs but also a flourishing of new businesses — startups, small business, ecommerce solutions — and we’re here as a modern warehouse and co-working space to support this new business owner as they scale and grow.

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?

For employers, at least for small and medium-sized businesses that we interact with daily, I suspect the availability for remote work options will prove important in recruitment and retention. This will not only be a perk but also a necessity. For employees, the same concern rings true for many that may not fully be comfortable working in an office.

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

The pandemic was filled with so many unexpected and unavoidable challenges that we were forced to evolve almost every aspect of the work environment. Some of those changes — like working from home and working for a company whose vision, social responsibility and culture aligns with your own — will absolutely stick. As we’ve navigated the obstacles of 2020 and 2021, time in isolation has allowed us to focus inward, and gave us space to think about what’s really important in our professional lives. I believe these shifts have created a workforce that’s more attuned to elements of their career other than advancement and profits; happiness, wellness and fulfillment are now tangible benchmarks to measure the success of our career. This transformation is a source of optimism for employers and employees alike because when people feel more joyful about their work, it benefits their team and their customers.

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. Hybrid Work to Continue. Bloomberg story linked here
  2. Align your work with your values. CFO Dive story linked here
  3. Be your own boss, following your dreams of entrepreneurship. NY Times article linked here
  4. Utilize innovations to address small business growth. Article linked here
  5. A focus on logistics built for humans, not just for goods. Podcast linked here.

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

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

I think that this quote says it all. It very simply, but articulately puts words to something we all feel — this idea that life is indeed difficult. I’ve always found the simplicity of this statement to be empowering.

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

You can follow me online on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also visit the Saltbox website to learn more about what we do: www.saltbox.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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