Episode #49: 2021 Predictions — The New World of Work

Grad Conn

December 31, 202013 min read

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The past year massively disrupted the way we work. So, what happens next? Is this the new normal? Do we go back to how it was before? Or a mixture of both? We talk about the future of work, and why the 2020s could be the dawn of a business renaissance. It’s Prediction Week, on the CXM Experience.

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And welcome again to the CXM Experience. I am Grad Conn, CXO at Sprinklr. And today we are talking about predictions for 2021. So, one of my favorite shows is the McLaughlin group, I talked about that a couple days ago, they always do a 2020 award show, and then 2021 predictions at the end of the year. And so this whole week is a tip of the hat to the McLaughlin group, I’m going to be doing 2021 predictions.

So today I want to talk about the future of work. This is a pretty interesting topic. And we’ve had this monster disruption with COVID-19. Everyone’s working from home. And the question on everyone’s mind is, do we all just go back to the office like we were before? So, option one. Option two, do we all continue to work from home, now that we’ve gotten offices set up is just new reality. And option three, is there some sort of blended mix. And I think the other thing that we don’t really talk about very much, and the stimulus bills refers to a little bit, but there’s a very significant reality, in that a ton of people are out of work. And you know, have been out of work for a while and will continue to be out of work for a while. And so in this new reality, it’s not just where we’re going to be going to work, but who will be working, and what’s going to happen to all the people, particularly in the service industries, and many other industries that may be permanently disrupted. What’s going to happen to them, where they’re going to go? For example, the hotel industry, the airline industry, there’s so many industries that have got permanent levels of disruption that will take years, maybe even decades to recover from.

So let’s talk a little bit about social norms for a second, because I think that is actually something that is going to change. And then let’s get into the future of work. And I have potentially a slightly contrarian point of view on this. So social norms, I have long been disgusted, maybe bothered… bothered by the way that people come into work, or appear in public, particularly in theaters and concerts, sick as dogs. You know, people have no business being out of bed, come to these things, coughing, and hacking and sneezing and getting everyone else sick around them. And it’s been going on for my whole lifetime. And it’s ridiculous, I hate it. I can trace many things I got sick from to that person I had to sit beside on the plane or that person I had to sit beside in the concert or the theater. And I think that’s not going to be acceptable anymore. I don’t understand how it was acceptable before. I think COVID-19 will make facemask wearing acceptable for a long time. I know I’ll probably maintain a face mask protocol, probably for the rest of my life. And I’ll enjoy that. And I think that this idea that you can just walk around coughing and hacking and getting other people sick is going to be gone. We’ve got an awareness of germs and hand washing, which as appalling as I found it in the early stages… I remember my initial reactions were, What do you mean, people weren’t washing their hands? To, well, I love people are now washing their hands. And let’s just keep that up.

So that I think is going to have an impact on work. Because what it’s done is that work, which was becoming more and more officeless, or even cubicleless, and just tables of people sitting across them. I think that’s going to fundamentally change because there’s going to be a liability that companies will have that will fundamentally change the way people think about the office, the office environment and the safety of the office environment. Especially large corporations will be thinking about the safety of their workers and what they’re going to be doing to potentially put people at risk. And the current office design mantra over the last few years. I think part of the current office design mantra has been to try to squeeze more workers into a smaller space. Now it’s been characterized in different ways. You know, people talk about it as being you know, creating more collaboration and more connection and more whatever, camaraderie, etc. But at the end of the day, it’s squeeze more people into a tighter space. And so, I think that is going to be a broken ideology.

The good news, slash the new news is it also won’t be as necessary. Because I think companies will go to a blended format, where people will work from home and or from the office, I don’t think the office goes away. But I do think that the ability to shrink the footprint of the office will be there, because you’ll either have A) fewer workers or B) workers on different shifts. And so the long awaited three or four day work week, I think, is finally here. And that allows that footprint reduction to occur without forcing people to work in extremely close quarters.

I think what we’re going to see the return of is the return of the private office. We’re going to see people coming back to individual offices with doors, which, quite frankly, was the way I started my career and I’ve had that many times in my career. Bill Gates is a big believer in that actually. Bill Gates always believed that it was better for his developers to work in a space with doors where they could concentrate and focus. And so if you go to any of the early Microsoft offices, they were all offices, and they were all with doors that close and people could sit and work and think, and they did some pretty cool stuff in those years. So it’s hard to argue with the success of that.

And so what you’ll see is the return to separated offices, a continued evolution of collaboration, and I’ll talk about that in a second, and fewer days in the office, and fewer general office gatherings that expose people to risk. At the same time, what you’re going to see is all these workers who’ve been released, won’t be able to find a new home, there won’t be a corporate hiring available for them. And so what you’ll see is, I think, a burst of creativity, and a burst of entrepreneurship, that will be extremely exciting. It’s going to make the 20s a really great decade, because whenever you see that explosion of creativity, when that gets unleashed, you see a lot of new wealth get created. And people think and do things in different ways than they would have if they’re working for someone else. So that will create a lot more small companies, a lot of those companies will be virtual, and a lot of those companies will be very comfortable in the virtual world now. And they’ll be able to pitch and talk to big customers around the world in a virtual way.

Yesterday, I talked about conversational commerce. Conversational commerce will actually make it really possible and very easy for smaller companies to have individual interactions with consumers, and be able to sell them around the world in a virtual way, in a very distributed way. So, some of these smaller new entrepreneurial startups will be less physically bonded than the larger companies. Larger companies will maintain physical presence, but still reduce their footprints by having fewer workers. But the workers they do have will be in their own offices. So that’s how I think all that’s gonna kind of play out.

Collaboration. Let’s talk about that for a second. So one of the raison d’etre for getting people to work in these extremely close quarters, is, hey, we want to drive collaboration. But a lot of studies have shown is that when you put people in super close quarters, you actually decrease collaboration, not increase it, which is very interesting, a little bit counterintuitive, but when I explain it, I think it’ll make sense. Basically, what they found is that workers who are in extremely close quarters need to find some space, they need to be able to isolate. So they put on headphones, right, they put on headphones, they stare at their computer screen, and they create a personal bubble around themselves. What happens they actually become more isolated from each other, not less. Because the old days, you know, people got connected at the watercooler or at the lunchroom, like there’s always moments of connection. But when you went back to your office and shut the door, you could get some work done.

So I actually think what you’re going to see is there’s going to be a new drive on collaboration tools, the recent move to buy Slack by Salesforce, superduper interesting, I think that’s a strong indication of the power of that tool. I think Slack’s a tool that I use, and it’s got some great qualities to it. But you’re also going to see other platforms start to become really important. One of the things that will be critical in collaboration is to make sure you’ve got a common data basis for your customer. And the thing that really impairs collaboration in companies is they’ve got different customer databases. So you know, as Grad Conn, I might be in a customer service database, I might be in a marketing database, and I might be in a sales database and none of those databases are connected, and all them know different things about me. But none of them know the whole me and none of them know the whole me in terms of my interaction with that company.

As we start to see this move to a 360-degree customer profile, what enables groups to do is that I can dial in to that account. And I can see everything that I’ve done with the company. So I’ve got a much broader holistic perspective on how to have a great conversation with Grad, or whomever… I’m talking to talking myself in third person, I think that’s a bad sign. And so… I think there have been over many years, this idea of a customer database, right, the customer, the CDP is the initials for it. The customer database platform, that has been something that people have been working on for a long time. The problem with most CDPs is they’re not actionable. You end up with all your data in one spot, but you can’t do anything with it. So people tend to ignore them or not use them, and they get fallow really quickly. And then they’re sort of useless.

What has been, I think, one of the interesting things I’ve seen at Sprinklr, with the customers who have used us really well, is the customers use us really well and think of us and use us in a customer experience management context. What they’re doing is one of their outputs, essentially a byproduct of using Sprinklr is that it is a CDP. And so what that does is that if different groups who are interacting with customers, say all front office connected, they’re all now operating off the same customer profile, and anything that they do goes back to that same customer profile, and it’s updated. This 360-degree view of the customer and this common customer profile is something that people been talking about for a long time.

My other prediction is that, in addition to the future of work, is that we will now see a massive priority placed on getting that customer profile to be one single view. This is, I think, great news for us at Sprinklr. Because, you know, we have been advocating and evangelizing the idea of a single customer profile for a long time. And many people have taken us up on it. But there’s just tons of people who are still there waiting to be on that parade, and I think it’s going to make marketing totally different. I think it’s going to revolutionize the way we do things, because instead of just having a name and a profile, we’ll actually have a name profile and actions, and those actions will be able to refer to, and so I think we’re gonna have probably by the end of 2021, you’re going to start seeing some very interesting marketing come out that leverages that.

And that will essentially be doing two things. It’s the forces of needing to be great on experience, because more people are buying online or with conversational commerce, and the need to drive collaboration in the company. Because the idea that people sitting at desks are going to somehow collaborate that’s been kiboshed. And so now there’s going to be actual tools in place to do that correctly. But the tools have to be real time platform tools. Slack’s great for chatting and stuff like that. But you need to truly collaborate, you’re going to need that customer data profile in one spot. And you need to be able to take action on whatever that customer says. So you need to listen to what the customer saying. You need to be able to learn from it in aggregate, you need to be able to love your customer by doing what they need when they need it, the moment they need it.

So that is today’s prediction. And I think it’s a pretty cool one. I actually think we are entering a golden age for marketing. And I would comment that the 1920s were a golden age for marketing as well. There is a great book called The Man Who Sold America. And it’s the story of Albert Lasker and how he created the world’s largest agency and became actually one of the richest people the United States by focusing on creative and using that to drive advertising and invent all sorts of new categories. For example, He invented orange juice. He was the person that got us to drink orange juice in the morning. So if you have a chance to read that book, read that book. But you can see the 1920s were an incredibly exciting age. It generated the very first book on advertising called scientific advertising by Claude Hopkins. If you’ve not read it, it’s free and available everywhere. Please read it.

And what will the 2020s bring? I think they’re going to bring amazing innovations and marketing. They’ll be great for the consumer and be great for the companies that are selling to them as well. And for the CXM Experience. I’m Grad Conn and I’ll see you next time.

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