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The Future of Work: Interview with Laetitia Vitaud

February 20, 2021
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Deel is always on the lookout for strong voices of people exploring the future of work. We had a chance to chat with Laetitia Vitaud, a London-based writer and speaker about the future of work and consumption. She is a strong advocate in the field who spent many years at French Science Po working on the subject. We had a discussion about what the future of work may be like and what changed in the past.

Laetitia, you wrote an article where you stated the "future of work" is everywhere around us and it certainly is the topic of the decade. What do you think the future of work will look like in terms of proportion and organization structure?

We are pretty much seeing the future of work happening right before our eyes. The creative class now makes the majority of the remote working community. However, working remotely does not make sense for all the jobs. Despite the common belief, we might not have 50% of freelancers in the near future. The reason for that is the costs of coordinating the work of remote teams which is (still) much too high, for many jobs and many things that we do remotely might be automated in the future. On the other hand, what won't be automated in the future is the work you can only do in a physical place.

What does that mean for bigger companies?

The things Deel and other startups are doing will enable companies, especially the large ones that don't yet have the proper processes, to rethink managing remote teams and people who are not their employees. There will surely be a better process in place and there will be purchasing processes that will be much clearer. It's simple- in order to have access to the talent they need and for which there will be increased competition they will have to accept that that trend of hiring remotely will continue to go on.

What is the main difference between work now and work before? What are the main challenges?

In the 20th century, we believed the work was all about factories and we had one dominant representation of work—Charles Chaplin tightening bolts on the assembly line. It was this dominant representation that shaped all our institutions—social protection, unions, education— even though it was never more than 50% of the workforce.

The main challenge for tomorrow is what we are going to do with jobs requiring physical presence and how we are going to make that line of work more valuable and attractive. So if you want to look long term to challenges of the future of work it will have to take that dimension into account.

How do you think companies can work to solve that?

There is one big challenge that involves real estate and old age, so let me put it this way: It's widely known that real estate has gone really expensive and that's one of the things that's driving remote work. One of the arguments Upwork's CEO uses all the time— life in San Francisco is so expensive so why not hire people who live in Colorado or anywhere else?

On the other hand, many jobs that will be needed in the future require you to be physically present in cities where the density is highest. We will need workers to serve people in restaurants, look after them, nurse them, cut their hair, give them medical care, teach and train them, etc.

So, several questions emerge: How do you invent new ways to tap into that market, connect people who can provide those services but don't live in big cities with the people who need them. Is there a part of that which can be performed remotely? Are there systems that can be invented to provide more housing, to give people space to provide and receive those services? How do you make those services more valuable?

You have a very provocative perspective on the future of work. In some countries, there are still a lot of service providers, but it seems they are not considered to be the future of work.

Yes, because the way you look after someone and provide affection and care has not changed in the past 100 years. Basically, for that type of work you don't need that much technology. Having someone hold someone else's hand, maybe technology can help, but how? I don't know how tech will fill in that gap but I think that's one of the major challenges of the future of work.

With the increase of remote work, that physical interaction will be even less present.

Yeah, so that's already a challenge and I don't think you even need to be an employee or a freelancer to feel that physical part missing. One way or the other, you will have to have that human touch that's missing. You want to have a full life and you want your work to be fulfilling and satisfying or else you’ll get depressed. We are already witnessing a spectacular rise in depressions.

Yes, it's often a challenge for a lot of remote teams. How to keep everyone happy, engaged, etc. Organizing retreats is still not the same as being physically present. Do you know of any companies which do a good job being remote?

There are a few companies that I always read about. The first one is Buffer— they’ve made remote work a part of their employer branding and it works really well for them. They share tips and ideas about managing remote teams on their blog. Another one is Automattic (the company behind Wordpress) who actually switched from a location based office to no office. It's great to see a company that has a legacy take it and transform it into something different. The third one is Basecamp whose founders published a series of books with the lessons their learned from building their software. It's funny to see software developers generating a lot of revenue from such a traditional business—selling paper books.

With companies and trends changing, how do you think will "employee loyalty" change?

Loyalty used to be connected to the type of contract that linked you to your employer. Loyalty was for employees. I believe loyalty now has little to do with being an employee as it has more to do with serving a mission or liking your team. You can be a freelancer and be loyal to your client and feel you a part of the team. It has nothing to do with the way you work, it has to do with WHY you work and who you work with.

It has always been about those two things, no?

Yes and no. If you look at the 20th century, the company you worked for provided status, identity, a payslip which gave you access to housing, banking credits to buy your car, etc. Even if you didn't like your job, you had so many benefits and powerful unions that it went beyond the work itself. Today, loyalty has become more narrow, you will often leave and change jobs faster. The psychological barrier to leaving is not as strong as it used to be. The end of traditional loyalty was first caused by large corporations that, starting in the 1980s and 1990s, no longer promised job security. Eventually employees got used to the idea. In short, loyalty is mutating, it's evolving, it is not what it used to be. It has not disappeared, it's just different.


Laetitia Vitaud is a writer and speaker about the future of work and HR. She teaches regularly at Sciences Po, Paris and Université Paris Dauphine, and writes for the media Welcome to the Jungle.

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