Erica Keswin is a 3x WSJ bestselling author, public speaker, and consultant for various major global brands. Her research and insight into workplace strategy have been published in media outlets such as Forbes, NY Post, Harvard Business Review, and more.
In this episode, Erica sits down with Christina to discuss the impact of technology both in the workplace and our education system, evolving dynamics between generational workforces, current issues such as remote work, and recent shifts occurring in the professional landscape that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This thought-provoking discussion channels many intriguing topics related to the complexities of the modern workplace, and Erica shares her vision for how we can adapt and thrive in the post-pandemic era.
You’re Missing Out, Corporate America
Women navigating the workplace in their 50s encounter a unique set of challenges distinct from their younger colleagues. Together, Christina and Erica explore the hurdles faced by these women, shedding light on the unfortunate trend of some being edged out of corporate roles. This trend deprives companies of opportunities to tap into the wealth of skills and experience present in this demographic.
The dialogue dives into the transformative role of technology in bridging generational gaps, and proposing practical strategies for companies to retain valuable talent. For example, Erica suggests allowing retirees to stay connected on a part-time basis. This practice would allow companies to capitalize on the wisdom and knowledge collected over the years from these retirees, while giving the retirees freedom and flexibility to transition into retirement.
But what about women who are looking for new job opportunities? Erica imparts valuable advice on standing out in interviews—instead of ignoring or shying away from their age, she suggests proactively addressing age-related concerns head-on. Not only do women in their 50s have a wealth of expertise and wisdom, but they are often able to provide employers more flexibility and commitment than younger women who may be balancing multiple roles and responsibilities outside of work.
So many women in their 50s are thriving—really understanding their value and designing their next chapters with purpose and determination. Corporate America needs a paradigm shift—a better understanding of the immense power and untapped potential that women over 50 bring to the workforce.
Balancing Remote Work with In-Person Engagement
As we call for change in the workforce regarding women over 50, it’s important to recognize the major shifts that happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many companies and industries shifted to remote work during that time. While the workforce at large has realized the benefits of this model, there has been an impact on human engagement and interaction. In-person connections are still important, and there is value for companies bringing their employees back to the office—but making that commute needs to be worthwhile. Erica talks about the need to design office days that focus on curated connections and team bonding—that isn’t a distraction from the work, connection and relationship-building is an important part of the work as it increases job satisfaction and collaboration.
The shift towards flexible work arrangements has helped many people improve their work/life balance. Employees of all ages have expressed a desire to not be in the office five days a week. Erica stresses the importance of strategic planning for in-person workdays, including designated times for learning and development, one-on-one meetings, and strategy work.
Considering the importance of balancing remote work with in-person engagement requires strategic planning for office days with a focus on the long-term impact it will have on company culture and connections—critical components of all successful organizations.
Fostering an Inclusive Workplace Environment
In this new age of remote work, advancing in the workplace becomes even more challenging. Christina and Erica acknowledge that those who actively engage through platforms like Zoom or pick up the phone for collaboration are likely to advance faster. However, Erica raises a concern regarding proximity bias—individuals working in close physical proximity might have advantages in project assignments and career advancement.
In this same vein, there are potential gender disparities in taking advantage of flexible work policies. This raises concerns about a growing gap in career advancement opportunities for women.
To address this, Erica suggests a rethinking of project assignment systems to ensure equitable distribution. She emphasizes the need to move away from projects being allocated based solely on physical proximity or chance encounters in the office. Erica advocates for a more intentional approach, considering factors such as caregiving responsibilities and ensuring that flexibility is offered fairly to all employees regardless of gender.
The focus is on fostering an inclusive workplace environment that supports career growth for everyone, regardless of their physical presence in the office.
Productivity in a Post-COVID World
Almost two years post-COVID, it is still challenging to obtain accurate data on workplace trends due to conflicting articles and studies, with many advocating for remote work or a hybrid model.
Erica suggests that most companies will adopt some form of a hybrid model, acknowledging the benefits of flexibility while highlighting the need to measure performance effectively. She raises concerns about the potential loss of creativity and innovation in a virtual environment, especially when managing groups.
The conversation around productivity has shifted in our post-COVID world. Companies are realizing that people can be just as, if not more, productive when working from home. However, there are still noted challenges in maintaining creativity and innovation in a virtual setting, particularly in certain industries such as advertising.
Christina adds a personal anecdote from her 20s, highlighting the positive change in the perception of productivity. She emphasizes that being at the office for eight hours a day may not be necessary for optimal productivity, echoing the sentiment that the pandemic has shown certain tasks can be done effectively from home.
Erica introduces an acronym from her book, “The Retention Revolution,” framing flexibility for leaders: A for autonomy. She suggests giving every job some agency or autonomy over its schedule—there are possibilities for flexibility even in unexpected roles.
Organizations need to think strategically about what activities should take place in the office and what can be accomplished on remote days. Company leaders need to ACE flexibility and find a balance that suits both the organization and its employees.
So, what is ACE? Erica defines the ACE framework from her book, “The Retention Revolution,” for listeners:
Autonomy—There’s a universal longing for greater autonomy at work, cutting across age, gender, race, and income brackets. Everyone craves more control over when, where, and how they work.
Connection—In today’s landscape, our interactions need purpose. Every moment of togetherness should be meaningful. Craft in-office days that truly make the commute worthwhile. Employees should not merely come into the office to work alone—this should be an opportunity to actively engage and connect with others in a way they might not be able to in a virtual setting.
Equity—Flexible policies should extend inclusively to all employees—consider caregivers, people of color, and other marginalized groups when implementing options to work-from-home. It’s crucial to ensure visibility and amplify their voices, irrespective of their work location.
In essence, ACE—Autonomy, Connection, and Equity—forms a powerful framework for a thriving workplace. By fostering autonomy, meaningful connections, and ensuring inclusive policies, organizations can pave the way for a work environment that values and engages employees across diverse backgrounds and needs.
Embracing Artificial Intelligence
As we consider the impact of flexible work environments, it is important to consider other critical shifts. Christina, a proponent of utilizing AI, wonders how this will shift the future of the modern-day workplace.
Erica shares insights from companies—the key for employees is to understand how to interact with AI rather than fearing job loss. She highlights that human skills become even more critical, and individuals need to possess analytical and influence skills to effectively work alongside AI.
Christina shares her personal experience with ChatGPT—it has improved her proficiency and allowed her to work more efficiently. She shares the value of integrating AI into the college atmosphere—instead of viewing it as cheating, universities should start seeing it as a tool that can enhance creativity and productivity. Erica supports this perspective, sharing examples of students using AI in writing seminars to learn how to leverage it effectively.
Both agree that rather than fearing AI, individuals should embrace it as a creative partner and a tool that can contribute to personal and professional growth. AI is here to stay and understanding how to use it effectively is crucial in both educational and workplace settings.
A More Human Workplace
Wrapping up this episode with the customary two questions, Erica Keswin answers the first by sharing her significant accomplishment since turning 50—writing three books, all completed between the ages of 50 and 55. She reflects on the transformative experience of going away by herself each year, combining hiking, meditation, and self-care.
In response to the second question, Erica shares her vision for the next 10 years—to become a decent golfer and continuing to leverage the content of her “human workplace trilogy” to make a lasting impact. She envisions continuing to promote the idea of a more human workplace and its positive effects on both individuals and businesses.
The friendly and insightful conversation between Christina and Erica provides a glimpse into the challenges and possibilities in the ever-evolving landscape of the modern workplace, leaving the audience with valuable insights and plenty of food for thought.
See Erica’s full episode here:
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