The rise of virtual workspaces- Mark S Babbitt [Interview]
About Mark S Babbitt
Mark S Babbit is a world-renowned leadership and career mentor. He is the president of Work IQ and the CEO and founder of YouTern , specifically built for Young Aspiring entrepreneurs, he is an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council and contributes Excellent content for the same, featured in, Forbes Harvard Business Review and a lot many world-renowned publications. A coach, mentor, and author, we are extremely happy to welcome Mark S Babbitt to our interview series.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Mark S Babbitt today to our interview series. I’m Sumitha Mariyam from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Mark. We are thrilled to have you.
Well, thank you. I’m thrilled to be here.
Awsome, moving onto the questions Mark, the first question I have for you obviously,
Can you tell us a little bit more about YouTern I mean, what was the vision you had when you started something like this?
Of course, after 10 years in the online recruiting business, YouTern was a passion project for me and my team. We wanted to put the human back into human resources and at the time, much like we’re going through now, there was a global recession, unemployment was very high, and we had been trained by the recruiting system to just keep clicking the apply now button on monster.com and indeed.com and many of the other sites.
And something good would happen. And we had stopped because of that conditioning- talking with mentors, building our soft skills, building mutually beneficial relationships. We had stopped being human because we knew something eventually good would happen if we just kept applying for jobs and then once the recession hit, all that stopped and people weren’t getting jobs that way anymore.
“We had stopped being human because we knew something eventually good would happen if we just kept applying for jobs and then once the recession hit, all that stopped and people weren’t getting jobs that way anymore.”
And in college, graduates were unemployed for a year, two years after graduation. And so YouTern was built to close the gap to make the human resources more human and to build those relationships that would eventually lead to referrals and jobs.
Oh, that’s wonderful. So, you know, you always wanted to encourage young people to lead, to bring out their talent.
But right now, with what we’re facing and you are a leadership mentor, can you give us some insights on how leaders are supposed to respond to this current situation. I mean, managing a remote team. It’s not familiar to the leaders of today. So how do you manage a positive change in a crisis like this?
Well, first we have to acknowledge where we came from, and the reality is not many of today’s business leaders, especially, and I put myself in this category, us old white guys. We were not prepared for this. We were not, our mentors, our predecessors, our fathers, our mothers. None of us had to deal with this crisis. And it isn’t like we could go to our mentors and learn how to lead remote teams and ask them for their ‘been there done that’ advice because nobody’s been there, Nobody’s done that.
So the first step, I think, is to acknowledge where we are now that we’re all learning this together and that empathy and a little bit of compassion and even, maybe even some vulnerability, instead of being that decisive, loud, autocratic leader just to say, we are all in this together. And so let’s learn this together. Let’s learn what works. Let’s learn what doesn’t work.
“We are all in this together. And so let’s learn this together. Let’s learn what works. Let’s learn what doesn’t work. “
And most importantly, let’s make sure we keep injecting a human interface into all this technology that we’re using. And let’s not lose sight that we are talking human to human here.
Of course, we all have work to do just like we always did. But, we don’t have that virtual water cooler anymore. So let’s use Zoom like we are now or Slack. Let’s use the technologies we have available to us, to maintain those human to human relationships.
Yeah, with the help of technology to keep that up. I mean, you don’t have the water cooler conversations and all of that,
But how important is it to be aware and using the latest technology to survive out there? I mean, to get a great job or for a good start in your career, or say even to start an organization? How would you describe the importance of being aware of the latest technology?
Well, I think for the last 10 years, technology has been a critical element in career success. And I think, for the most part, younger generations have embraced this wholeheartedly. And it’s not the Gen Y and the Gen Z contributors that are struggling with this. Frankly, it’s just older generations that are learning how to deal with this.
You know, I remember a 100 conversations of just a few years ago with people who used to be middle managers that now had to learn how to job hunt all over again, and we were doing video interviews and phone interviews, and it was just so different. And now here’s the good news.
This crisis has brought upon us a need for these career critical tools, and we’re all learning how to use them now, we’re all on the same plane. And tools like Zoom and Slack that are kind of nice to have things in the past, they are no mission critical. So we’re all learning this together.
“This crisis has brought upon us a need for these career critical tools, and we’re all learning how to use them now, we’re all on the same plane. And tools like Zoom and Slack that are kind of nice to have things in the past, they are no mission critical. So we’re all learning this together.”
There are all kinds of memes out there about, You know, we tried to talk to Grandma on Zoom for Easter, and it took 30 minutes just to get the technology right and by then the conversation was over.
So, now we’re all being kind of dragged into this. Here’s what’s important, as we’re learning all these new tools for the first time and integrating the technology into our career space, our leadership space is that we have to remember that technology, for the most part, it’s how we communicate. We don’t get on Zoom just to get on Zoom, right? It’s a communication tool. It shouldn’t distract us from our purpose.
It shouldn’t distract us from what we need to get done that day and we’ve all fallen victim to what a time suck technology can be, and how distracting Facebook and Twitter and all that can be while we are working, and we just have to remember that we do have a job to do.
And let’s not get sucked into, Being at home, being on the technology, enjoying our social resources, but not getting any work done.
Yeah, it’s slowly becoming a necessity for all of us to be with technology, something that was considered maybe a luxury in the past is now like we want it, we need it to survive. So, yeah, technology is critical for everyone right now.
So I came across this very interesting concept that you explained in one of your earlier interviews, which was the concept of OPEN. Ordinary people, an extraordinary network. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Again, that phrase, that acronym was coined by the co-author of my 2014 book called ‘A World Gone Social’ and Ted Coine, bless his heart, was just a huge believer, still is, in that we are just one person and even as one person if we stick to our values, if we put values on the same pedestal as we do results, then good things will happen, of course, but we are pretty much ordinary and as individuals.
But when we work together in this COVID-19 crisis certainly brought out the best in many of us in this regard, when we work together, when we sacrificed together, when we’re all driven by the same purpose, and we become extraordinary and Ted used to love to say that no matter how ordinary we are as a single person, we can do extraordinary things as a network, as a group, as a community.
“No matter how ordinary we are as a single person, we can do extraordinary things as a network, as a group, as a community“
You know, when that phrase first came out, it was an important part of our book. It’s even more important now, Five years later, and we’re living it. We are literally living that phrase right now as a global community.
Yeah, it’s all those elements, little elements that come together and make something very beautiful. So that’s a great concept. So, Mark, you’ve had a tremendous experience and
What do you think are the changes, you know, in organizational cultures that you’ve seen over the years in your experience. Why do you think it’s shifting to a more casual setting with time?
Well, I will tell you this. I over the years have grown impatient with how slowly organizational cultures are changing. I anticipated that 10 years ago when the industrial age kind of started, it’s in the cycle and the social age or the digital age began. I thought we would more quickly morph to a more human culture, a human-centric culture, and globally and it hasn’t happened as quickly as I had hoped it would.
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I believe that finally, in the last few years in many, especially in industry-specific cycles, startup world, in particular, we have finally moved away from that autocratic command and control leadership style, and the factors I mentioned earlier empathy, compassion, vulnerability, active listening, relentless giving.
All of those things are finally coming into play. Our workplaces are finally growing, going from not just focused on shareholder return on investment, but stakeholders, our employees, our customers, our communities, they’re all becoming just as important as that you know, that mythical third quarter shareholders reports and I’m just thrilled to see the change happening.
And lately, we’ve taken this to another level. And it’s even more encouraging that organizations some willingly, some being kind of dragged into the cycle are actually being forced to care about global issues like inequality, education, internet access, climate change. We’re seeing more and more leaders take a stand, and that is just so critically important to building the kind of company culture that we want people to aspire to. And I’ll tell you, it’s not all just because it’s the right thing to do.
Companies all over the world are learning that if you have a caring, inclusive culture, you will attract better talent, period. And so a lot of companies they don’t even yet understand the concept well, know how important it is to their company’s future. Because if you want to be an industrial age company, if you want to maintain your old autocratic leadership style, your best talents are gonna go work for somebody else and it’s that important to change your culture to one where people actually want to be there.
“If you want to be an industrial age company, if you want to maintain your old autocratic leadership style, your best talents are gonna go work for somebody else and it’s that important to change your culture to one where people actually want to be there.”
So do you think that like old organizations, the age-old Corporates, the huge companies, they’re finding it more difficult to transition to an employee-centric culture from a business-centric one and the ones that are springing up right now, the startups, when the youth starts it, it’s more for people-centric approach? Is that how we put it?
Yes. And you just hit the nail absolutely on the head that the more female leaders we have in higher executive positions, the younger leaders that are starting new companies are taking over old companies they instinctively get this. They’re not suffering from what we call in our next book boomer male syndrome or BMS.
They don’t feel the need to have all the answers. They don’t need to be the ultimate decider. It’s not all about them, it’s about the community. It’s about the people. So we’re seeing it very clearly among our female leaders that this is how companies are being born
“So we’re seeing it very clearly among our female leaders that this is how companies are being born”.
There’s no transition necessary. They’re already there because that’s how they decided to build their company.
Yeah so I think, the millennials are all out there, you know, establishing power and power in a good way and also transitioning workplaces for a more people-centric approach.
So talking about millennials, you know, with the increase in the millennial workforce, we have the rise of the gig economy and How do you think the gig economy is going to fit in the whole structure that we have? and how do you think the organizational cultures and the leadership strategies are going to change with the growing prevalence of the gig economy?
Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll give you a little personal background because I am biased in this area. I became a single father of four kids in 1999 and I had to be a gig economy contributor. I couldn’t stand the thought of somebody else raising my kids, so I immediately started working from home, contract to contract, company to company. I lived the birth of the gig economy, and so I can’t see living or working any other way.
So I’m not objective when it comes to the gig economy, I believe it’s the best possible way to live our lives, to share our knowledge, to contribute to the economy and to grow companies. And I have two companies now, one more on the way. And all of them are virtual companies we’ve never had a brick and mortar office. Youtern, Work IQ, now a new company, we’re starting called Remotely, that helps remote workers understand what it’s like to live and thrive in the gig economy.
“We’re starting called Remotely, that helps remote workers understand what it’s like to live and thrive in the gig economy”.
Um, that’s how I live my life and I see the value in it. So now with that background, I will tell you that even if I wasn’t such a passionate advocate of the gig economy and remote work, the reality is, it is our future. And this crisis has accelerated that future quite quickly. And if anything good comes out of this whole thing, we will know how built we are as individuals to thrive within that new economy. Or maybe not. And what’re our skills we need to develop to make that transition.
And even more important, my hope is that companies and executives, especially of the older companies, will learn they can trust people, to work independently and autonomously from home or Starbucks or the Third Desk or wherever that is, and they will get the work done without that command and control style leadership. In fact, I hope that this crisis leads us to the realization that command and control leadership is the thing of the past. It’s no longer required for most of us.
Yeah, so just because you mentioned virtual workspace.
I just wanted to know what your opinion is on a lot of organizations thinking about shifting to completely remote work after the crisis. Even after a crisis a lot of people are thinking about, you know, why do we invest so much on real estate and office buildings when we can all work efficiently from home? So how do you think that structure is going to work?
Well, first we have to realize how important the real estate and the office development industries are to our global economy. It’s huge, but the reality is, a phone hanging on the wall with a cord used to be huge, too. And we don’t have those landlines anymore. So this transition is going to happen. And we’re gonna have to replace that segment of our economy with something just as robust.
And it is going to be a harsh transition for many I believe, here’s what I anticipate happening. I believe it’s going to be a balanced situation. I believe that companies, now that they’ve learned they can trust people to get their work done without being watched over, are going to say, Well, look, every Friday, you can work from home or three days a week, you can work from home.
I don’t believe it’s gonna be like, we’ll just close down 120,000 square foot office space and let everybody work from home. I believe it will be a gradual transition, graceful transition that will allow one economy segment to replace another.
“I believe it will be a gradual transition, graceful transition that will allow one economy segment to replace another”
By the way, we only have to look at all the money right now being spent on Amazon.com and Alibaba on microphones and earbuds and cameras and lighting to see that transition’s already happening. So we’re just spending our money in different areas.
Yeah, people are building studios inside their homes to you know, make it a permanent office space. So, yeah, those are wonderful thoughts. And I believe that it is going to be a gradual, very gradual change. But that change is about to happen, and we will see it in front of us. So yeah, that is inevitable.
If you don’t mind, I’ll add one more thought to this. The downside of this transition is, many people are learning, is the balance between life and family and work, and especially now with schools being closed down for this crisis, people are having to learn that work isn’t just at work anymore, and where we have Children, we need to homeschool.
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At the same time, we’re supposed to be working, and we have elderly parents and grandparents to take care of, and we have our dogs and our cats and our pets to care for, and this is all happening now while we’re supposed to be working and, how does that all happen?
I think that’s another reason why the transition will happen slowly, more slowly, and more gracefully because all of us are learning how to do this all together. And it’s not an easy thing sometimes to stop, you know? No, guys, I’m sorry, guys. I have to get off the meeting right now. I have to stop. My nine-year-old has a homeschooling lesson. That’s quite a transition to make. So it’ll take us some time.
Yeah, I hope all of us learn from this and make that transition count.
So lastly, Mark, if there are any important sound bites that you would like to leave for our viewers
Well, you know, since we’ve been talking so much about the crisis, here’s what I’ve been saying a lot over the last few weeks. Use this time of self isolation to grow.
“Use this time of self isolation to grow“
Almost everybody has seen those memes out there that says, if you haven’t learned something new during the Coronavirus crisis, you’ve lacked dedication, and I don’t subscribe to that theory at all. Everybody’s handling this crisis, this situation differently, and we’re all going at our own pace.
But within that pace, use this time as wisely as possible. Network, reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a long time, old classmates, old colleagues at work, your boss at your internships, your mentors, or would-be mentors, reach out. And once you’ve exhausted that path, focus on one soft skill and develop that soft skill, So your resume or your entrepreneur portfolio is even stronger. Don’t get sucked into Netflix. Don’t think of this as a vacation. This is a time for career progression. This is a time for growth and use this time wisely.
Yeah, I think it’s very important to keep ourselves productive during the lockdown times and the work from home times. So that was wonderful. And thank you so much for that and Mark. It was a pleasure talking to you. I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us and with our viewers too. And let’s keep in touch.
I would like that very much. Thank You
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