Posted: 16 Feb. 2021 15 min. read

Crossing the digital divide: Shaping the future of work for all

Interview with Steve Hatfield, Principal and Global Future of Work Leader, Deloitte LLP

As part of a two-part series, Humanity in Tech Fellow Kaiwen Zhong interviewed Steve Hatfield, Principal and Global Future of Work Leader at Deloitte, on the topic of the Future of Work and the digital divide.

As a self-described “Corporate Anthropologist,” Steve was one of the pioneers of what we now call “Future of Work.” He believes that the Future of Work has transitioned from a business strategy to social responsibility, a responsibility that requires all stakeholders in society to create and shape work in a way that is meaningful and that prioritizes human welfare. He is an expert and advocates for the Future of Work as an opportunity for organizations to provide more meaningful work to their employees. Deloitte has published the largest and longest-running longitudinal report on human capital trends, surveying over 110,000 people across 120 countries.

He is a regular speaker worldwide on the topics of innovation, disruption, and workforce transformation, including recent presentations at SXSW, Singularity University’s Global Summit, and the New Profit Venture Fund Gathering of Leaders. A former member of the Peace Corps, Steve has a Master’s in Social Change & Development from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Wharton.

If you are able to cross the digital divide or are given a nudge onto digital platforms, there is an entire world open to you that was not there before.

In the first part of the series, we spoke to Steve about how organizations and business leaders can create human-centered transformations by leveraging the ever-flexible workforce and cultivating ownership in the organization. We also discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a “proof of concept” for the Future of Work, encouraging organizations to address key trends and embrace their role as a social enterprise.

In the second part of the series, we focus on how individuals and entrepreneurs can prepare for and thrive in the Future of Work. This requires a mindset shift , an understanding that your expertise today will not fully prepare you for the changes of tomorrow. We discussed the need for individuals to constantly reinvent through lifelong learning and the use of evolving digital technologies.

Steve shared that he considers himself a teacher who is motivated by helping organizations to understand the social responsibility that comes with the Future of Work. We discussed the importance of leading with passion and a sense of ownership, and how those two elements together can help social entrepreneurs and leaders more effectively shape organizations and society.

I choose to lead through teaching

Kaiwen Zhong: We created the Humanity in Tech platform to explore the impact of work and leadership in uplifting the most vulnerable. With the rise of machines and the increasing relevance of human happiness in decision-making, do you see the Future of Work correlating with a better quality of life?

Steve Hatfield: We talked about how the Future of Work has impacted corporations, how they are becoming social enterprises. This means that organizations are focused on aligning how they use resources to help address the demands of a broad set of stakeholders, supporting initiatives to address the digital divide and drive systems where people can connect, grow, and re-invent themselves.

One way organizations are supporting equality and access is by investing in a broad set of education initiatives beyond the most traditional four-year college degrees. By investing in alternative education pathways, we can start peeling back the disparity that exists in our education system. This can be done through direct educational investment or through investment in limiting the digital divide. If you are able to cross the digital divide or are given a nudge onto digital platforms, there is an entire world open to you that was not there before.

Another way the Future of Work could be an equalizing force is that it is easier to do business all around the world. Today, a North American company can find someone internationally to serve the company, and with better digital connections, the gap in performance, culture, and communications narrows.

Lastly, evolving technologies are changing the nature of traditionally physical work. Artisanal physical products are accessible to people around the world through digital marketplaces, letting small businesses in remote areas think globally. When I was at CES in January, I saw tools you can put on your waist like a belt and an arm that resemble clothing, but that enable you to lift 400 pounds with one arm. Technologies like this can be used in manufacturing and help humans do dirty, dangerous, or dull work. This decreases workers’ exposure to risks and potentially increases worker life expectancy. We have many open questions still such as how long before we start translating these technologies into even more industries, like medicine, mining, and more? The value of these human-machine partnerships is proliferating fast.

The talent that is freed up [by automation] allows individuals to focus on what is valuable to the organization, and unleash the art of the possible.

Kaiwen Zhong: Due to automation and machine learning, there are some jobs or tasks that will be eliminated. This means that some who are in the middle of their careers will lose their jobs. What challenges and risks do you foresee arising due to this trend?

Steve Hatfield: I will have to admit that there absolutely will be a certain amount of displacement. That said, we have to keep in mind that a certain portion of what people do at work today is not fun.

For example, 70% of an engineer’s job is spent finding and preparing data. Imagine that an AI process is about to cut down significantly on this repetitive work. This goes way beyond efficiency or cost-saving for organizations. The talent that is freed up can now focus on their craft, focus on what is valuable to the organization, and unleash the art of the possible. This way, even if 70% of a person’s time is no longer spent doing something rote, they can now do other things that require human capabilities such as run a project, shape a new customer offering, or create a new product, and applying their skills to new opportunities.

The things you learned when you are 20 years old, you cannot possibly still be doing when you are 60. The half-life of technical skill is 18 months. The half-life of business skill is two to five years.

Organizations can play a role in orienting workers to reskill, thus creating more value. The trendline around education and lifelong learning dictates that whatever industry you are in, you will need to reinvent yourself time and time again. This requires a mindset shift. The things you learned when you are 20 years old, you cannot possibly still be doing when you are 60. The half-life of technical skill is 18 months; the half-life of business skill is two to five years. If you acquire hard skills (like the ability to work with large datasets) along with soft skills (like analytical thinking, hypothesis-driven problem solving, complex systems thinking, venture management, storytelling, and communications skills), then you become more valuable to your employer, and throughout your career.

Admittedly, people are concerned about job loss, and in some countries, like the US, employment is connected to our benefits, health, and social safety net programs. In Scandinavian countries, it is different. In this regard, Scandinavians are in a much better position to take advantage of the dynamic economy that is coming because the support system for reinventing yourself is much stronger. People are more likely to take the initiative to reskill and reinvent themselves.

Getting people prepared for the Future of Work is not just a business or individual question, it is also a societal and structural question.

Getting people prepared for the Future of Work is not just a business or individual question, it is also a societal and structural question.

Kaiwen Zhong: Like you, I believe that the future of work is going to be a revolution for the economy and overall societies. What role do the most vulnerable communities play in the Future of Work? Conversely, how can the Future of Work uplift the most vulnerable at a time of widening inequalities and increasing social distress?

Steve Hatfield: This becomes a story of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The impact of the Future of Work is quite limited when the environment is not safe when people do not have access to clean water, food, safety, and healthcare. Now, if these things are cared for, you can very quickly get to a place where crossing the digital divide can significantly and positively influence one’s life.

Take India, for example. Everybody has a digital identity, created by the government. So, automatically, India is in a better position to take advantage of the digital environment than the U.S. This enables the wider use of digital platforms for banking or health records in a digital form. This enables their society to be more fluid in taking advantage of the different kinds of trends that are coming. You can already see that India had a huge influence on the large IT market Globally. This is incenting people to learn, grow and develop careers globally. You can see the same happening in China, where people of all ages and educational backgrounds are engaged on digital platforms. Learning and working through digital means becomes decidedly the norm.

Therefore, if there was one place that I would put energy and focus on, once the overall threshold of physiological and safety needs is met, it would be getting people across the digital divide.

If there was one place that I would put energy and focus on, once the overall threshold of physiological and safety needs is met, it would be getting people across the digital divide.

Kaiwen Zhong: You are a leader in the Future of Workspace. Future of Work impacts society and individuals. What does leadership mean to you? What suggestions do you have for young people who are looking to uplift the vulnerable in the Future of Work?

Steve Hatfield: I think there are many different types of leaders and leadership takes many different forms. I think it is important to understand what you’re passionate about and put your energy and heart into that in a way that enables others to take advantage of that.

In my case, I choose to lead through teaching, in a sense. As I study the trends in society, I help people understand the digital evolutions and their impacts by providing them with information and pushing people a bit to expand their thinking. Leadership stems from what you are passionate about. If you lean into that passion individually or through structuring and managing a team, you will be successful.

This article originally appeared in Humanity in Tech. Humanity in Tech (HiT) powers vital conversations on the future of technology and society. They explore and empower humane leadership in the age of tech, so no human is left behind. They are a global civic project that is part of the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum.

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Steve Hatfield

Steve Hatfield

Principal | Global Future of Work Leader

Steve is a principal with Deloitte Consulting and serves as the global leader for Future of Work for the firm. He has more than 20 years of experience advising global organizations on issues of strategy, innovation, organization, people, culture, and change. Hatfield has advised business leaders on a multitude of initiatives including activating strategy, defining a preferred future, addressing workforce trends, implementing agile and resilient operating models, and transforming culture oriented to growth, innovation, and agility. Hatfield has significant experience in bringing to life the ongoing trends impacting the future of work, workforce, and workplace. He is a regular speaker and author on the future of work and is currently on the Deloitte leadership team shaping the research and marketplace dialogue on future workforce and workplace trends and issues. He has a master’s in social change and development from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Wharton, and is based in Boston.