TECH TALK: Bill Magee says some company executives still do not see the benefits that technology brings to working practices
Pandemic tech innovations, as they’ve become known, are being digitally harnessed by ambitious businesses across all sectors as a distressed market place prepares for the long awaited post-Covid era. IT developers are busy responding by devising apps for the “blended” office culture of the future. But not all company executives get it.
Covid-19 has led to what amounts to a tipping point in which start-up to multinational has had to re-evaluate priorities to meet growing digital needs. What’s pretty certain is home working has become a permanent fixture in our commercial mindset.
However, a generation gap has emerged in terms of attitudes to such change. This is despite – to paraphrase Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – a warning that if an executive doesn’t take account of the age of those around them “then eventually you will become obsolete or irrelevant.”
So, exactly how can one of the world’s top investment bankers appear so out of step with modern work attitudes and practices? Goldman Sachs’ chairman and CEO David Solomon has taken what some would say is an old school stance by declaring that once the pandemic is finally behind us, his firm will adopt a pre-Covid 19 approach requiring its 6,000 employees to be back behind their office desks.
Sounds like a dose of buttoned up Victorian values. Employees being seen to have their financial nose to the grindstone, and all that? Solomon disputes that the “new normal” of working remotely is here to stay. He goes further claiming it’s an aberration and his firm will “correct” the trend.
Jeff Bezos, or rather his company’s Amazon Web Services (AWS), points to how employees’ goals and needs should be better recognised by companies as they adopt cloud-based processes, “working seamlessly together” to achieve “a flexibility previously unimaginable” in the workplace and at a lower cost.
Crucially, the AWS approach gives an organisation an enterprise-grade tech stack to build on a planned scale-up of team, or teams. A typical team will consist of a mix of Gen Z aged in their mid-20s or younger in junior roles, millennials aged upwards of 40 or younger mostly in the middling ranks but aspiring to coveted C-Suite roles and Gen X, reaching their mid-to-late 50s, some all but running the show.
Solomon himself is nudging the big 6-0. Perhaps Gen X can collectively persuade the Goldman Sachs head honcho to reverse his stance. National Research Group points to how this particular age category has lived through previous recessions and lean more towards home working. NRG’s chief executive Jon Penn says: “Gen X.. are more likely to have reached a stage in their career where they can demand some of that flexibility and actually get it.”
It all stacks up to powerful evidence of a market place ready and willing to be more flexible beyond the pandemic, whether certain employers like it, or not. We have been here before. I recall a London interview around the time of the 2008 global crash with John Chambers, shortly after he had assumed the role of chairman, along with being CEO of US bellwether Cisco Systems.
The highly-approachable executive, also then a member of Barack Obama’s tech round table, freely admitted to me his team hadn’t taken full account of imminent change. They had been warned by a deluge of social media-intranet posts, from within his own organisation, urging it to change its approach towards both the market place and employees. Cisco did just that.
But it appears that in today’s once again uncertain economic climate, some execs remain unwilling to give up their command control “talk down” approach. No doubt the stance held so stubbornly by Solomon who, incidentally, has an alter ego as – wait for it – a DJ called “D-Sol”, will prove influential, given his elevated position in the financial world. That’s a shame as it misses a trick in today’s enlightened flexible world.
Perhaps “D-Sol”, busy compiling his next EDM playlist, should change his tune by responding to the skillset needs of a digitally demanding workforce within his ranks, especially at a time when fintech developments are transforming the way financial services in the end-to-end investment process operate efficiently.