Podcast: ADP’s Martha Bird on the Post-Pandemic Dynamics of Work

Looking at Future

Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Today, I talk with Martha Bird, business anthropologist at ADP Innovation Lab. Her job is to make sure that the human element is accounted for when new digital products are designed, so that, for example, software intended to tackle a specific HR problem can be put to use by HR staff in the real world as they go about their actual work. I began by asking Martha how she thought the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the way people work.

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Martha Bird: Well, I think this is such a huge topic. One of the things I think about is imagine that we’ve been working largely in the U.S. with a very, very low unemployment rate. Now all of a sudden there’s this massive degree of unemployment. Now, in the past when there’s been a tight labor market, certain policies are put into place in order to attract the talent that you want. Now, when you have a flood of unemployed people, what is that going to look like in terms of those mechanisms? I don’t know. But to me that’s a consideration, right? It’s that we’ve gone from very robust, healthy unemployment to a very, very high degree of unemployment from healthy employment. So I think that’s going to be an interesting thing to monitor that’s around talent and talent acquisition.

I think also it’s going to be about the discussion around urban and rural, right? So if people are working more remotely, what does that look like for the person who lives in a rural space who has not had access to perhaps the same economics of job that one would have in a larger metropolitan area. And so if it’s indeed the case that people will begin to work more remotely, that can open up a whole, I think potentially positive economics for rural areas and rural workers. So that’s going to be, I think, very interesting.

And then I think there’s also going to be, for employers, much greater awareness now of really what health actually means in terms of the economy. So, a healthy society, and I mean healthy as in well-being, I think is directly corollary to the economy being robust.

So I think there’s a lot of things going to be continued from where we are now. I certainly hope that’s the case. I hear such wonderful stories about people reaching out with altruistic intent and I think that’s just the way we need to go. But you also hear the stories of individuals vying for advantage. And so my hope is that those will not be the ones who will continue to influence our consciousness as humanity.

Mark Feffer: You work for ADP, obviously, your customers are employers and they make certain demands on you. What new demands do you think you’re going to start to hear? Are the priorities going to shift among what employers expect out of their technology solutions?

Martha Bird: Well, I think this whole… To carry on, on the mobile trajectory is going to be key, right? Because that’s all part of the story, about remote. I think too that there’s going to be… I think there’s going to be, at least for ADP and for those in our industry, there is an expectation that we stay completely agile when it comes to major legislative activities related to the COVID-19. And one of the things that I’m aware of is that indeed we are actually keeping up with these things. And that’s no small matter when you think of all the municipalities, jurisdictions, state and federal level legislation to be able to do that and to be able to provide our clients with security of knowing that we are the most up to date on those matters.

So, that’s about speed, right? And it’s about being able to do things pretty quickly. Things that would normally take months or maybe even years to implement, you’re talking weeks now to turn that around. So I think probably this expectation around speed will continue across a lot of industries.

The other thing too, Mark, that I think is really interesting is this collaboration that’s going on between corporations in order to get things done. So, I think about the ventilator situation where there’s just a dire need for those and the largest producer of ventilators is partnering with GM or with Ford in order to switch the production lines in order to make ventilator and doing open source sharing of designs. I’m hoping, personally, that that will become not simply a response to an extremis, but something that maybe could be continued once this settles down a little bit.

Mark Feffer: My last question is, what is the biggest single dramatic change you expect to see in the workplace after the dust has settled?

Martha Bird: There’s so many things. I guess for me, because I’m an anthropologist, I’m thinking really about the way that we interact with our fellows. I hope that if nothing else this allows us to reset ourselves and to understand that it’s incredibly important to exercise respect, honesty, a decency and kindness, that we are all actually part of the family of humans here, and that everything is connected. And I think that wouldn’t be a bad takeaway, in my view, if people could come to terms with embracing that. And unfortunately it takes something as dire as this situation, but to me that would be a positive outcome.

Mark Feffer: Martha, thank you.

Martha Bird: Thanks, Mark.

Mark Feffer: Martha Bird is a business anthropologist at ADP’s innovation lab. And this has been PeopleTech from the HCM echnology report. To keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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