WESTFIELD, NJ — “We are on the precipice of the next industrial revolution, a cyber industrial revolution,” Denise Brouder told a group of businesspeople who gathered in town last week.
The Founder of SWAYworkplace, Brouder was there to launch The Future of Work Alliance New Jersey, a coalition of organizations that advocate for a collaborative effort to educate, innovate and partner to accelerate their collective understanding and implementation of future of work readiness across the state.
The alliance’s goal is to identify, promote and connect innovative local companies to enterprises that are shaping the future of work, according to its website.
Brouder was one of five to speak on a panel that night at Business Energy, a shared workspace in Downtown Westfield where the idea for the alliance was dreamed up. Other panelists were Business Energy Co-Owner Matt Jarecki, Boxcar CEO Joe Colangelo, US Department of Labor Women’s Bureau Senior Analyst Mallory Trachtenberg and Rutgers University School of Management & Labor Relations Research Director Elaine Zundl.
Flexible workspace and the ability for employees to work where they want was a major topic of the discussion.
“A lot of what I hear here is that people want flexible workplaces,” said Trachtenberg. “Flexible hours, flexible workplaces, how they can actually attend to those caregiving needs at home, that’s primarily the driver that’s causing these conversations we serve. But also how they can still get the jobs done well and still be productive, but do it on their own time.”
Brouder spoke about workers’ desire for choice.
“There are people that want to commute into the city and want to commute to a fixed location. They want to work in an office for a set amount of hours, and there are people that don’t, and a lot of people are somewhere in between,” she said. “So, as opposed to having a top-down life-work life-balance mandate from a corporation, people in the modern workforce are going to look for a choice.”
Jarecki envisions more people working from flexible office spaces such as Business Energy.
“You shouldn’t have to take a pay cut or a salary cut, right, to say ‘I’m going to work flexibly or remotely two days a week from the office.’ That should not be a sacrifice. It should be an increased benefit, and that’s how we’re trying to shape the conversation,” Jarecki said. “That this is just how we operate. You know, we work three days a week in the office and a couple of days from the remote suburbs.”
Business Energy is a space that Jarecki hopes is acceptable to New York City firms and others as a professional space for their employees to work from, “so that they don’t feel that people are just kind of off doing their own things.”
Brouder called that idea “proximity bias.”
“If you’re not here beside me doing the same kind of work, if I can’t see it, I have this bias against you that I don’t really trust what you’re doing, or the work you’re doing is of lower quality than what I’m doing,” Brouder said. “That is proximity bias, and that is what perpetuates this cycle of burnout and fallout in the workforce.”
Colangelo, whose Boxcar app allows users to reserve space at flexible offices including Business Energy, believes the workforce will continue to become more decentralized.
“Boxcar was parking lots and a bus service. Almost a year ago we rolled out office space,” Colangelo said. “We’re investing in that now because we think that’s going to be huge in the future.”
Another point that evening was the need to continue training on the job as technology advances, especially for women have paused their career to take care of young children.
“Women really want opportunities to upskill from their employer,” said Zundl. “They want to know that that will be a benefit that’s offered to them, to learn new things, to get more credentials, and that will be sort of built into their job hours — it won’t be expected of them outside of their normal work day.”
Learn more about the Future of Work Alliance New Jersey at www.futureofworkalliance.com