Shift from square box video face to immersive visual communications. Most communication products currently are just simple video and audio conferencing but the future will include immersive video communications that allow remote teams to behave more closely like the experience of in-person teams and interact in similar ways as they would in-person.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Allen Drennan.
Allen Drennan, Principal, started Lumicademy in October of 2017, bringing together the team of senior engineers who created Nefsis, a cloud-based, video conferencing online service, which Frost and Sullivan cited as the first “conferencing service solution based on the technologies of cloud-computing, end-to-end parallel processing and multipoint video conferencing,” to create the next generation of virtual classroom technology. In the past his love of competitive video gaming led him to multiple tournaments across numerous games. These days he spends his available game time playing with his young children playing the games they love.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I started my career working in IT within the financial sector and running network operations across their various locations for companies like ITT Financial and Advanta/JP Morgan Chase. At the time we were implementing networks to connect all users and computers in the workplace together, but there were almost no software products that could leverage these connections to communicate. I saw the need for using computing devices to promote real-time communication between people and decided to break out on my own. At the time, the industry lacked quality software to create those instant connections, and this seemed like a great opportunity for a whole wave of new technologies. Back then, I saw the need for text messages to be sent in real-time across computer networks, but that would evolve over time into video conferencing and other forms of real-time voice. I had a solid understanding of network principles and software engineering, and that vision of a future where everyone could communicate in real-time is what led me down this career path.
I took my fresh ideas down to Sand Hill Road to speak with VCs and was promptly rejected a couple dozen times. Mind you, this was a time before the rise of Twitter, What’s-app, Skype and all the other forms of real-time communications we enjoy and use these days on our devices.
Despite the rejection, I just focused on building solutions, products and services around these concepts while bootstrapping the companies we started. The results were several successful companies along the way that helped to shape how real-time communications worked; including the company being cited by European CEO Magazine and market research firm Frost & Sullivan in 2009 as the first to use cloud computing in a multipoint video conferencing online service.
As for what shaped me, there are so many different stories, it is hard to choose just one. I think that a turning point which ultimately saved the first company I started in real-time messaging, thereby cementing my career as an entrepreneur, was when we were a new company, and we had a booth at NetWorld Interop in 2001 in Atlanta. The show started on one of the most infamous of days, 9–11–2001 at 9am, essentially the exact time of the attack. I was having breakfast with the editor of Network Computing magazine at the time, but we were unaware of what was going on. When we walked back to the show floor people were in shock. Many of the vendors started packing up and the show was promptly cancelled. We knew we had to head back home to San Diego, but all flights were cancelled, all trains were booked, and it was difficult to rent a car since we needed to drive one-way from Atlanta to San Diego which takes several days. We set off on our journey home in a huge Ford “Crown-Vic” and I knew at the time, this event would create a real survival issue for our new company, and that the tech sector and related investment might stop. Eventually we made it back to San Diego. We had to reinvent ourselves and find a way to use our real-time expertise to survive. Within a matter of weeks, we had the “big idea” and that was to use our real-time technology to create an alert notification software to notify users in-bulk, of emergencies. That small idea ultimately sold 600K copies and was used by every major branch of the federal government in D.C. including the FBI and Dept of Labor. At the time, we were even on the POTUS’s computer. The product ultimately saved our small company while the tech sector slowed down.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
The sudden shift to a distributed workforce at the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 created much uncertainty for businesses and organizations of all sizes. However, by the beginning of 2021, it became clear that this experiment of remote work would be a permanent change in many locations. Despite a somewhat frantic start to remote work, a year later, a majority of workers are now embracing the idea of working from home post-pandemic, while many organizations are making this a reality.
Enterprises in a number of industry sectors, including software, information/media, and even insurance, have gradually announced they will offer a permanent remote option to their employees and staff. Some organizations are granting their employees options that include fully remote work or a hybrid (a combination of in-person and remote) option.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
There are times when a new technology appears and if you don’t act quickly to take advantage of the seachange you will miss the bulk of the opportunity. These shifts are more rare than people are willing to admit because the latest buzz doesn’t always materialize into a lasting new trend. That being said, for most young adults in the technology sector, a higher education is necessary. While you may be lucky and become a millionaire overnight with a cutting-edge trend, the vast majority of startups and new ideas fail and you will want to have your credentials to fall back upon if you need a regular job. I was fortunate that micro-computers were emerging and software development for them was still in its infancy. Equally so, it is a shame in this country that we don’t place more value on the contribution from those who traditionally pursue vocations in trade skills, and are just as much needed in our society and don’t always require someone to carry college related debt.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?
In this economy, it’s not enough to only go searching for employment if you want a satisfying work experience. Smart employees are constantly marketing themselves, their skills and talents through various mediums in order to showcase their strengths. As a software engineer, I find it invaluable to demonstrate my capabilities not only with open-source contributions to online repositories like GiT, but also through frequent blogging on highly technical topics of interest to me. This broadens my personal reach and demonstrates my areas of interest to the general public. Whatever sector you are working within, these methods exist to help you broaden your reach and connect with employers who are looking for your specific talents.
Working remotely from home presents its own set of challenges. You will need to find a way to be a self-motivated, self-starter in order to be equally or more productive than in-person employment. Companies are starting to realize the value of remote working and that productivity can actually improve when working from home.
Among enterprise firms leading the way with permanent remote options are HubSpot, InfoSys, Google, Atlassian, Nationwide Insurance, and Dropbox. Countless smaller firms have offered their employees similar options. Knowledge workers, such as writers and engineers, are more likely to be working remotely on a permanent basis. In a recent report on the change of the nature of work, Gartner projected that by the end of 2024, 60% of all employees will have the option to work remotely.
But the transition to permanent remote work may not always be smooth. Several common challenges are emerging as companies transition to a hybrid workforce. A recent study on the switch to a hybrid work environment from Canva, the visual communications platform, reveals several top concerns among hybrid employees who will not always be in person in their office, in the areas of:
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
We must collectively make an investment in education that is targeted at those who are going to be displaced by automation. Not just lip service, but actually identifying the new occupations and proactively providing that training to them directly. Robots and automation, just like climate change, will produce numerous new jobs and we need to make sure our people are ready to assume those roles. Many of these jobs are next-generation “blue collar” roles that require cutting-edge training but will not require a degree or existing S.T.E.M. related skills. We can choose, as a country, to lead in these new areas or allow others to lead.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
The recent shift to working from home during the pandemic has shown the idea that people cannot be as productive at home as in the office, is just that, a myth. I see this shift as permanent for a large sector of the workforce who values the flexibility of working from home. The main obstacle is technology that bridges the gap between working from home and working with others in the office.
According to an article in Computer Weekly, the Canva study reveals that “the vast majority of the workforce currently think collaboration between remote and in-office colleagues is a challenge (78%).” The study showed that a majority of the workforce think that in order to transition to a successful hybrid workforce model, organizations will require new and improved technologies for effective virtual collaboration.
Although many organizations did ramp up their digital transformation efforts in 2020 due to the drastic change of work and consumer demand, technology solutions will have to expand to accommodate the hybrid workforce model.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
Optimal digital tools for the hybrid worker must be flexible and secure. Hybrid teams will need versatile and high-quality tools that are suitable for various types of work and collaboration. Organizations will have to set up guidelines and criteria and then select tools that meet them.
In order to create a successful hybrid workforce, digital tools will need to suit both synchronous and asynchronous demands and modes. In addition, organizations must ensure that these collaboration tools become a strong part of the company’s culture so that all team members are involved and no one feels left out, left behind, or deprived of an opportunity.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept?
In order to meet their objectives with a hybrid workforce, organizations will have to prepare by planning and implementing policies, procedures, and tools. While a considerable focus will undoubtedly be productivity, HR leaders also emphasize highlighting the culture of the organization and how it needs to be preserved. A move to hybrid or permanent remote will involve some level of culture change. Introducing high-quality digital tools that provide robust solutions for collaboration, communication, productivity, and security will be a substantial part of a successful move to a culture that fully encompasses a hybrid workforce model.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
There are no easy answers to addressing the social safety net and those that fall through the cracks during events like the recent pandemic. Corporations are really effective at maximizing profits for shareholders, but not as good as protecting and paying workers a living wage. There needs to be an overall shift away from worrying about what Wall Street cares about to taking care of our most valuable asset, the employee. We are quite a bit unbalanced right now in this country and we need a strong shift back towards balance. Employees also have a responsibility to continue to improve their core skills and talents. Some of this can be assisted through easier access to education and retraining by our government but everyone needs to understand that we compete on a global basis with other economies and this is not going to change so we have to continue to reinvent ourselves as individuals.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Part of my joy comes from helping others be able to communicate more easily and efficiently. Watching my own child use technology that we built here at Lumicademy to improve her math through truly interactive tutoring over our platform shows me the power of the technology, when properly applied, to shape learning for the future. I hope to see a day where this is available to the most remote areas of the world.
I believe that the technology to communicate will continue to evolve until there is no real difference between working remotely or in-person in the office through the use of virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D projection. These types of interactions will be completely normal in society in the future.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
This is why we must be proactive to educate our workforce on the next generation of job opportunities so they are ready and trained as they arrive. Training takes time and money, and ideally we are doing this while they are still employed elsewhere. We also have to build the correct technologies to help them transition to a remote workforce.
An article from CIO.com about improving the employee experience stated that, “In order to offer a good employee experience, the right technology is crucial. Employees need tools to work efficiently and productively anytime, anywhere, and under any circumstances. The pandemic couldn’t have made this any clearer.”
Meanwhile, Gartner recently predicted that in 2021, “PC and tablet shipments will exceed 500 million units for the first time in history — a direct reflection of demand from an increasingly hybrid workforce. Money will also be poured into virtual collaboration tools, the cloud and security processes such as zero-trust network access.”
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Shift from square box video face to immersive visual communications. Most communication products currently are just simple video and audio conferencing but the future will include immersive video communications that allow remote teams to behave more closely like the experience of in-person teams and interact in similar ways as they would in-person.
- The rise of collaboration tools that engage the audience. Collaboration tools currently available do not adequately engage the audience in a meaningful way to keep their attention. This area of remote communication will see a great deal of advancement over the coming years.
- Security and privacy as a core feature. Working remotely should not compromise the security model of the organization and security standards should not be adhoc created by each vendor. We will see the emergence of accepted standards for products in the space as it relates to security, with privacy being paramount.
- Seamless blending of disparate technologies into one. Currently there are far too many tools we use to work remotely, with different authentication and security models. The future will bring various products more closely together so they feel and act as one
- Media will be an integrated part of all communications. All forms of media will be easily available and accessible to remote working and learning solutions and users will be able to engage the audience with whatever form they choose.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
For me, the golden rule is paramount in that “always treat others how you want to be treated” serves you well in business. So many entrepreneurs and founders get into trouble by not following this concept. Treat, not just your shareholders or your customers as you expect to be treated, but make sure you treat your employees with the same respect.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I have raised varied amounts of money over the years from different sources, some friends and family in the early years , angel investors, and now mostly private equity, but never the traditional venture capital route, even though I tried. Fortunately, in some of the ventures we have been able to boot-strap our growth, and in others, private equity has been available from prior business relationships. For Lumicademy, we can fund the operation through our connections, and the private equity investment from them.
I found out over the course of the years that the investment capital came from the other sources for us, and not from the VCs. It has crossed my mind how much bigger the exit could have been if we infused large amounts of capital in the early years from the VCs, but I am happy with the course we took at the time, as well as the journey and the outcome.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/lumicademy
Lumicademy has a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Linked-in so feel free to reach out to us if you would like to discuss your needs and requirements. For me personally, while I have social media accounts, I prefer to spend my social time playing with my kids and seeing my family and friends.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.