2021 Workforce Trends

Gautam Sukumar

Senior Vice President, Global Product and Technology at ADP

Learning Objectives

Significant shifts to the workplace in 2020 have made way for a newly transformed world of work in 2021. The changing landscape this year has employers and workers looking to digital solutions to help them adapt. Now, as businesses navigate forward, global HR tech leader ADP has identified the key trends reshaping the workforce in the new year. With more insight on the workforce technology outlook, please welcome Senior Vice President of Product Management at ADP Gautam Sukumar.


Key Takeaways:



  • You work within ADP's Global Product and Technology division – how has your role changed given the new workplace dynamics?

  • Let’s talk more about some of the trends ADP identified, what are the key variables transforming the workforce in 2021, and why?

  • As we dig deeper into these trends, how do you see technology helping HR leaders support employees from a diversity perspective?

  • There is also a pretty significant need for that kind of transparency in the compliance space. How is technology helping businesses navigate what has become a more complex regulatory environment?


"If you miss somebody's date of birth, it's one thing, but if you miss a paycheck, it's a big deal. "

Gautam Sukumar

Senior Vice President, Global Product and Technology at ADP

Transcript

Britt Erler

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Quartz Network. My name is Britt Erler, QN Executive Correspondent. Thank you so much for joining us. It is no secret that we have seen significant shifts in the workplace that have paved the way to a newly transformed world of work in 2021. With this changing landscape, employers and workers are looking to digital solutions to help them adapt. As these businesses move forward, global HR tech leader ADP has identified the key trends that are reshaping the workforce this year. With more insights on this topic, I would like to welcome our guest speaker here with us today, Gautam Sukumar, SVP of Product Management at ADP. Welcome.


Gautam Sukumar

Hi, Britt. Thank you for having me.


Britt Erler

Of course. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Let’s go ahead and dive right in. You work with ADP’s global product and technology division. How has your role changed this year with the changing workplace dynamics?


Gautam Sukumar

It’s a good question to start there. I still remember very vividly in early March, we were preparing for executive briefings and our strategy and we’re going to do in the following year. The week started with plans to hold meetings at an off site resort. It quickly changed to a hotel in New Jersey, that quickly change to an office, our headquarters in Roseland. That quickly changed, let’s just do this [inaudible], so that week is—things move so quickly. Before the end of the week, 55,000 people were working remotely at ADP. It’s a testament to our associates, our employees who really stepped up and didn’t miss a beat and servicing our clients. We went working in the office to working from home overnight. But the services that we rendered are so mission critical, like ADP, we do a lot of payroll services, in addition to HR. If you miss somebody’s date of birth, it’s one thing, but if you miss a paycheck, it’s a big deal. We’re sort of a mission critical service, and are proud of our employees and associates that stepped up and really provided that service without missing a beat even during a pandemic. My role, specifically, also changed pretty significantly. You can imagine, we were using all the other regular collaboration tools that you might think of slack, confluence, JIRA, etc. We just rolled out WebEx teams to all of our global associates, and that turned out to be a blessing because we were able to do video communication, we were able to do chat, we were able to share files, we were able to share our desktops, etc for people to collaborate. That really changed how we continue to stay productive personally. I’m a big fan of a tool called Standout, which came to ADP through an acquisition that we made called the market [inaudible] and company. It’s a tool for managers to check in and stay connected with their direct reports. I use it religiously. My team members check in, they talk about what they’re working on what their priorities are, they need help from me. The use of that tool skyrocketed during the pandemic, and was a really good way for me to keep in touch. The combination of tools and outstanding associates who want to do what’s best for our clients, even though the role changed meaningfully and how I operate, how I manage, how I talk about work changed, that we still were able to deliver value for our clients, which is a testament to the associates anything,


Britt Erler

Of course. These tools that you mentioned, new strategies, obviously, that you have in place as your work environment has trained changed, do you perceive this staying the same as we move forward into later this year, even into 2022? Or do you think it’ll ever go back to kind of the normal that it used to be?


Gautam Sukumar

That’s a tough question. I think the jury’s still out, Britt. I think some companies are making bold statements that 50% is going to be all remote 5, 10 years from now. Some companies are saying, “Hey, we’re going to bring people back.” There are a lot of companies that are in between. I think the jury’s still out whether it’s going to be completely back to normal, however normal defined back in 2020, which was a bizarre year, or is the new normal going to be somewhere in between 2020 January and 2020 December. There are two extremes in my mind when January everybody was in office working in a different way, and then December, the completely different reality where people were all at home, most of the folks were remote. I think people will—it’ll be a combination, but the jury’s still out on where where things are going to be. Regardless of where we end up, I think the world of work has changed. The flexibility, the agility that people require are going to be completely different from from what we experienced early in 2020.


Britt Erler

I completely agree. If anything, I see kind of a hybrid option, as you had mentioned, where people will take the tools they’ve gathered now and kind of do a mix of both because people have gotten used to working from home. We found that sometimes they are just as productive as they would be an office. It’s such an interesting dynamic that we’ve seen. Let’s dive into these key trends that ADP has identified. What are some of the key variables that are really transforming the workplace right now?


Gautam Sukumar

ADP is a very research focused company. we do research at multiple levels. There is a macro research. We release the National Employment Report, which comes out maybe 2 days before before the BLS releases their report, and it actually informs the stock market in terms of what to expect—sort of macro research. We also do a lot of research at the macro level, country level on engagement, productivity, employee health, wellness, things like that. We also do client level research, where we engage with our clients and our associates to figure out what is most important, how do we make them more productive, how do we simplify their life in the workplace as they go about their day to day business, and a combination of all of those research endeavors throughout the year. I think we landed on to the five key trends: flexibility, agility, resilience, compliance, and diversity. I don’t think any of these should come as a surprise. These have been topics that people have been talking about for a while, but given the nature of 2020 and the activity and the changes that happened in 2020, these are sort of risen to the top. It ties back to your question earlier, will things go back to being the same? Probably not. So, flexibility becomes important. Will teams work the way they were before? Probably not. So, agility becomes important. Resilience is a testament to how folks respond to crisis. As I mentioned, ADP associates, very proud of how they responded. It’s going to continue in 2021, whether it’s 2 days from home, 3 days in office, or vice versa, what have you. Those are the five trends: flexibility, agility, resilience, diversity and compliance.


Britt Erler

Absolutely. Those trends, they seem so simple when you say them like that, but you’ll notice that a lot of companies don’t implement them effectively. I want to really touch on the diversity perspective, because that has become obviously a major trend, not only this new year, but last year as well. How do you see technology really helping HR leaders support their employees from this diversity perspective?


Gautam Sukumar

It’s a great question. Technology, I think, is is such a great enabler of better decisions for HR leaders. There’s a lot of discussion about what role technology can play, ethics, AI, things like that. ADP is super focused on doing what is ethically right, as we have [inaudible] ethics board that looks at how we make decisions, what kind of algorithms we develop, is there inherent bias in those algorithms, but ultimately, what we want to build to or deliver to our clients. Our data points that help to make better decisions, especially as it relates to diversity. A few years ago, we released what we call the Pay Equity Explorer, which basically said, “Is a woman being paid as much as a man for the same job?” We could clearly tell, is there a discrepancy? What is the percentage difference? By location, by function, things like that. We’ve taken that to the next level now, just given the volume of data that we have, we can now say, let’s say we’re hiring Britt to do communications at ADP, we can say “Okay, Britt is coming in, she used to be paid x at a control,” typically would say, “Okay, x plus y percent would be your salary or your compensation because you’re moving companies,” but now we can say, “Well, somebody else, let’s say me, in the same department is earning 2x.” [Inaudible] you were in a previous company, we can nudge the manager to say, “Well, this is not right.” Britt’s compensation is disproportionate, in a bad way, to my compensation for the same role, so you should consider being equitable. We’re doing that in the workflow. In addition, we have dashboards that basically say, for an executive, what percent of people are in what race, what ethnicity, by level. If you’re a leader or leader of leaders, by function. If you’re an IT, if you’re in Manufacturing, if you’re in Procurement, we have these cuts of data that we can readily serve up to our clients so that they can make better decisions. Ultimately, I think diversity is a choice that every company has to make for themselves. We’re just enabling that through really robust data that only a company like ADP with our scale and reach can provide globally.


Britt Erler

Absolutely. With these trends, how do you help companies align across all of their different departments, different functions, especially if they’re global?


Gautam Sukumar

Our solutions are global. One of the things companies struggle with is they may have 500 employees in the US, 1000 employees in India, 2000 employees in the UK, but they use different systems to manage those employees. So, it’s very hard for a company to have a global perspective on the headcount. But given our global systems, we’re able to clearly aggregate all of the data for a company and say, “Okay, here is your total headcount by division, by function, by location.” I think that aggregation and global reach across one system is what makes ADP so different, and really enables better decisions, better outcomes for our clients.


Britt Erler

Now that everything has gone virtual, have you seen an increase in people using these platforms globally?


Gautam Sukumar

For sure. If you think about this migration to cloud, which was a trend even before the pandemic, it has just accelerated that. People have gone virtual. More companies are working remotely, their employees are all over the place in different locations. This movement to the cloud is accelerated. Clients are looking for solutions that prevent them having to manage data centers, tremendum, having to manage complex infrastructure, deployments, and things like that, right. This acceleration to cloud is just picking up. ADP has always been a leading cloud provider. We’ve always been in the cloud. We’re seeing more companies come adopt our solutions, because it’s a much easier, much more reliable, much more stable way for them to run their businesses. The best part is, once you move to the cloud, upgrades, changes, feature releases, all of those happen automatically. You don’t have to deploy an army of engineers to go upgrade your software, patch your software, if there’s a bug, and things like that—those things happen automatically. We’re able to layer that with the quality of service that only ADP can provide, which is really helping our clients out. So, definitely. To answer your questions, yeah, it does definitely accelerate adoption of cloud solutions.


Britt Erler

It’s incredible, the amount of work that you guys have been able to accomplish, even with all of these changes. I think a major factor of that is communication is so key, the amount that you were communicating with your customers. I know that’s made a lot more difficult for companies now that things have gone virtual, in the major aspect that’s become important, is really being human with your customers, and kind of experiencing what they’re going through with them. How have you managed to do that with your team, and really connect with your customers in this changing environment?


Gautam Sukumar

It’s a good question. You can imagine, back in March, April, when the PPP program was just launched, there was so much confusion. What does it mean? How do I apply? What kind of resources, what kind of tools, what kind of data would I need as a customer of ADP, as a client of ADP, small business to even apply for that loan? You can imagine that they were looking to us for guidance. We were proactive. We were publishing on our products all the legislative changes. We had a site that was specifically set up for our clients to go get more information, and they always had the option to reach out to us and talk to us. Of course. Fantastic. Another trend that you want to touch on, because I believe this is so important right now, is flexibility. The key trend that you highlighted and I think it’s crucial for businesses moving forward that idea of being able to adapt and be flexible in the strategies that you have in place. How do you see businesses adapting to this new demand for more flexible work tools? We have Account Managers. We have Client Relations Executives. They were on the phone all the time helping our clients manage through the uncertainty, but also more importantly, get to have the day that they needed to protect their employees, to protect their businesses and come out of it unscathed at the end of the pandemic. Tools like telephone, which people can call us on, but also outreach and products, outreach through social media. We employed all sorts of resources to get these our clients, and make sure that they were compliant and had the resources they needed to benefit from programs. Flexibility is something that we think is a long term trend. Like we were discussing, very few people actually believe that we’ll be 100% back to work. So, flexible work arrangements is probably going to be the norm looking well into the future. If you think about flexibility from where you work, but there’s also flexibility in terms of how you work. What kind of tools you would use, how you collaborate, how you work on teams, how those teams are managed. For us, I think, where we empower flexibility starts at the team level. When we look at our clients and their employees, 84% of our employees that we surveyed, said they’re at least on two or more teams. But when you look at something like an org chart, there’s only one hierarchy, if you will, for you. So, you report to a manager who reports to a manager, so on and so forth, but you’re on multiple teams. Nobody knows where work is actually happening. Like, I’m probably on five or six teams at any given point in time. My time is split across those teams. It’s hard for me to say I’m very productive in this team, or less productive in that team, how do I manage productivity at the team level. That’s where I think true flexibility comes up. We call it dynamic teams, and where you work and how you work happens in teams. We’re building solutions that actually measure activity at the team level. Your team leader, you could have people that report directly into you, but you could also have people that don’t report directly into you. You could have a contractor, you could have a gig worker, you could have a part time worker. All of these people together form a team. Then, you have objectives and goals for that team, and then you manage to it. That’s one form of flexibility is how you build these teams, how these teams are constructed, how you go to market, and how you actually build productive teams that deliver value for our clients. The second flexibility is, obviously, the notion of working from home. How do you make sure that people are aware where they are? Can they return to work safely? All of these things, I think there are tools embedded in our HCM system that enable that for our clients to manage how and when they want to bring people back, and how and when they bring them back safety. Return to work tool is a good example, where you can pick and choose which site you want to open, how many people you want to bring back. You can survey them before they come back to you’re enabling safety in their return. More importantly, you’re giving them the flexibility, you want to come back, great. Just make sure that you’re doing it safely, and you’re not affecting or impacting others that might be in the office at the same time.


Britt Erler

I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s a great way to do it. An organization in that it’s key. As people start to go back, as employees go back, everyone’s gonna have different ideas on how that should work and what that should look like. So, having a program in place to help them through that is really what companies need to implement. Thank you so much Gautam for joining us. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for the insights you have given our audience. If the audience has any questions for Gautam, they have a discussion forum right below this video where you can comment and engage as much or as little as you like, and he will be there to answer any questions that you have. Thank you so much for joining us. Happy New Year everyone. Please stay safe and be healthy.


Gautam Sukumar

Thank you, Britt. Happy New Year, everyone.


Britt Erler

Thank you.


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