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On June 25, TFN hosted its first virtual event – TFN Touchpoint – a new series hosted by award-winning journalist, New York Times best-selling author, and co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street”  David Faber, A85, A24P.  During this series, Faber will interview professionals and experts to gather their perspectives on contemporary themes in business, finance, and the global economy.

The first Touchpoint focused on the future of work in a post-pandemic world and Faber interviewed three distinguished guests in 15-minute segments on a range of topics.  The panel also convened at the end to take questions from the audience.  Speakers included:

  • Peter M. Fasolo, A18P, E22P, Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, Johnson & Johnson (Peter is also a Trustee at Tufts.)
  • Jivko Sinapov, The James Schmolze Assistant Professor in Computer Science, Tufts University
  • Liz Hilton Segel, Managing Partner, North America, McKinsey & Company

The Return to Work

“The first eight to ten weeks were all about resolve and making sure employees were safe and had what they needed, both at home and at work,” said Johnson & Johnson Executive Peter Fasolo when describing the outset of the pandemic.  The organization, with 140,000 employees worldwide, ramped up quickly to meet needs, including protecting pay, providing technology resources, and ensuring support in areas like mental health and childcare access.

Johnson & Johnson is now shifting its focus to the return to work, which includes reimagining what the workplace will look like post pandemic.  The company is learning a great deal from China, he said, where 65 percent of their employees are back in the workplace with personal protective equipment, social distancing, contact tracing and testing.  Ultimately, Johnson & Johnson’s goal is to have employees return to the physical workplace.

“Our ultimate north star is to get people back to the workplace because we are driven off innovation, which is fueled by collaboration and social connections,” he said.  “We also recognize that people working from home right now are incredibly efficient.”  As for the future workplace, Johnson & Johnson is focused on what it has learned about collaboration and connection over the last four months, and how to implement policies that can provide employees the support and balance they need.

Fasolo also provided an update on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine development, sharing that the organization is entering human trials quicker than expected due to the success of animal studies. By September, they hope to scale up to a large clinical trial.  He credited the unbelievable cooperation in the pharmaceutical industry with the accelerated development of several vaccine candidates.

Impact of Artificial Intelligence

With Professor Jivko Sinapov, Faber discussed the future of artificial intelligence and robotics in the workplace with Sinapov easing anxieties that robots will simply replace humans.  “The good news is there are many things that humans can do that robots and AI systems generally cannot,” he said.  “Robotics is interested in complementing the human in the workplace so the human and robot can both do what they know best.”

He stressed the benefits of collaborative environments between machines and people.  “We’re going to see greater presence of robots in workplaces, but they will help make us more productive and eliminate parts of our jobs that we don’t want to do.”

Some industries, he noted, will be more affected than others as fewer employees may be needed to do the same amount of work, but as technology becomes available it can also create opportunities in other areas and sectors. One plus, he noted, “robots cannot transmit diseases.”

Reimagining the Future

Reimagining how their businesses will operate in the future is exactly what most executives are doing right now, according to Liz Hilton Segel, Managing Partner, North America, McKinsey & Company.  “We’re shifting to greater use of technology,” she said. “This was already underway, but the pace of change and the ambition for the scale of change has increased.”

For example, she pointed to the quick and radical shift consumers made from buying groceries in stores to buying digitally.  Recent data also shows that 87 percent of consumers now prefer touchless or self-service checkout, a trend that is likely to keep growing.

When asked the big question, “will work ever be the same?” Hilton Segel emphatically said no.  “This is a moment in history that we will look back on; 2020 will be studied in depth and there will be permanent change.”

To watch the first TFN Touchpoint in its entirety, click here.