This week, Charter editor Kevin Delaney reported from the Aspen Ideas Festival, where the world’s biggest thinkers and experts discussed successful flexible work case studies, and the latest thinking around generative AI and how it may be used to upskill employees.

This script has been edited for clarity and length.

Tanzina Vega, editor of Charter Pro: Hi everyone. I'm Tanzina Vega, the editor for Charter Pro, and I'm joined by Kevin Delaney, Charter CEO and editor-in-chief who's joining us today from the Aspen Ideas Festival. Hi Kevin.

Kevin Delaney, Editor-in-chief of Charter: Hi, Tanzina. Here you are. There are Aspen trees behind me to make the point.

Tanzina: We're on location for sure. Kevin, we know that this is an annual event that really brings together some of the biggest thinkers in the world to come up with these amazing ideas.

One of the things that, obviously, we here at Charter are focused on is the future of work and surprisingly there was a case study at Aspen that involved Allstate Insurance. Tell me about how they're moving forward with a really innovative way to work remotely.

Kevin: Yeah, so there's, there've been a lot of discussions here around flexible working, hybrid working, remote working. A lot of people are asking the questions just in casual conversations that I'm sure you get and a lot of our members get as well, which is, "Are people just as productive? What happens to your culture? What about the young people?" And so forth.

And then in the thick of this discussion, you have Tom Wilson, who's the CEO of Allstate. They, the insurance company, have 57,000 employees. And 82% of the employees are in a fully remote configuration. The company sold its headquarters outside of Chicago and has reduced its real estate footprint by about 50%, saving hundreds of millions of dollars a year in rental and upkeep and maintenance and everything.

And they say that this configuration is actually working really well. Their engagement is as good as ever. They're able to recruit much more diverse teams because of the flexibility that they're able to offer. What Tom Wilson says, which I find pretty compelling, is he doesn't know exactly where this is all going to net out, but he's pretty certain we're not going to go back to the way things were before.

As a result, he, in the face of employees who are really attached to their headquarters, in the face of people who want it to be in office all the time, he's led this charge to be majority remote as teams. And there's some tension points that they're finding and some stuff they're working through, which we can talk about that a little bit.

Tanzina: But overall, it's a really interesting to have such a big company take such an outlier stand on just how aggressively remote they are.

Particularly in an industry like insurance, where we tend to think they're not as adaptable or flexible as maybe like startups or tech companies might be.

But I think the fact that they've sold a significant number amount of real estate indicates a pretty serious commitment towards this going forward.

Kevin: Definitely, it is. And one thing about insurance is that they do have field employees who are out in the field, claims assessors, and things like that.

And so roughly 20% of their staff prior to the pandemic was remote already. So they're starting at a higher base from people, but still they're at 82% today. So among the things that he's talked about them having to be really deliberate about is their culture and coding their culture a little bit more.

Specifically they're having to work through what it means to actually bring people on site. There are times when you actually want people to come together and how do you motivate doing that? They have something like $10 million in their budget set aside where managers can request money to buy pizza for their team or do things like that. They're documenting all of that to try and see what actually sticks in terms of retaining people and reinforcing the culture.

And one last thing he said is that he's finding in this remote configuration that one thing that is really important is "clarity of decision making," is what he calls it.

And this is basically, you used to go into a meeting with people in person and you exited the meeting and you knew what was going to happen. You knew what you agreed on, and you could run into someone again or track them down to make sure that you got it right and the next steps happen appropriately.

He's saying one thing that they're finding is really important is clarity of decision making. So you enter a meeting knowing what you're going to decide, and you leave a meeting knowing what decisions were made so that people can go off and actually move forward with things.

Tanzina: As we know, one of the other topics that everyone is talking about, not just Charter, but is one of our main areas of focus right now is generative AI and the workplace. I imagine there was no shortage of conversations about that at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Kevin, anything in particular that stood out to you as far as the future of work?

Kevin: Yeah, so there were two or three things.

So one of them was Tom Wilson of Allstate, I asked him during this panel towards the end, "How does generative AI factor into how you're thinking about flexible working?" And he said, very quietly and directly, that he thought that generative AI was going to slash through the service sector and put a lot of people out of work. And he used the example in his own industry of insurance where generative AI, he said, is able to write letters to customers. There's a lot of correspondence between insurance agencies negotiating over claims. Generative AI is already, with less human oversight, able to pick up a lot of those tasks.

Just now, I was moderating a session with Joseph Briggs. He's the Goldman Sachs economist who put out a pretty influential report in March around the impact on jobs.

And what he's determined is that roughly 2/3 of American jobs are potentially impacted in some way by generative AI and 2/3 of tasks and 25% of jobs. He's actually relatively optimistic. He thinks there's a period perhaps of dislocation that involves what Tom is talking about, but that the increased productivity from AI will result in a net increase in jobs.

And so then the question that brings you to is, "How do we make sure that people have the skills that they need?" And I think that conversation is really ongoing.

I spoke with the head of Grow with Google, which is a program for certification around areas like cybersecurity. And they and others are pitching these training programs that are not university degrees, but actually micro-certifications. They're a shorter course that you can do to get certified and be in a pipeline for some of these other jobs that are growing as opposed to ones that are endangered by AI.

One last interesting thing, Andy Bird, the CEO of Pearson, was on one of the panels and he was saying that they've done an in-depth analysis of the skills that are needed for specific jobs. And they looked, for example, at accountants who are viewed as fairly susceptible to being automated and losing their jobs to AI. They have 75% of the skills when you break it down of data analysts. And so the question is, "How do you get them the other 25% which they've identified and how do you, smoothly, get them the other 25% to become data analysts, which is a career which has more of an open prospective in front of it and is less likely to be automated?"

Tanzina: I imagine a lot of younger folks right who are maybe graduating from college are looking at this and realizing they might need those skills right away.

But there are the sort of mid-career folks who are the ones who need to adapt more quickly to this new, and when I say new, I mean just within the past couple of months, generative AI, as it has become the conversation.

So is upskilling something that's really focused on that mid-career worker who could find themselves in the middle of potentially job loss or just irrelevance?

Kevin: I think it's a good point. And someone today made the point that, we focus a lot on the educational system, but the truth is that education, particularly now, is something that is a lifelong thing. It's not just educating the high school kids so that their skills are relevant to employment in the coming years, but it is actually, to your point, looking at people who are farther along in their career and then figuring out how to get them those skills.

Google and others are trying to make these interventions accessible. They're working with employers and others. There's a World Economic Forum statistic, which is that roughly 50% of today's workforce will need to be re-skilled by the year 2025 because technology changes to all of our jobs.

I don't think that's a concept that a lot of people have fully integrated into their thinking about their careers. And I don't believe that skilling is taking place. Even these programs like Google, which is reaching hundreds of thousands of people, at the scale of tens of millions of people worldwide that would be needed for a more smooth transition, given the changes that technology will bring.

Tanzina: And lastly, that feels like it's extraordinarily relevant to our members because they are the ones who will have to convince the rest of their organizations about making investments in upskilling, including who to upskill, what skills to focus on, etc.

Kevin: Exactly. And one interesting thing about this technology, and there's a McKinsey report last week that highlighted and some people are talking about here, is that it's particularly impactful to people with higher levels of education, meaning people on the higher end of the knowledge worker food chain, including people with advanced degrees even.

This idea of skilling and re-skilling and training and thinking about what the workforce needs to look like and be trained in a few years out is really a massive undertaking because it's not just your entry level workers, although it impacts them as well, but it actually rises up and down across the across the scope of the organization.

There is some federal investment in training in infrastructure and other areas. And Zoe Baird, who it works with the Commerce Department, made the point during one of the discussions that they are also for people whose jobs are not around any longer. There is a lot of investment in opportunity in areas like the Chips and Science Act and the investment that's going into the semiconductor industry that involves people with varying degrees of technical skills to actually build out the domestic industry.

Tanzina: As we have already mentioned, or we may not have mentioned it on this call, but Charter is leading the charge when it comes to the AI information revolution as it applies to HI. We've already published our first AI mandate for HR with more to come, so our members will be getting a glimpse of that as well.

Kevin, thanks so much for this update from the Aspen Ideas Festival. We're jealous you're in the sun and in the mountains, but we'll see you soon.

Kevin: Thank you, Tanzina.