Lena Reinhard, keynote speaker: “How do we as a society even define ‘work’?”

If you’ve ever thought that your organisation’s leadership was in need of a push — or perhaps you needed one yourself — then Lena Reinhard is exactly who you need to call. Over the past decade, she has helped leaders of technical teams embrace change, so was a natural person for us to interview in our “Future of Work” series.

Lena’s technical gravitas stems from roles as VP of Engineering with both CircleCI and Travis CI, while she has been at the sharp end of business as co-founder and CEO of a SaaS startup.

So, how does Lena think the world of work will change in the next ten years? Hugely. But this shouldn’t be a passive change dictated by technologies, but one driven by employees. Read on to find out more.

What was your first role in tech and what is your current role today?

Lena Reinhard Future of Work
Lena Reinhard is an engineering leadership coach and organizational consultant

I started out in tech with a two-week copywriting project for a small SaaS startup that hired me to rewrite their website copy. After the successful website relaunch, they offered me a full-time contract as their marketing and key account manager. 

In the 13 years since, I’ve served in a multitude of leadership roles, from CEO and co-founder of my own SaaS company to VP of Engineering in the developer tooling space. Many of those with globally distributed teams.

The core of my work has always been helping leaders and teams navigate change successfully and increase their business impact. Now I am continuing this work as a leadership coach and organizational consultant, supporting leaders and organisations in their growth and in navigating the complex challenges of startup and scaleup environments. 

Who are some people in tech you find inspiring, and why? 

I owe a wealth of gratitude to the many women and BiPoC who have been working tirelessly for the last decades to make the tech industry a more inclusive and diverse place. In addition, there are AI ethicists like Timnit Gebru and Rumman Chowdhury, whose work has deepened my understanding of the opportunities and challenges that come with artificial intelligence, and the questions it poses for our industry.

Lastly, I’m in great admiration for Dr Nakeema Stefflbauer, a tech executive and founder of Frauenloop, a non-profit organisation that trains women for careers in tech who have resident, immigrant, refugee, non-science or family-status backgrounds that might otherwise pose obstacles to starting or re-entering professional tech roles.

What are the major factors influencing the future of work?

Climate change will continue to pose a great threat. For corporations specifically, I expect that the increasing frequency of destructive weather events will continue to challenge them, from supply chain issues to navigating impacts on their office locations and employees. The environmental impact of corporations and technology is huge, and as younger generations enter the workplace, many are already asking critical questions of employers regarding sustainable practices. 

The scarcity of energy as well as raw materials and natural resources that lots of technologies rely on — things like lithium, cobalt and copper — has led to disputes about rights to these resources and exploding costs. The extraction of these materials has had a massive environmental impact, such as land degradation, in addition to abuse and exploitation of workers and child labour in emerging countries.

In order to support more sustainability for the planet and decrease dependency on these materials, we’ll need to see much more dedication to renewable energy sources, recycling and “second life”. Along with other means of reducing waste and increasing efficiency in how we use the materials that have already been extracted. I hope to see more companies active in this space, and a shift in products towards lower emissions — either due to policy and financial pressure or out of a desire to do better. 

Debates about governmental regulation of technology started relatively late, but have now become a more regular topic not just in Europe, but also in the US. The question of what technologies are available in which countries will also impact the future of work, from what businesses companies are able to partner with, to business models and workforce availability.  

And in terms of workers specifically?

Generational shifts in workforce demographics require organisations to adapt. With boomers retiring, more millennials in leadership functions, and Gen Z just entering the workforce, companies are already seeing great shifts in employee demands, needs, and the impacts on their work culture.

I’m curious to see the further evolution of discussions around the four-day work week and similar conversations about the place of work in life, and how work works. (Read Nicole Kobie’s piece about the need for companies to “wake up” to the four-day work week.)

More vocal demands for hybrid and remote work models from younger generations, as well as housing crises in many cities, will further fuel debates about where work takes place, and what productivity means. 

Offices will continue to be around but will become increasingly expensive to maintain due to energy and rental costs. 

The workforce of the future will continue to be hybrid, if not even more distributed, due to increased specialisation needs and difficulties in attracting and retaining talent.

What about VC investments?

After a decade of “growth at (almost) all costs” fuelled by cheap money and hype cycles, the VC market has cooled down a bit lately.

VC firms have been a main force behind many tech companies’ rise and often quick fall, especially in the many cases where it became clear that business models weren’t viable, let alone scalable nor sustainable.

Between the increased necessity of more sustainable technology and tech products, in conjunction with shifts in workforce and financial markets as well as increased regulations, I’m curious to see how the VC landscape and, as a result, the technology and tech-adjacent sectors will shift as a result.

More broadly, I would love to see much more focus on smaller, more sustainable businesses and business models that are built for the long term instead of a quick exit.

Which tech skills will be in most demand over the next 12 months? And ten years?

Over the next year, I expect that the hype about AI will continue, with many companies jumping on the trend and trying to enhance their products and business models with it, resulting in high demand for skills in this area.

In the long term, I think the most important skills will be about managing complexity. Both in terms of complex, high-load technical systems, as well as in designing appropriate technical solutions to complex business problems.

How do you think the work office will change in the next ten years?

I don’t really think there is a field that isn’t already impacted by technology, either by the presence of it, or by its absence.

The question I’d love to pose instead, to everyone working in our industry, is how can we as technology builders make the impact of our work a more positive one? How can we be better at addressing the unintended (or sometimes shrugged-off) side effects of our work, and utilise technology in a way that actually addresses the problems that humanity is facing, today and in the future? 

[This is a subject Lena has touched on before — see the YouTube video below.]

What fields of work or industries do you think will accelerate because of technology?

I’d love to see more impact in public health, especially in using tech to provide better access to health resources and health care to groups of people who don’t have sufficient access yet. 

What is a recent example of technology disrupting work that you found interesting?

“Disruption” as a term has by now gotten a pretty questionable reputation, and rightfully so — many recent self-proclaimed “disruptors” became successful off the back of worker and environmental exploitation, and with tremendous social and political fallout that’s often still not resolved.

The so-called “gig economy” is an area that was in big parts fueled by tech companies that claimed to “disrupt” existing markets, a fancier term for the thinly veiled outsourcing of major corporate risks to independent contractors and platform workers.

While gig work has been around for over two decades, debates about labour and employee rights continue, and I expect those will continue to be a major topic — going to the very heart of the question, “How do we as a society even define ‘work’?”    

More interviews on the future of work

Our thanks to Lena for taking the time to share her thoughts on the future of work. For more predictions, read on:

  • Colin Fraser, founder and Managing Director at Nevis Capital. “Professionals who can ‘supercharge’ themselves with AI tools will win big in our new world.”
  • Sian Young, COO of SDG Assessment App: “The more personal data that is collected and stored by companies the higher the risk of privacy violations”
  • Simon Long, CBRE Southeast Asia: “How do we create work environments and a culture that actively brings everyone together?”
  • Clarence Ding, Simmons & Simmons: “A data scientist in Singapore is likely to face competition for their job not just from the local market, but from other very high-quality candidates in other countries”
  • Christine Li, Knight Frank: “The effects of technology are likely to lead to a redefinition of jobs and skill shifts rather than apocalyptic workforce reductions”
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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.