Making Sense of the Future of Work

7 December 2022

With guest Dan Shapero - Chief Operating Officer at LinkedIn


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There’s a growing tension between how people want to work and how companies believe people should be working. Employees have experienced firsthand how they can be more productive by fitting work and life together in flexible ways — without the daily slog of an office commute. On the other side are business leaders. They see business as a team sport and that when people come together and have strong relationships, they get better work done. Navigating these two truths will be key to building a successful company. Just ask Dan Shapero, Chief Operating Officer at LinkedIn. He oversees LinkedIn’s global sales, operations, and member and customer success, and he helps companies around the world grow their business and strengthen their teams through the LinkedIn platform. Dan joins the podcast to discuss the forces that are reshaping the global workforce and the workplace — and how both employees and employers are responding as we move into the future of work.

Listen to this episode to learn:

  • How creating economic opportunity for everyone is the driving force at LinkedIn (and the secret to its success as a 2022 Best Global Brand)
  • Some of the job skills that will be in high demand in the years ahead (hint: think digital!)
  • Why the next wave of job seekers will choose to work for companies based on their sustainability goals and how they’re helping to fight the climate crisis
  • Ways in which LinkedIn is helping women in the workforce find jobs and advance their careers
  • What is “product-society fit,” and is it as important as “product-market fit”?
  • Why the one thing every successful leader needs is self-awareness…and how Dan discovered it himself
  • How one conversation with former LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner changed Dan’s perspective on his career
  • What’s supposed to be on LinkedIn? What should I be sharing? — Dan’s advice for how you should show up on LinkedIn


Charles Trevail: This is Outside In, and I’m Charles Trevail. Today I’m with Dan Shapero, who is the CCO of LinkedIn. Dan, welcome. Good to see you. 

Dan Shapero: Thanks for having me. 

Charles: Here we are both at Web Summit. 700 people here. It’s amazing! So, Dan, I think you may have coined the phrase “the Great Reshuffle.” 

Dan: Not me personally, but LinkedIn…

Charles: (laughs) Right! It’s a great phrase. I like it. What are you seeing now? Because the narrative within big companies nowadays is the economy is changing, the balance towards employees is going to tip back again. Sure, maybe an element of that is true, but what are you hearing? What are you seeing about what has really changed? Is this reshuffle really a reshuffle in people’s values, perhaps? Or are we going to see a tilt right back to where we were pre-COVID? 

Dan: Any major change in the world where a lot of things are being revisited, I think we’re going to learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. And I think that’s been the case for the last few years. So if you go back to when COVID hit, the world kind of went into a freeze and no one was really sure what to do. No one was sure where the economy was going to go. Some companies went through major crisis, some companies went through huge surges. But what wound up happening was there were a number of lessons learned. First lesson we learned, generally speaking, is that a lot of people can get their work done from just about anywhere. And that may be your experience. That was definitely my experience. And I think that employees felt that. Their sense of themselves was I can be really productive. I can be productive without commuting. I can fit my work and my life together in more flexible ways. That was a huge discovery over the last years. Similarly, I think that business is increasingly a team sport. And there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that when people come together, when people have strong relationships, that they get better work done. And so how do you take these two truths and fit them together? And every company is coming up with their own perspective on how to navigate these two truths in order to build a successful company. And my guess is that in the next few years you will see a wide range of strategies. Some companies are going to continue to embrace a highly remote-oriented workforce. We’ll see how that goes. Some companies are going to really bring people back into the workplace as a requirement. We’ll also see how that goes. What’s clear to me is that the next generation of workers believes that they can be successful from anywhere. As those workers look at jobs, they will choose who to apply to. One of the interesting stats, if you look at jobs on LinkedIn, is that before the pandemic only 2% of jobs were remote eligible. At the height of the pandemic, 20% of jobs were remote eligible and that’s now settled down to about 14%. So you’ve seen us go through this pendulum swinging and swinging slightly back. But what’s interesting is that over 50% of applications from job seekers are to remote jobs. So there’s increasingly a mismatch between what people want and what different employers are offering. So you pose the question, well, has this all play out in a world where the economy gets a little softer, where jobs become a bit scarcer? And I think it’s anyone’s guess. But I think these two things will continue to be true: The fact that most work can be done from anywhere and that there is a lot of benefit of teams coming together to get work done. And I think we’re going to see a lot of companies try different strategies. 

Charles: Yeah, I mean, for ourselves, through this whole period, the last two or three years, we found that our productivity has gone up and our workforce are happier. So if you said to a leader of business, you’re going to have high productivity and a happy workforce. How can you achieve that? Send everybody home. They would have said you were crazy. Well, everyone said it was going to be crazy but what a result. We have highly productive, happy workers. Just not the way bosses thought it was going to be. 

Dan: Well, and if you look at this phenomenal piece of research that was recently done by Microsoft where they ask individuals “Do you feel like you can be productive working remotely?” And people resoundingly say “yes!” And then you ask managers, do you feel like people are being productive? And they are highly paranoid about whether people are doing work. So there’s this real disconnect and we’re going to have to sort that out to create some norms, because in absence of norms, it’s really hard for companies to function well. So I think it’s going to be a very interesting time and I think we’re going to learn a lot. 

Charles: Office Design. You’re in the world of work or in the world of recruitment and skills and all those things. I was speaking to an architect the other day and he said what they’re seeing is the norm for office design in major cities in the New York and the London and the big metropolitan areas is possibly 70% shared work areas like meeting rooms and conference areas and WeWork type areas. 70%! The rows of desks are just gone. No one ever wants to go back into that kind of factory environment to work. Or that’s what they’re saying. Does that sound true to what you hear? I mean you may not be asking those questions. But that’s a huge shift.

Dan: Well, there’s two themes. I think there’s a subtle but important theme which is that in some parts of the world working from home is very hard. If you’re in Hong Kong, if you’re in certain locations where you might not even have air conditioning in the day. Or the internet may be hard to come by. People really want to come back in the office just to be able to get their jobs done. And so I think that companies need to be conscious that globally this is a little bit different. But I think by and large the thing that I think of is that you don’t come to the office because of the office, you come into the office because of the people. Then the question is what’s the office set up that allows you to have people spend time together? And it’s going to be a lot more about office settings. Audio is a huge issue. How do you have everyone sitting in an open area where people are on teams communicating with their colleagues? In other places the audio dynamic is complicated and so you see more telephone boothing or you see more small conference rooms. So I think it’s going to be a major dynamic and I think it’s going to be a very interesting time to be in the commercial architecture space for sure.

Charles: Well, we hope Microsoft sort all this out. I mean they’ve done a great job so far — getting us to where we are but looking for lots of innovation there. Let’s talk about the opportunity side: economic opportunity. Where are you seeing kind of boom areas for jobs at the moment? What are the categories and sectors that you’re seeing showing up? 

Dan: I just spent last week at our Talent Connect event which is where we get together about a thousand of the leading thinkers in the talent space around the world. We sort of think of it as the Davos of talent. And what was interesting is that the outlook on jobs growth is very varied depending upon what sector and geography you’re talking about. If you’re talking about banking and financial services, if you’re talking about healthcare and pharma…we may not be quite growing at the rate we were a year ago but it’s still a very forward leaning, growth oriented mindset. If you look at technology companies, and given rising interest rates, you see that many of those companies are thinking about how to focus investments on core activities and perhaps a less expansive mindset. So it’s all going to settle out. But I think there is not one statement about where the economy is going. It is very sector by sector and then there’s a whole geographic lens. I think there’s a sense that what’s going on in Europe will have slower growth in which you might see in parts of Asia or North America given the energy dynamic and geopolitical tensions. So I think that generally speaking, the things that will continue is that there will continue to be a scarcity of digital skills. What happened during the Pandemic is that every company became a technology company. If you’re a retail operation, you got to figure out how to improve your mobile app. If you’re a restaurant, how do you facilitate take out delivery? Every company amplified and accelerated their digital roadmaps and that put a huge strain on their tech teams. And we’re going to be catching up to that dynamic for years. So I’m very optimistic about the continued pace at which talent and digital skills will need to develop. I think it’s going to mean it’s going to continue to be hard to hire people. And then there are other areas that are really promising, like the green economy. The meme of the last several years has been every company is becoming a tech company. I think the next wave is going to be every company is going to become a climate-oriented company. And you see it on the job seeking side because individuals want to work at companies that are going to be part of helping the world navigate what might be the greatest challenge in human history of how do we help continue economic growth while understanding how to create a climate environment that’s sustainable. 

Charles: Fantastic. I mean, it’s an area of real personal interest, so I’m delighted to hear that. And obviously the Biden Inflation Reduction Act is going to drive a huge amount of economic activity in that area. Let’s talk about women. Women have left the workforce, according to data, at a faster rate during COVID than men, which seems to be a terrible shame given where we were getting to in the employment field. Perhaps two questions. What do you see companies doing for women that are helping women in the workforce? And perhaps more directly, what is LinkedIn doing to help women? 

Dan: Sure. Well, I’d love to talk about it as a platform and then talk about it for LinkedIn as an employer, because we’re very proud of the team that we have. And in particular, we’ve been able to get to a place where, generally speaking, we’re at gender parity at all levels in the organization, which I think is something we’re really, really proud of. I think it’s one of our competitive strengths as a company. But as a platform, we, by virtue of our position of being the place where most professionals find their jobs, we have access to a tremendous amount of data and you can see and start to uncover where biases might exist in the labor market. And so one of the things that much research has been done is that men and women apply to jobs differently and you see it in the data. So if on average, these are all generalizations, but there is a trend that generally speaking, when a woman looks at a job, she asks herself, “What percentage of the skills that are required for the job do I have? And unless I have all of them or the vast majority of them, perhaps I don’t apply.” Okay? Men on the other hand, if they feel like they are somewhat qualified are much more likely to put themselves into the application pool. And so as a result, what you see is that when women do apply that they are more likely to get the job because there’s been a self selection into the process that’s happened before the application. So what can we do about it? We’ve launched a feature on our Jobs product where we remind people how qualified they are for the job based on the overlap between jobs for that skill and jobs in that profile. And so what did we see? We saw that more women were applying to jobs that they were a great fit for because we were showing them that that was the case. And then similarly, we show the exact same information to the recruiter. Say this person that’s applied has high skills, overlap with the job that you’ve posted. And so we can find ways through LinkedIn to help unwind biases that may have been part of the labor market for decades and generations by helping people understand who’s qualified for what job, who’s great at what, who wants what career path. So we think there’s a lot of opportunity. There’s another dynamic we saw on average, women historically on LinkedIn have written shorter profiles. They aren’t as forward with their accomplishments, perhaps on average. And guess what? If you ask an algorithm, show me the person that knows Java, it will look at how many times did you write Java on your profile? And so we’ve learned to unwind these inherent biases in behavior to make sure that we are presenting a truly representative sample of who’s capable and best for the job. And so I’m really proud of the work we’ve done to make diversity by design a core part of our product strategy. And we think that’s going to be a big part of our strategy going forward. 

Charles: I’m going to tell that story my two daughters, who are in their 20s, kind of early in the job market just to give them a little boost of confidence. And I notice I’m saying apply and they go, “we don’t have the skills,” but you’ve got a lot of other attributes that aren’t coming forward. But I didn’t realize that you have data to prove that women tend to be a little more reticent in putting themselve forward. 

Dan: If we can give people confidence that you’re going to be great for this, then that’s a wonderful role that we can play that’s for everyone. It’s not just a male-female dynamic. It’s a dynamic for lots of folks. But it does tend to sort of predominate that situation. The other thing I think is that we’ve learned a lot in our own journey as an employer. I can wind back the clock to 2014 at LinkedIn, and it is absolutely true that we were much more male dominated as a company in terms of representation and in leadership ranks. And we took a hard look at it and we put in place a number of things that really made a difference. One of those things is sponsorship. What we’ve learned is that often times the plum assignments go to people that are the most forward with their interest. And what we learned is that some people feel like that’s part of their personality and they’re comfortable with that, and some people are less comfortable with that. And oftentimes some of our most talented female leaders were less forward about what they were interested in and what their accomplishments were. And so we flipped the script and we said, okay, for all of these amazing, talented people, each leader is going to be assigned one or two rising stars. And your goal is to make sure you’re really aware of what that person cares about and what they’re great at, so that when these assignments come up, you’re going to represent their interests. I had a few people that I was responsible for, and others did as well. And what we realized is that by leveling that playing field of awareness of accomplishment, we can make sure that the best people were truly getting the best jobs. And then I went on my own personal journey. I’ll share this because sometimes you have to make progress. You have to look in the mirror at yourself. We brought in a woman named Fern Mandelbaum who works at Stanford, and she coached all of us as leaders on things that we might be doing to create a more inclusive workforce or a less inclusive workforce. One of the things I learned about myself is that when I get passionate, when I get animated, I can get stronger in my tone, I can become more intense, I can lean forward. And by the way, at my house growing up, that’s what success at the dinner table sounded like. You know, when you’re debating something if you were winning the argument, like, that was how I used to think of myself as me at my best. As it turned out, when I leaned in, others leaned out. And I didn’t acknowledge until then the fact that how I was showing up was actually limiting other people to show up in the best way that they could. So that was a hard truth to become aware of. And that dynamic was disproportionately impacting my female college relative to my male colleagues. And so each of us, as leaders, went through the process of becoming more conscious of situations where we were creating a dynamic we weren’t intending. And I think it’s been a wonderful journey. 

Charles: Well, thanks for sharing that, Dan. It’s really great. So it sounds kind of familiar to me. I do want to talk a little bit more about you, because we’ve talked a little bit about the world of work and LinkedIn. Your story is fascinating, my friend, if you don’t mind me saying. I have not met anyone, I don’t think, who ran a sales organization that went from $40 million to $1 billion in four years. How did that feel? 

Dan: It was amazing. It was an amazing ride. The interesting part is I had never done sales before I started at LinkedIn, but we had this amazing product that we had developed around helping companies hire great people. And I was part of the team that helped realize this was a great opportunity. And then the question became, how do we scale it? And I got recruited in to help build out the sales team and ultimately became the leader of that sales team. But, I mean, the numbers were crazy. It was 40 million to 140 to 290 to 550 to a billion. And going on that journey was amazing and wonderful. Yeah. Sometimes you learn least when you’re being most successful. 

Charles: I’ve heard you talk about your entrepreneurial sure. How tough some of that is. I’ve been an entrepreneur, too. I don’t always advise people to go in that direction unless they really have the kind of guts and resilience to do it. Did you learn a lot during that growth period, or did you just feel like you were on this wave and it was just incredible? Everything you did just seemed to go right. Did it feel like that or not? 

Dan: So I think every team in every successful situation in the moment feels like they are having some of the most intense, hardest problems to be solving. If you actually had a video camera watching our team meetings, you would have thought that we were struggling because every wave of growth came with a new problem. So from one product to multi product, from us to international, from all of our customers being new, to supporting huge existing customer relationships, basically at every stage, there was a new problem to solve. And I think that was part of the challenge, was seeing around corners, and it’s part of the job that I like the most. 

Charles: Yeah, well, congratulations on it, because anyone who’s lived through that and led that is quite something. And Jeff Weiner had a conversation with you and said, if you ever want to run a company like this, you need to do something else. 

Dan: Yeah, well, Jeff is a very important person in my career journey, and he was the CEO of LinkedIn for about a decade, and I used to have monthly walking meetings with him, and sometimes we talk about my career. And on one day, he asked me, what do I want to do? And I said, “Jeff, I want to do something like you someday.” And I was so high on the recent success of the business. We built this billion dollar business. We were continuing to grow. We built this wonderful culture. And he looked at me and he said, well, I’m not sure you’re learning what you need to be learning to do my job someday, like wherever that is. And it was like a splash of cold water on my face. I was like, what are you talking about, Jeff? We’ve been so successful, I’m doing all these wonderful things. What are you talking about? And he said, great tech companies are built off of great products or great technology. And it resonated in a way I didn’t love. Because at the moment I was angry. I was like, how are you telling me this? But what I realized is that he was right and it married with a comment. My dad always gave me advice on look at any CEO in the world and that person is in that job because of the challenges that that company is facing in that moment. And the challenges that most tech companies face are, how do I continue to build an amazing product or an amazing piece of technology that’s going to change the world? And so if I didn’t know how to do that, then how would I ever be able to do that job in the best way that I could? So anyway, so Jeff gave me this advice. I didn’t love the advice. I eventually realized it was reality. And I said, alright, let’s do it. What do you mean, Dan? Let’s do it. I’m like, great. I’m going to transition from my job running a team of about 1500 folks to in the product team. And as I learned, the only way to learn product is to build product. So I became an individual contributor on the product team and ultimately spent five years in the product organization at different levels. And it was an amazing experience. That is amazing. You can go and run the product team, you become like a product contributor. Yes. So I guess people are going around. You want to hear my I remember the day I was so relieved that there was a designer on the team. I didn’t even know that this role existed, so I thought I had to design what colors went on. And they introduced me to this wonderful gentleman named David Carmona. And David was like, I’m going to work with you as a designer. And I think I had an 8th of his time, right? Clearly the project I was working on wasn’t the most important, but I was so relieved that I had someone that understood aesthetics that could help me navigate how the products were going to show up. But my first product turned into running the jobs seeking part of the website. So if you ever found a job on LinkedIn, I got to build out that product and in various other products. Amazing. So people must be saying at that time. Like, did Dan do something? Did he do something wrong that he moved over? But that’s a very brave mood. Thank you. Really brave. It paid off. I learned so much. I’m a better partner to my product peers. I think I do my job better because I’ve had that experience. So many people thought I was crazy, including myself. 

Charles: I’ve heard someone ask you what’s the most important quality in leadership? I think question, and you answered it so quickly. I have to ask you that question again, and then I’m going to come on just to ask you a little bit about what the future looks like. But leadership one quality…

Dan: Self-awareness. 

Charles: So why do you say that so quickly? It’s a great answer. 

Dan: Well, the two things that leaders have to be able to do is to understand the landscape of what’s going on around you, to make sense of it, and then to translate that into clarity for your team. If you can do that, then you have the makings of a lot of great success as a leader. And I tell this kind of joke, if you will, because I think that it’s sort of indicative is like, I use this phrase, new managers tell bad jokes. The day you get promoted to being a new manager, you walk into your team meeting and you tell a joke and everyone laughs. And guess what? You’re not funnier than you were the day before you were promoted. It’s just that now everyone’s career matters to what you think of them. And so the way that they show up with you starts to change. And the more senior you get, the more that dynamic amplifies. And so the signals that you get to make sense of the world have to be more internally driven or driven by people that are able to be open and honest with you, whether that’s at work or at home. When you come home and talk about your workday, your partner tells you a different story than you might hear from someone on your team. So I think that being aware of yourself is the central idea behind being able to make good decisions and also to create clarity for your team. The other thing is that I’ve learned about self-awareness in a different concept, which is I’ve learned that the number one thing that causes me to make bad decisions is being in the wrong emotional state when I’m making them interesting. So whenever I’m in a situation where I have to make a hard call, I ask myself, how do I feel right now? And if I don’t feel perfectly balanced, I never make the decision. And I’m like saying great. Thank you. I understand the decision. I need. To make. I’m going to go make it later. And perhaps I’ll call someone that I can talk it through with, because I find talking it through is useful for me. And then I ask them, like, I feel a sense of calm and I’ll make the call. But almost every situation where I’ve looked back and wish I’d made a different call, I realized that I wasn’t in the right emotional frame to make the call. 

Charles: And do you use professional 360 tools or mentorship? Or how do you institutionalize if you like your own self-awareness, is there a way you do that? 

Dan: Well, I think it’s having people around you that you trust to the point where they will tell you anything. I have a coach that I meet about every four weeks that just helps me unpack what’s going on. And also I have longstanding relationships throughout the organization where I can pick up the phone and say, all right, what’s going on right now? And they’ll tell it to me straight. 

Charles: And yesterday Interbrand launched its Best Global Brands. LinkedIn, one of the top 100 brands, going up in the right direction. What do you put that down to? 

Dan: Well, I’ve been on LinkedIn since 2008, almost 15 years. When I joined, the company was about 300 folks, and now we’re around 200. But one of the most remarkable things about what’s been consistent since the early days that I joined is our vision, which is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. And so that’s such a driving force at the company. You can ask any employee, what’s our vision? They’ll be able to tell you, if you’re like me, you know people in your life for whom a new job or learning a new skill changed the course of their life. It made them a happier person, allowed them to provide for their families. And so I find it one of the core reasons why I love my job by so many people at LinkedIn love their job. But I think the other thing is that LinkedIn is a place where who we are and what we stand for really matters. We’ve done a ton of research on this that increasingly, job seekers aren’t just joining a company because of the job, but because of what the company stands for. And we have this phrase that LinkedIn we use called product-society fit. Everyone’s talking about product-market fit, right? Like, does your product solve a problem for people in new ways? But what about product-society fit? Does your product make the world a better place? And we take that very seriously.

Charles: So when we were chatting before coming on air here, you told me a metaphor about what LinkedIn really is and that suddenly it became clear to me. 

Dan: Well, I think people often ask, what should I be sharing on LinkedIn? What’s supposed to be on LinkedIn? What I believe is that LinkedIn should be the workplace you’ve always dreamed of. So take a step back for a second and say, what would a perfect workday feel like? What would you do? You catch up with your colleagues, you’d learn a new skill. Maybe you discover a career path that you weren’t aware of. Maybe you get some work done. Maybe you meet a new customer. That’s what a great workday would feel like. And you go home at the end of the day and you chat with your partner about the amazing day that you had. Those elements are what LinkedIn should feel like. And so similarly, people ask me, well, this whole idea, should I bring my whole self to work? Is that where the world’s going? If you think about how would you want to show up in your perfect workday, what would that feel like? That’s the way you should show up on LinkedIn. 

Charles: What are you excited about for the future? That LinkedIn is kind of building out that world more that you can tell us about today? 

Dan: Yes, I love to. Well, I feel like the thing that has made LinkedIn a powerful force for good in the world is that we’ve helped people really unlock their potential in their careers. I think that that’s only going to continue if you think about how do we help people find the skills that are going to help them get the job they’ve always wanted. If you ask, how do we help the next set of amazing companies find the talent that’s going to bring their products to market? The world just becomes a better place when talent and opportunity find each other. And I think we can move from a world where the jobs that are afforded to you or the opportunities that are afforded to you are based on the school you went to or your last experience, to what skills do you have? What do you bring to the table? Do you have a background that looks perhaps a little less traditional than what you would normally hire, but you absolutely are bringing what we need in our company? I think we can move to a skills oriented labor market as opposed to one based on experiences and relationships, which I think has been our past. So I’m very excited about that. I’m also excited about things we mentioned, like LinkedIn’s role in facilitating the green economy. People want to work at places that they feel inspired by. People on LinkedIn want to find companies that care about sustainability. And so one of the things that we’re building is allowing companies to make commitments on topics like equity, on topics like climate change. And then imagine going in and searching for a job saying, show me all of the companies that are hiring for the role I want but also have values that I care about. That’s a new way to find a job, and I think it’s akin to the kind of search that Shenzhen millennials are particularly excited about. So I think the future is very bright. I think the moment we’re in is complicated, but progress marches on. 

Charles: Dan, it’s been really great speaking to you. Thank you so much for coming and joining us on our side. And I’m sure our listeners have loved all the stories you told them. Many of them will be trying to emulate some of your success. Not sure they’re all going to work in companies that go from 40 million to 1 billion, but that’s just an incredible story. Great to meet you. 

Dan: Yeah, pleasure. Thanks for having me so much.