Jared Silver: Digital strategist. Future of work consultant. Watch enthusiast. Ideal airplane seatmate.

Ernst & Young's Jared Silver talks to TechRepublic about designing employee experiences and workplaces of the future.

Image: Jared Silver

There's something going on with Jared Silver and airplanes.

Silver, a senior digital strategist for Ernst & Young, owes not only his current job, and at least one friendship, but also his actual existence to the willingness of people seated next to each other on an airplane to chat.

His parents met on a flight to Palm Springs. A couple years back, he was on a flight home from music and arts festival Burning Man, and after getting upgraded to first class, he wound up sitting next to a guy who'd also been there. They started talking and bonded over cars. Silver told him about work he'd done for his family's jewelry and diamond business, establishing a watch retail division. His seat mate was into watches.

In short, they hit it off.

So when the man told Silver, who at the time was in tech consulting, he should get into strategy consulting, it was one of those "funny you mention that" moments. That was the next move Silver wanted to make, so the response was surprising.

"He goes, 'I haven't told you this, but I'm a partner at Ernst & Young and I help run their strategies division globally.' I said, 'Are you kidding?' He reaches into his bag and pulls out his business card and hands it to me and says 'Why don't you shoot me an email when we get back to Los Angeles and let's talk about your future."

Silver grew up in Menlo Park, California. He went to college at University of Southern California and majored in business with a minor in philosophy. While still in school, he had several internships. One was at BBDO in New York, which gave him exposure to working with accounts like Gillette, Red Stripe Beer, and General Electric.

"It was interesting because you had these three different companies that all had totally different marketing strategies targeting completely different individuals," he said.

When BBDO started acquiring smaller digital agencies, Silver took it as a signal that digital was gaining might.

When he was between his junior and senior year in college, Silver and a friend started a college lifestyle magazine called Lovely LA aimed at college students in Los Angeles. It gave him the chance to try out digital marketing strategy.

A friend who was a third partner on the magazine went to work for business management consulting firm Capgemini, and he eventually brought along Silver, who worked there for three years.

From Capgemini, is was off to Ernst & Young.

Silver works on a team made up of fairly diverse skillsets, modeled after the Stanford University business school approach to putting together teams -- different people bring different perspectives.

They spend most of the week on location, wherever that may be. Next week it's Asia.

There are several areas where Silver and the team he works with helps companies. One has to do with the idea of creating workplaces of the future. That can be a combination of not only the physical space, but the technology that employees use to get their work done, without hitting various pain points.

So, when Silver's team starts consulting, they're covering design strategy architecture, business strategy, and more.

"You have the architects coming in and saying, 'well we need to create an environment that's open, that allows for a sense of transparency, that really aligns with the culture and the purpose of the firm.' As well, you have the real estate team that comes in who is analyzing everything from the square footage perspective and efficiency," Silver said.

They've found that cutting down office space in favor of open environments increases employee satisfaction and collaboration, and in the long term, those things lead to better retention.

When discussing designing an employee experience, Silver said they tend to ask when an employee's day starts. A common answer is whenever the person gets to his or her desk. That prompts the question, "Okay, but what did you do before that?" Drill back far enough, and most people admit they wake up and immediately check their email.

"You might want to have an email technology that prioritizes your email, or give you notifications, or send you a text message with your schedule at the beginning of the day," Silver said. "These things will actually allow you to live a more efficient and effective lifestyle and that's what we find really interesting is figuring out those little ways we can make employees' lives easier by designing it around them."

Part of the reason it's important to be looking at ideas like this is because it means keeping an eye on what -- and who -- is coming up next.

"The way that a lot of these workplaces have evolved over time have been more suited toward those older generations. When you look at the list of the top companies to work for in the world, a lot of them are new start up firms and they're hiring young people," he said.

It's hard to ignore cultural shifts. He pointed to communication alone and the way it's changed in just the past six or seven years. Perhaps ease in a work environment isn't a corner office, but the ability to perform any function, like submitting a timesheet, through a mobile device.

Still, every client is a different situation, and Silver likes hacking at new problems with that team of individuals.

"It's challenging because we deal with all different types of personalities, but it's also really empowering because you end up growing very much as an individual," he said.

He's gleaned a few lessons from not only his work, but the structure of his work -- be collaborative, but stand your ground. And go all in.

"If you're going to commit to something, commit 100% because no one wants to work with someone who isn't 100% committed to the goal," he said.

In his own words...

How do you unplug?

"I'm kind of an adrenaline junkie. I grew up racing go-karts, outdoor racing where you're in these little go-karts that are doing 85, 90 miles an hour and you're basically in this little fiberglass tub that's strapped to a steel frame and an engine. I'm a big skier. Whenever I get the chance I always try and go to the race track. In the winter I often go skiing because I love that sensation of speed. It's something that excites me and clears my mind. I like to be outdoors a lot. I go hiking, I do Crossfit regularly, so whenever I am in town, I go to my Crossfit gym. Finally, I like to travel a lot, even though I travel basically every week for work. Traveling is a really cool way I like to explore myself and the world. I have this rule that when I do take vacation, I turn off my email."

If you could try another profession, what would it be?

"My dream job would be a Formula 1 driver. I would love to race F1 cars. I can just imagine that would be the most exhilarating job in the word, to drive like those guys do. It's pretty crazy what they're able to do in those cars."

Is there a website of social media account you read for fun?

"I'm very passionate about the watch industry, or horology, or the study of timepieces. It's something that's always fascinated me. I think it's part of the fact that it has to do with gears. Growing up around cars and engines, I always enjoyed that. I read a website that's called Hodinky and it's a watch blog where they cover watch news. It's people talking about their passion for watches."

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