Expansion of the Labor Pool. Population growth, coupled with more individuals joining the workforce than ever, are going to greatly expand the pool of candidates available to employers.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing A.J. Titus.

A.J. Titus has a passion for franchising that few share. The son of Ray Titus, A.J. is no stranger to franchising and business development. As President, A.J. spearheads the growth of the brand throughout the United States and around the world, developing ways to help Signarama franchisees to grow their business. A.J holds an International Business degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University (2014), an MBA from the University of Miami (2017) and is a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE). From being a part of multiple boards including the Rinker School of Business Board, the VetFran Board, and the Titus Center for Franchising, A.J. is passionate about driving change in the business world. He supports policies that help small businesses and most importantly, aid the franchise owners of Signarama.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

When I was younger, my dad drove me to a shopping center in town. When we arrived, he dropped me off and told me to go sell signs. Then, he drove away. While unconventional, this taught me the importance of determination and initiative needed not only in business, but in every aspect of my life. I’m still in the sign business, and this experience laid the foundation for my career.

Another time, when I was still early in my career, I had a meeting scheduled with my grandfather. I was running late, and when I walked in, he was writing on a five-dollar bill. On it, he had written “Respect for Time.” He then proceeded to rip that bill in half, handed one half to me, and said: “You can get the other half when you learn to respect someone’s time. Now, you can leave my office.” As someone just starting in business, I didn’t fully understand what point he was trying to make. Eventually, it became clear: Time is money. And more importantly, if you respect someone, you’ll respect their time.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

We hear all the time that advancements in technology over the past 15–20 years have exceeded the combined technological advancements of any time before that. As a company, we’re always looking for ways to enhance our efforts, whether they be operational, sales and marketing, training, and anything else, and we’ll continue to look for ways to improve in those areas as time goes on. But the one thing I anticipate will remain the same, if not grow in importance, is the value people place on in-person interaction.

We live in an era where presentations can be given over video conference applications, sales calls can be made over the phone, and pictures can be immediately shared over social media. These are all great tools that we use every day, but what we’re increasingly hearing is how much people appreciate in-person conversation. It’s why we have business advisors out in the field everyday meeting with our franchise owners. It’s why we host our annual convention. It’s why I make a conscious effort to visit our network of franchisees across the nation and around the world. And it’s why our sales teams are visiting in-person with prospects every day. There’s no denying the fact that we’ve returned to normal in a post-pandemic world, and we’re encouraging everyone on our staff to visit our stores and meet with prospects to build credibility and relationships across the nation.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to future-proofing your organization. Different industries require different approaches. Different organizations have different needs and challenges. The simplest answer o is to welcome change. Be adaptable, be flexible, and be open to new ideas. Be open to the reality that your business might not run the same way in 5 years as it does today.

It’s crucial that organizations maintain a constant understanding of where their market is at. What the latest advancements are within their field. The wants and needs of employees throughout the industry and how they can best provide for them.

You future-proof your organization by listening. To all of it; the good and the bad. And beyond listening, you act. Implement viable suggestions into the workspace, into your culture and day-to-day operations. By doing so, you make an organization as amenable and flexible as can be, which in this day and age is half the battle.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

I hear all the time about people leaving their jobs to look for a position in a company that’s fully remote. There’s no denying that certain people do well in a WFH model, but, candidly, the majority of those people would not thrive in our company. We’re a family-owned company that is like a family. We take pride in the culture we’ve built at our office, and our teams are thriving in their roles because they see the value in working together and being together.

So, the argument could be made that the biggest gap moving forward between employers and employees will be a difference in opinions between working in the office and working from home. My advice? As an employer, don’t modify what’s working because you feel outside pressure. If you’re an employee, find a role and a culture that fits your preferences. Companies and employees thrive when they’re aligned on values. A smart company establishes and commits to their core values, and a smart employee aligns themselves with a company that shares their values.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working from Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

I think the biggest thing we learned is just how important technology is in our day-to-day lives. I’m not sure what we would have done without it. However, as a private company, we made sure to be back in the office as quickly as we could while following proper safety protocols. One of the biggest changes for us has been a transition from in-person to virtual discovery tours. This has allowed our team to be more flexible and provide more discovery tours, while still giving potential franchisees a valuable and informative experience. We do the same with supporting our franchisees. We zoom for speed and meet in person as well.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

If we are to foster a future of work that benefits everyone, then we must be willing to look beyond the norm or the way things have always been done. The pandemic proved that remote work is a viable option that is here to stay. That’s not to say that every company should adopt a remote or hybrid work style, but it does give you options, both as an employer and as an employee.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

For me, it’s the value of in-person interaction throughout our company and across our network of franchisees. While we hear stories of people excelling in remote and hybrid situations, our employees truly feel that they are thriving here at the office. That starts with the company culture we’ve worked to build over the years and is further emphasized by the quality people in our building. We work hard, but we work hard together for our brands and, most importantly, our franchisees.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Many employers have taken to exploring the idea of environmental branding for the workplace. This is the practice of designing a space that aligns with and reflects a brands values and overall direction. It’s being utilized as a means of enticing employees back into the office, especially as studies show that a workspace designed in this manner helps to cultivate company culture, to create a stronger bond between team members, and boost employee productivity.

In addition to this, I foresee companies offering teams a wider variety in available programs that cater to their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as doubling down on efforts to establish team unity through bonding exercises, after-hours events, etc. After all, companies wanting to thrive in today’s market need to have character, and that will always have to start from within.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

The message that employers should be gleaning from headlines like these are twofold: the changes reshaping the workforce today are immense, and they’re moving fast. And if company’s want to evolve and thrive alongside these changes, they too need to move fast.

A strong company culture is foundational to the health of an organization. These headlines are proof that employees are more aware than ever of their value, your brands culture is crucial to recruiting that talent.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends to Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Environmental Branding. More brands will begin designing their physical workspaces to reflect what they stand for and believe as a company — effectively boosting employee morale and productivity as a result. This practice would include crafting the walls and art of the workplace to match the brands color scheme, adorning the environment with logos and brand specific messaging, and taking other visuals of the brand that can be translated into a physical capacity.
  2. A Focus on Personal Wellness. Brands are increasingly prioritizing the physical and emotional wellbeing of their employees. Many brands have made a point to begin devoting significant resources to proving otherwise and providing for the enhanced wellness of their teams. This is done through health benefits, wellness programs, gym memberships, company outings, team events, adequate PTO, and other such measures.
  3. Expansion of the Labor Pool. Population growth, coupled with more individuals joining the workforce than ever, are going to greatly expand the pool of candidates available to employers.
  4. Remote and Hybrid Work. Remote and hybrid work opportunities are an obvious trend for the future of work. That’s not to say they should take over the workforce, as I believe there is tremendous value in working together at an office. However, there are instances when remote work is beneficial for all parties, and when that’s the case, the opportunity should be considered.
  5. Cultural Reconfiguration. Consumers are becoming more inclined to put their money towards brands and businesses who wear their hearts on their sleeve and stand for their principles. That’s why so many companies are investing heavily in updating or creating a publicly recognizable culture that will not only drive business but drive prospective new employees through the door who can further convey that culture daily. For example, companies are aligning themselves with publicly popular causes and organizations to highlight their ‘give-back’ and ‘be the change’ mentality. These are seen with brands reducing their carbon footprint, donating their time and money to charitable causes, giving away free supplies to those in need, and more.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“Do right over being right” is something I always come back to. It can be easy to focus on being right at the expense of others, to get your point across or demonstrate expertise. I try to approach each opportunity with the goal of doing right by others. I don’t always see eye to eye with those I’m doing business with, our team, or even my own family. But, when I prioritize doing right over being right, I find that it brings the best out in everyone, including myself.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I’ve always wanted to have a conversation with Warren Buffet. As an investor, philanthropist, and businessman, he has a wealth of knowledge rivaled by none, and the value of that discussion would be priceless in my opinion.

As an avid Miami sports fan, my favorite athlete has always been Dwayne Wade, former shooting guard for the Miami Heat. I grew up following his career, and I’ve always admired his grit, determination, and leadership to will his teams to multiple championships.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

The best way to stay connected with me and all that Signarama has going on would be to follow me through LinkedIn, where I’d be happy to touch base with anyone interested in hearing more. https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexjamestitus/

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.