… Sustainability will become a Core Component of a Company’s DNA: The window of time society has to reduce the impact we have on the environment is waning. Sustainability will become a key part of a company’s framework and it will come to define the way we work in the future. We will see sustainability impact everything from the way we commute to the energy we use in-office to the types of clients, customers, and employees we attract. B-Corp will no longer be a special designation, rather it will become a necessity.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Alex MacLaverty.
Alex MacLaverty is the Global Chief Operating Officer at Clarity. She has more than twenty years of experience in global communications consultancy, from running individual business units, developing and rolling out global strategy, managing the growth and diversification of an agency to attracting, winning, and leading global accounts. Alex is passionate about delivering an exceptional experience to both employees and clients by leading with purpose and compassion.
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?
I have to credit my parents for bringing me up in a most joyous way and for creating opportunities to explore, learn and grow. It’s only now that I can recognize what an impact certain aspects of my upbringing have had on me as an adult now. Being the daughter of a working mother who didn’t change her name when she married inspired me to be both fiercely independent and at ease with following my own path, without much care to what other people thought. This was during a time when many women stayed at home to raise children and the salutation ‘Ms.’ was practically unheard of. This modern approach to raising a family instilled a strong drive to do my best, work hard and show that I could continue her work into my adulthood. On a lighter note, I grew up with parents who have always gone against the grain of what’s considered ‘normal,’ and who have a strong sense of silliness. Our house was always filled with weird and wonderful objects, strange food, and random visitors from around the world, as well as a huge amount of love, practical jokes, and laughter. Growing up in an environment like that has helped me understand that you should never take yourself too seriously, and if you truly enjoy something then you shouldn’t hold back, even if it’s completely different than what everyone else is doing.
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?
Certainly, in my line of business, the need for incredible people will always remain the same. If you hire great people, great things will happen. I hope what changes will be the horrible inequalities that are ingrained into our current social and economic systems and stop many people from achieving their potential. We need to build working cultures that value ideas and passions more than exclusive educations, and that welcome and celebrate diversity and radical thinking, not stifle them.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
For me, this is all about creating the right mindset and culture. You can build plans and processes as much as you like, but if your team doesn’t have a positive, resilient attitude or it doesn’t understand and believe in your purpose — then you’re done for. Covid has shown us more than ever that the ability to mobilize your organization, not just in practical terms but in terms of uniting the hearts and minds of your people in a common cause, is one of the biggest assets you can have.
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?
One of the biggest challenges in the new hybrid working world is how to reconcile the need for face-to-face time, with some people’s desire never to set foot in an office again. While most people are happy to find a middle way, there is a growing cohort who will now forever demand to work remotely. How do you balance that against the needs of a team? The feeling that there’s one rule for some and another for others is a surefire way to breed resentment, and especially when good hires are scarce it is easy to get panicked into making allowances.
The difficulty for employers is that many of us are still working in a kind of retro-fit mode, making up the rules as we go along and changing them with each different team or individual circumstance. What leaders should strive for is a more thoughtful approach, based not on what’s happening now, but where you want to get to. Think a year or two ahead: What kind of business do you want to be? How will your people ideally work then? Set your policies around those benchmarks. The jigsaw puzzle of conflicting work patterns will never resolve itself unless you put down some firm markers.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
My hope is that the wonderful feeling of community that many of us have experienced will remain and, in turn, this will ultimately influence the future of work and the way we work together.
I love that we have all met each other’s pets and kids. I love that we’ve seen each other without make-up on, or in tracksuits. I love that everyone from the CEO to the intern has laughed, screamed, and cried together over the frustrations of homeschooling, the tedium of lockdowns, and the absurdity of Tiger King. Physical separation has in many ways brought us all closer together and removed so much of the formality and hierarchy of a more traditional workplace. This new way of working that we’ve found will play a major role in shaping the future of work.
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?
We really need to re-think the education system and how it supports our young people in their future growth. Rather than the current dichotomy of learning vs working, I would love to see the two brought together, with a far greater focus on cultivating the skills and behaviors needed for a successful career versus an emphasis placed on grades and theoretical situations. Opening learning opportunities outside of the classroom, encouraging engagement with local businesses, incentivizing entrepreneurial activities, and showcasing a wider range of possible earning opportunities from an early age, will only help us create a more inclusive and dynamic workforce.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Undoubtedly my team! We are hiring such an interesting, engaged, and diverse group of people, many of whom have never experienced anything other than these new ways of working. They bring a fresh perspective and challenge many of our preconceived notions about what we do and how we should operate. It’s a fantastic learning curve. Their confidence, positivity, and resilience are truly inspiring. If we can harness all that creativity effectively, then it makes me very excited for the future of work.
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?
In our business, we are incredibly lucky not to have to think about the basics — workplace safety, living wages, etc., so while this is by no means a given in every industry, the key things we have focused on are purpose and meaning.
We can’t pretend to ‘fix’ mental and health issues among our team, however, we can ensure that we don’t make them worse and that we support every individual’s needs as far as possible. The best companies are approaching this holistically — by redesigning the working day, processes, and office environment to reduce stress, allowing people to balance their time between work and home effectively, and providing ‘emergency’ mechanisms such as mental health first aiders and counselors.
Additionally, it’s wonderful to see so many companies branch out to proactively offer opportunities for mindfulness and physical fitness as part of the working day. In high-pressure situations, a mental and/or physical break is a welcome reset. I do believe, however, that the key to optimizing mental health and overall wellbeing is finding ways to connect the dots between what your business is working toward and what you personally want to achieve in this world. This is critical to continued happiness. If you can make meaningful change and leave the world a slightly better place every day, just by doing your job, then that will have a huge impact on your wellbeing. You don’t need to be a doctor or a teacher to get that reward — it can be found anywhere.
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 messages behind these headlines have always been there, the pandemic just brought them to the surface, making the incentive for leaders to act on these messages so much keener. Your people truly must be at the heart of your business and that means concentrating on the employee experience just as much as how customers or clients experience your brand. Give your team a reason to feel good about what they’re doing, compensate them fairly, empower them to balance personal needs with work, and most importantly, show them how much they are trusted and valued. Often, individuals exit a company not only because of money or title but also because they want more out of life. Successful leadership will find ways to help employees make the most of their situation, both in and outside of the office.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Employee benefits that truly support all stages of life: In a job-seeker’s market, employers will look for unique ways to stand apart from the rest. Expect the Future of Work to accommodate every stage of an employee’s life, from adopting their first pet to planning for a family. For example, before the Great Resignation began, an article in Time Magazine noted that millennials and Gen Z-ers would choose their pet over their office if forced to. Yet, as it stands, very few companies have accounted for this stage in an employee’s life. Perks such as “pawternity” leave, i.e. giving individuals designated time off when adopting a new pet, or adding pet insurance to a benefits package are now becoming more and more popular. Zooming out, I expect many companies to build out unique benefits that accommodate all aspects of one’s life, furry friends included.
- Caregiving as Infrastructure: Another underlying factor driving the Great Resignation is the severe gap in childcare induced by the pandemic. Whether an employee needs to take time off to care for a sick loved one or if a parent needs greater flexibility to care for their children, employers will look for ways to offer comprehensive support to both parents and parents-to-be. Luckily there are many technologies emerging to help HR teams strengthen their care infrastructure. For example, at Clarity, we’re proud to have partnered with Mirza, one of our clients, to pilot a technology that they’ve developed to help individuals with financial planning for childcare. In a country that has no federal mandate for paid leave, we have the power to implement impactful changes within our organizations that work towards a future that celebrates working caregivers. The Future of Work will shift to a human-first environment that acknowledges and values an individual’s personal life as much as their professional life, which is amazing.
- A Shift Toward an Authentic, Transparent and Purpose-Driven Culture: Gen Z has officially entered the workforce, and a recent survey by Deloitte shows that 49% of people between 18 and 25, and 44% of respondents between 26 and 38 said they’d picked their work and employers based on their personal ethics. But how do job seekers truly know that their company’s commitments to purpose-driven initiatives are being put into practice? The Future of Work will support more transparency across internal communications, with leaders having open and honest conversations and involving their employees with initiatives. Further adding to a more authentic culture is an instrumental practice that we’ve implemented at Clarity: blind recruitment. We’ve restructured our entire recruitment process during this time to attract a wide variety of candidates.
- Workplace Technology Enhancing Rather than Replacing Human Capital: So many books, movies, and tv shows have predicted the demise of humanity as technology threatens to take over the world. As a human living in “the future,” and as the COO of an agency that works with some of the most innovative technologies in the world, I’m in a unique position to witness the way technology will enhance the future of work. Our client Bravely has developed a digital coaching platform that supports individuals through online coaching sessions, and this is proving to be a critical addition to the operations of many HR teams — the ability to offer external counseling and support that directly impacts your progression, goals, and wellbeing at work.
- Sustainability will become a Core Component of a Company’s DNA: The window of time society has to reduce the impact we have on the environment is waning. Sustainability will become a key part of a company’s framework and it will come to define the way we work in the future. We will see sustainability impact everything from the way we commute to the energy we use in-office to the types of clients, customers, and employees we attract. B-Corp will no longer be a special designation, rather it will become a necessity.
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?
I’ve no idea who said it(!) but I bought a mug at quite a pivotal point in my career that says, in big rainbow letters, “Do more of what makes you happy”. It cheers me up every time I use it and is such a simple message that never fails to nudge me into having a little more fun. Life is horribly short, and no one ever, ever looks back and wishes they had done more admin or cleaned their kitchen more often. By doing stuff that makes me happy, I’m automatically re-prioritizing my life around the most important things.
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.
It’s a tough one but I’m going to choose Adriene Mishler, from ‘Yoga with Adriene’. Her story is incredible, and I am in awe of how she has managed to pair something that genuinely improves millions of people’s lives, for free, with a seriously shrewd business model. You can be very cynical and say it’s only yoga on YouTube, but the impact and influence she has, and the connection people feel to her are totally sincere. I think she’s amazing.
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?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.