Given that hybrid work styles will be taking shape for years to come, it’s critical that employers are as flexible as possible in the short term. Whether that means allowing employees to tailor the days of the week that they come into the office or to exercise judgment themselves if they need to travel. Certainly mandating one size fits all rules for an entire company is unlikely to sit well with diverse employee bases which have different needs based on their different life phases and demographic profiles.

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 Alison Lindland.

Alison Lindland is the Senior Vice President of Strategy at Movable Ink. Alison is passionate about helping Movable Ink clients leverage technology to help achieve their business goals. She’s developed a team of vertical specific strategists, primarily composed of former clients and partners who are marketers themselves, to bring this service to clients and leads them across industries and regions.

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.

As a byproduct of my father’s career, I grew up moving a lot and spent the first 13 years of my life in Europe, living in Belgium, Denmark, and England before moving to America for the first time in high school. While moving was often challenging it taught me to be really adaptable and how to drop into new situations and assess them quickly. The second is the experiences I took from my Drama studies at Vassar. I was a consummate liberal arts major in that I always knew I wanted to work in tech and had internships to prepare me for that, so I majored in something that was purely an academic passion. My focus was on the business side of the industry and producing. After graduation, my unemployed actor friends talked me into starting an Off-Off Broadway Theater company with them which I led on nights and weekends while beginning my career in tech. It was a really foundational experience. It taught me a ton about running a small business, motivating and leading a team under pressure and what it takes to make great art on a shoestring budget. Many of the artists that I worked with became household names and remain great friends. I often joke that I learned just as much about business by running that theater company as I did from my MBA.

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?

When looking at the present and future of work, it’s paramount we look at how it’s changed first. A decade ago, many firms used the same template when trying to create a great corporate culture: free food in the office, open work environments, and out-of-the-box ideas of “fun.”

Now, company culture is more critical to the workforce than ever, and building a strong culture comes from empathetic, collaborative leadership. I anticipate more companies will try to build a culture that focuses on more meaningful activities, such as growth and development opportunities, giving back to local communities, hosting more celebrations and team-building activities, or encouraging health and wellness activities.

At Movable Ink, our best ideas come from our employees, and we’re dedicated to creating a collaborative environment where they feel empowered to speak up and speak out. Collaboration isn’t just important in our daily work life; it’s a building block for our culture. Our employees drive the change and make a difference across the organization. We work everyday to build an environment where they can see their impact, where hard work is rewarded, where they can scale beyond their skillset and take that next big step in their career. When our employees grow, the company grows, and that’s how we’re envisioning the future of our success.

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

As the pandemic continues to evolve, keep in mind the need for empathy and a genuine foundation of trust with your employees. In a world of zoom and slack avatars it will set you apart from the rest. A lot has changed over the last few years, and we’re still met with so much uncertainty every day. So now, more than ever, it’s imperative to be empathetic and help your employees feel safe. Empathy will help you engage and retain the most loyal employees who will help drive your business to the next level. On a tactical level it’s also really important to listen to your teams, and to that end I’m a huge fan of anonymous feedback surveys. It’s always illuminating to hear what people share when via these channels — but it’s critical that you share it back to your teams and take action and show them that you’re accountable on the items that get raised or it can be counterproductive.

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?

In our current world, it’s not just about what you do and how much you’re paid. Employees are looking for organizations they can say they’re proud to work for. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jim Citrin who leads Spencer Stuart’s North American CEO Practice, for a fireside chat this summer on the topic of his excellent book about the future of hybrid work, Leading from a Distance, and one theme he talked about was how the pandemic has increased demand for purpose-led leadership. As we transition to a steady state of hybrid becoming the new normal, it will take a new breed of these leaders to shepherd us with a type of transparency, empathy and storytelling skills that haven’t been seen in the boardroom previously but bode well for employees, customers and even our planet.

It’s a different playbook from a decade ago, or even several years ago, when too many firms used the same template of free food, open work environments, and flashy but ultimately meaningless (and now irrelevant) office based perks. The most distinct themes in the “happiest” companies were providing solid health insurance, allowing employees to bring pets to work and offering paid sabbaticals to reward length of service.

I’m really proud of our record around these dimensions of employee satisfaction. In this Inc survey, over 98% of Movable Ink’s employees were moderately or highly engaged by their work, and most felt that they were valued by the organization and had future career opportunities — which is significantly higher than the 73.5% average rate of other companies surveyed.

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

Movable Ink made a very successful shift to a distributed remote first organization, essentially overnight and over the last two years has invested significantly in the success of our now distributed hybrid organization. Though we had some remote employees we had a history of traditionally working with them in an office hub first. The experience of working from home shifted our perspective on this and allowed us to access a significant talent pool that we hadn’t had access to — which gave us a tremendous advantage. We adjusted modes of working to reduce zoom fatigue and improve our efficiency in meetings that have been incredibly successful.

Over the past four months we have also reopened all of our global offices and had to adapt again to a new mode of work where some teammates are working remotely locally, some are those permanently remote members and others are together in the office — and consider how we optimize for things like meetings and events. It’s an evolution but after the last two years if there’s anything I know we’re capable of — it’s creative problem solving.

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?

Given that hybrid work styles will be taking shape for years to come, it’s critical that employers are as flexible as possible in the short term. Whether that means allowing employees to tailor the days of the week that they come into the office or to exercise judgment themselves if they need to travel. Certainly mandating one size fits all rules for an entire company is unlikely to sit well with diverse employee bases which have different needs based on their different life phases and demographic profiles.

Finally we have all read the headlines in particular about the toll that the pandemic has taken on working parents and caregivers in terms of opting out of the workforce and the long term ramifications that can have in terms of income inequality for those workers. So it’s particularly important that managers be as empathetic and flexible as possible and allow these workers as much support as possible to retain them through challenging periods. That support will earn significant loyalty for the long run and foster that culture of trust that no monetary benefit can really achieve.

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

I think there is a tremendous amount to be optimistic about. Not since the outbreak of World War II has our workforce been as disrupted as it was at the outbreak of COVID, yet companies and individuals were able to respond with shocking agility and resilience as a testament to strides in workplace technology and an always-on economy.

At Movable Ink over the past two years, our employees found strength in each other, in the purpose of our work and our values. During the peak of the pandemic our clients were often being called upon to do incredibly herculean things for their organizations, the world’s largest brands, some of which were dealing with truly existential threats if you think about airlines, hotel chains, and retail outlets that were temporarily closed. These email teams were truly on the frontlines in keeping millions of customers engaged with the brands while their operations teams scrambled to adjust to a new reality and it was our mission to support them through these challenges. While it wasn’t easy it was also an important role to play and one we took seriously and were proud of. And of course we drew on our values of Curiosity, Empathy and Grit, the last two which seemed especially well suited to prepare us for the journey through COVID.

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?

When we moved to remote work, our needs changed. We needed to respond to a larger breadth of requests across a wide variety of topics — ranging from personal to professional. We were able to be agile, ultimately rolling out more strategic and niche courses to meet the time’s changing needs. Courses created by our Learning & Development teams included time and energy management training, grit and resilience courses, and how to excel in a remote environment. As the world around us continues to shift, it’s critical not to lose sight of setting their teams up for success by offering them tools to make them successful. Many companies, including Movable Ink, provide subscriptions to apps like Headspace, (virtual therapy), Aptive (fitness), Physera (physical therapy), and other work/life support resources through our Employee Assistance Programs. We also offer time off for mental health and, with unlimited PTO, we encourage employees to take the time to unwind and decompress. It’s so important to put employees first and give them the resources they need to be successful.

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 headlines prove one point: many employees aren’t satisfied with their current work. Whether it be their day-to-day tasks, their relationships with their employers or coworkers, their current salary, or dissatisfaction with their job growth and career advancement — in order to run a successful business, employers must prioritize their employees happiness within the business. Employers must empathize with their employees and offer them safe spaces to air their frustrations, seek support, or boast their triumphs.

At Movable Ink, one of the more rewarding avenues we’ve found is not only providing employee resource groups, but really investing in them and giving the employees who lead them autonomy to direct the programming to meet the needs of the members. During the pandemic, Movable Ink’s employee resource groups have been essential in creating virtual spaces for belonging, inclusivity, and dialogue in a challenging year. In some ways our remote ERG events have added a different more successful dimension than our previous in person events by being able to unite communities virtually across geographies and time zones and establish meaningful relationships that would not have been possible previously. That being said, we look forward to getting back to in person events this year as well.

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?

As a drama major, there are of course many quotes from theater that I draw inspiration from, but over the last two years what has inspired me the most are two communities of women that I’m a part of — now mostly virtually. One is Chief, which I’m proud to be a founding member of, and the other is The List. These are both peer groups for senior women in industry that I belonged to before COVID but during the pandemic became a lifeline of virtual resources, tactical knowledge sharing and a place to celebrate one another’s milestones. I’m a huge believer in community as a source of strength and being a part of these organizations even during the most isolating periods of COVID reminded me that there’s nothing you can’t accomplish with a group of incredibly motivated women behind you.

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