Flexibility and choice — Long-term investments in the office structure while employees work from home just don’t make sense. Organizations must respond to the agile workforce and remain flexible by changing their office structures to the needs of employees.
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 Allison Ballard, VP and Executive Director at 4SITE by CORT.
Allison is a strategic business leader and revenue producer at 4SITE by CORT. Allison joined CORT over 20 years ago with her experience in revenue generation & growth, GTM strategy, product development, and strategic planning. She has received multiple awards, accreditations and endorsements in value-based collaboration sales strategies and editorial advisory.
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.
One experience that has impacted me is the great equalizer we’ve just lived through: the pandemic. It’s an experience that has shaped all of us into whom we are today, making us reconsider our priorities and allowing us to be more pensive. Because of the pandemic, we had the opportunity to be alone with our thoughts, something our typically busy schedules would not have allowed us to do previously.
Another experience that shaped who I am today involves Jeff Pederson, our current CEO at CORT. He really believed that I was the right person at the right time for this job. Historically, I did not take every career development opportunity I desired in order to be present in my children’s lives as they were growing up. Once my lifestyle relaxed and liberated opportunities for me to be away from my kids, Jeff had complete confidence in my ability to lead these initiatives within our organization, even when I wasn’t fully convinced. Jeff’s belief in me showed me how, as a leader, you can truly nurture people into becoming their best selves by believing in them enough.
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?
I believe what will be the same is the level of asynchronous work being performed. Now, asynchronous work is widely accepted and expected. In the future, if it doesn’t already exist, I think there will be tool sets that allow for collaboration and connection, and there will be physical mandates that we promote. The office will continue to be a place where people go to connect personally with the brand and with their colleagues. And when they’re not choosing to do that, to work with people, the rest of their work can be performed almost exclusively asynchronously.
I predict the level of humanity involved in work will be different. At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone worked as they lived — in isolation. But then we started measuring productivity, and we realized we could be as productive at home as we are in an office. Even today, productivity remains high. We also started measuring the well-being of people in the workforce. As humans, we weren’t meant to operate as islands unto ourselves, to be divisive and uncollaborative. Not understanding how our functional role and responsibility contribute to the overall vision and mission of an organization leads to disengagement. That misunderstanding makes us feel like we’re only measured on productivity and performance, which discounts our ability to be resilient. I think what will be the different about the workforce in 10–15 years is that we will become more aligned with our humanity.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
I’d advise employers to get on board. From a shareholder’s perspective, flexibility and choice are what employees value the most in the future office. To ensure your organization is best equipped to serve these new demands and retain employees, it’s essential to develop a modern strategy that provides them freedom and flexibility to work where and how they prefer. When it comes to technology and tool sets, we will never regress, only advance and increase. So, shareholders must be willing to liberate some of the rigid structure we see in the traditional workplace setting, and get on board with employees’ call for flexibility.
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?
The most significant gap between employers and employees is the amount of time each group thinks is appropriate to spend at work in order to maintain productivity. Employees are capable of performing work outside the traditional construct — where they are expected to be in a specific place at a certain time to get work done. Employers must acknowledge that many tasks don’t need to be accomplished during traditional work hours, and the workforce should be free to perform that work when it’s most convenient to their schedules. When allowed to perform work outside this rigid construct, we may be surprised how much work employees actually get done.
Another gap I hope to see close — unlimited vacation time. How do you compete with that in the marketplace? Although, paid time may look different for those companies adopting unlimited vacation time.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
As a leader and mentor, we must be more intentional with others and ourselves. Not only must we respect and consider other people’s aspirations and feelings, but we must also honor our desire to learn, share, grow and connect. Otherwise, we could get sucked into a “performance vortex,” where we measure people solely on performance metrics, such as how many story points they achieve, or sales calls they make, rather than also including personal growth and development. Leaders that strictly measure performance metrics tend to foster fear and burnout. People are motivated to perform when they spend less time defending their personal value and more time focusing on the overall value they are adding to the vision and mission of the organization.
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?
There must be far more democracy. There are so many people who never get the opportunity to have their performance measured for merit because of some implicit biases. We need to appreciate each other’s humanity and diversity and have a greater tolerance and respect toward each other. Until we strip away those implicit biases, we cannot create professional corporate environments that systemically provide equal opportunity for everybody.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
There are a lot more efficiencies. We are not flying blind and faxing things back and forth anymore. We’re making decisions born out of data and not subject to opinions, and they are far more objective. We get to perform work and create efficiencies because of developments that make us even more productive and impactful.
For example, at 4SITE by CORT, our mission is to help employers gather data about their business’s layout to help them make informed decisions about their workspace. We provide technology solutions that allow business owners to best optimize their office space, minimize financial risk and exposure, and maximize ROI and productivity, all to cultivate a space and environment their employees want to work in. Through technology solutions such as space planning tools, sensor technology, and flexible furniture solutions (furniture-as-a-service), we provide our clients with the objective information needed to ensure their business performs at its highest level.
In the same breadth, I’m optimistic that even with the rise of new tools and technologies, the creativity of people will never be replaced. And I think technology will only get you to a certain level of understanding, but with new developments, people are now excited to learn and be creative with it. Gen Z, for example, are well-educated, digital natives that don’t have this hesitancy toward adopting things they don’t know. They have been confronted with new technologies that they have had to embrace, learn and adjust to. And they don’t shy away from new technology; they face it head-on.
Our collective mental health and well-being 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 well-being?
Employers are taking a tactical approach to promoting well-being, and to romance people back to the office, such as adding cryo chambers or virtual golf set-ups. However, I think these glamorous resources are not addressing the need, which is enabling people to show up authentically. One step employers can take to show they care about employee well-being is providing more resources for mental health. It’s okay to be anxious some days, but it’s important for employees to know their organization supports them on days they do feel anxious. As leaders, we should provide tools for employees to get the help they need and model that kind of vulnerability. Promoting well-being in the workplace can often translate to well-being at home, and with one’s broader community.
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 most important message leaders need to hear from these headlines is that more people want to spend their energy and their professional life aligned with their values as human beings. If leaders are not creating an environment that is conducive to that, it doesn’t matter how great of a product the company may have, it will not be relevant because they will not attract the kind of talent that wants to work for an organization that’s aligned with their values.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
1. Unpredictable attendance in the office — More specifically, how work performance and office attendance ebb and flow. Waves of office attendance have become increasingly frequent after people discovered there is still essential relationship building that comes from being together in the office
2. Data-driven solutions and adoption of technology — Employees are going to want technology that works but does not overwhelm them. 4SITE is a solution that can be used in an office to ensure its design is conducive to how employees want to work, and when they want to work.
3. Flexibility and choice — Long-term investments in the office structure while employees work from home just don’t make sense. Organizations must respond to the agile workforce and remain flexible by changing their office structures to the needs of employees.
4. Experimentation and reconfiguration — Over the next few years, we can expect the office to be constantly evolving. The point of the office is to bring balance and collaboration to an organization. Technologies like 4SITE can help get insight into how to achieve balance.
5. Asynchronous work — It will be asynchronous at least part of the time. We have to account for the unpredictability of when work is performed.
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?
My favorite quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
I look at the world a bit differently in that I view the world from an abundance perspective versus a scarcity perspective. One can find abundance in the world when it is cultivated, nurtured and watered. I think that’s where the ‘what lies within us’ part is.
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.
Michelle Obama! Are you kidding me? I swear, we would be besties if we knew each other. The level of resilience in that woman is remarkable.
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?
LinkedIn is the best place to reach me.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.