Supply Chains. With the massive disruptions that occurred to supply chains during the pandemic, companies are now looking to diversify their supply chains by locating them near-shore and on-shore, in addition to off-shore. The costs incurred through the supply chain disruptions outweigh the cost of companies engaging with suppliers who are closer to home.

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 Ann Piccirillo.

Ann Piccirillo is the Senior Vice President — People Operations at JDA TSG. She brings over 15 years’ global experience in HR including Operational Excellence, DEI Programs and Strategy and more. She learned from her autistic daughter how to connect with people at a deep level and become a much more caring and empathetic person. Her work in consulting prompted Ann to develop her problem-solving skills.

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.

Here are two life experiences that shaped who I am today:

Autism. My first-born child was diagnosed with autism at the age of 13 months. When faced with that, I made the decision to step out of my career as an HR professional to stay at home to devote all my time to her. I arranged and managed a team of therapists, behavioralists, and neurologists who provided my daughter with nearly round-the-clock therapy for 10 years.

Return to work. Despite having a very successful career prior to stepping off track, coming back after a 10-year gap seemed insurmountable. At that time, there was no “returnship” programs, or career sites serving women returning to the workforce. In fact, there was more disdain than support for women trying to get back on track. I had door after door slammed in my face. After reviewing my resume, one hiring manager told me that his wife would have loved to have had a 10-year vacation like I had. He went on to inform me that it was privileged women like me that made life for hardworking women such as his wife difficult. She was forced to balance career and motherhood while I was off on sabbatical enjoying life. He had no idea about my life and the hell I had been living through for ten years. No idea that medical and therapy bills nearly bankrupted my family. No idea that there were nights I thought I’d never get through. That one interview made me determined that when I returned to a position of power, I would lead with empathy and understanding. And I do. That one interview made me determined that when I returned to a position of power I would look at gaps on a resume and know that within the space of that gap there was an incredible story of struggle, survival and resilience. To me, the gap would represent grit and grace.

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 predict that nothing is the same now as it was two years ago and nothing will be the same 10–15 years from now. The pace of change will only quicken.

I predict that regardless of all the talk about equity and inclusion, opportunities for growth and promotion for most workers in large organizations will primarily be found by moving to a smaller organization. Why? Because in larger organizations, those people who hold the majority of leadership positions are still part of the majority and will be for the next 10 years. Until the top line of leadership mirrors the workforce base, true equity and inclusion cannot be achieved.

What will be different? Over the course of the last year, so much has been written about the “Great Resignation”. However, we’re really standing at the very beginning of the Great Transformation where social media and open communication channels have positioned employees as a strong market force able to place their needs at the forefront of any employment decision — whether that decision is to stay, or to leave. Unless there’s a severe market downturn, I expect this to continue forcing companies to reevaluate their employee value propositions as well as their current business models.

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

Prior to the pandemic, technology was redefining the way business was being transacted and companies were focused on hiring talent that could drive innovation through technology. Much of these efforts were sidelined during the pandemic as companies first shifted to move employees to a remote environment, and then (many) were forced to lay off a percentage of their workforce to stay afloat. Now that we’re in the big rebuild and companies are looking to fill critical talent gaps, they’re faced with stiff competition for talent driven by unemployment at historic lows. To future proof your organization, I advise organizations to define business-critical roles and focus only on filling them because these are the roles that will move a company’s strategy forward. All other roles support the critical roles and can be filled by current employees through upskilling and learning and development efforts.

Which leads me to my next piece of advice on future-proofing your organization: invest in learning and development. Too many organizations are quick to cut the budgets of L&D teams when they should be increasing them. It’s a much cheaper way to fill capability gaps than to hire externally. And investing in employees’ development is a great way to increase employee engagement.

My last piece of advice is to listen to your rising stars — they’re tomorrow’s leaders. Engage with them often and find out what’s important to them. Nurture relationships with them. They’re a great underutilized sounding board.

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?

Working remote released a genie that can’t and shouldn’t be put back into the bottle. Prior to the pandemic, there was an expectation that employees would clock out of their personal lives and into their professional lives at 9am, Monday through Friday. There was an expectation that the personal not spill into the professional. The pandemic changed all that as we were uninvited guests into the beautiful mess of everyone’s lives — parents balancing young children, people balancing pets — caregivers all. Now, as the return to work begins, people are not going to leave their personal lives at the corporate front door, but will employers revert back to old expectations of business as usual? I already see shades of that happening as I speak with friends and colleagues about their workplace’s return to work plans. That’s where the biggest gap lies. Employees will want to attend their children’s school events, sports games…some of which occur between 9 am and 5 pm and I don’t think that many employers have put any policy in place to prepare for this. Time-off policies should be reviewed and made to accommodate for these absences. There should be allowances for taking time off in blocks of an hour rather than in blocks of days and half days. Better still, create ‘family time off’ — give employees an additional three days during the year for family time.

There is also the gap between a company’s values and culture. Most companies have values they call “foundational” that appear on the company website, come out during employee onboarding, town halls, and performance reviews. But few have programming built around them to create the culture those values are predicated on. Smart organizations partner with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to present programming around employee well-being, community action, volunteer service, professional development, and leadership development. There needs to be more of a bottom-up approach to building culture around company values.

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

The outcomes of working remote have reshaped the way we think about how and where we work. Business leaders and employees both know that working from home can be done effectively and successfully. Study after study has shown that productivity actually increased during the pandemic with employees working from home and this has already reshaped the ‘return to work’. Meaning, employees are expecting flexibility in the big return or they will leave to find a company that will provide the option. However, as much as employees reaped the benefits of working from home (no commute, no out-of-pocket expenses…) they simultaneously realized the importance of personal interactions — especially for those employees who were hired during the pandemic and did not have the in-office bonding and cultural experience. To satisfy both needs, employers will need to adopt a hybrid approach — balance working from home with meaningful in-office experiences: team meetings, lunches, one-to-one meetings with their manager, and company events. This will influence 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?

The move towards a knowledge economy has been happening for a few decades now. What the pandemic exposed is that there is still a need for skilled trade labor. With the vast majority of the world working from home, there was a focus on making the home comfortable and accommodating to the new work from home normal. Trying to schedule an electrician, plumber, carpenter was incredibly difficult with demand far outweighing supply, at least where I live in the northeast. I believe that there will be a rise in attendance at trade schools and more high schools focusing on them as viable career paths.

Additionally, there was intense focus on the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain — the demand and disruption threatening the economic health of many companies. Organizations are now hyper-focused on managing their supply chains differently with business continuity and growth overpowering near-shore/on-shore costs.

Data: during the pandemic, companies were able to gather intense data on their employees — measuring productivity, soliciting feedback through surveys, and feedback from meetings with managers who checked in with their direct reports to ensure everyone was safe and emotionally supported. Over the course of the past two years, employees have come to expect this level of intensity and response as part of the new norm. Organizations will have to continue to solicit and act on feedback that employees provide and the insights that are gleaned from data.

Employee expectations have changed: with access to social media communication (both internally at work and externally) employees have access to share and exchange information that they want to act on immediately. They expect similar response time from employers.

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

Resiliency and the voice of the employee.

Resiliency. The proven ability for employers and employees to make a change to a fully remote workforce nearly overnight has shown the resiliency of all in the face of very uncertain times.

Voice of the employee. Having access to so many communication channels (internally and externally) employees expect to be heard. And, perhaps for the first time, leaders are interested in direct feedback from employees. They’re mining data from exit interviews and, based on that feedback, making changes that will enhance the employee experience. They’re investing in the professional development of high performers and acknowledging their place in succession plans.

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?

I’ve seen many innovative strategies offered by employers in support of their employees’ mental health and wellbeing, including:

  • Collaboration of Employee Resource Groups and HR delivering mental health awareness campaigns and programs.
  • Virtual panel discussions where employees of all levels (including leaders) share their stories of mental health and well-being struggles to help remove the stigma around mental health.
  • Training sessions designed to recognize signs of stress and coping mechanisms to help relieve stress.
  • Telemed services.
  • Access to free counseling services.
  • Free subscriptions to mindfulness/meditation apps.
  • Subsidized tutor support for school-aged children.
  • Access to free yoga/workout videos.
  • Access to a nutritionist.
  • Weekly virtual team ‘happy hours’, talent shows, recognition events…

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 that leaders need to hear from these taglines is this: the transformation is upon us and companies who subscribe to a ‘business as usual’ mindset must be able to compete for talent. Employees are emerging from the Great Secession empowered, engaged, and in some cases — enraged. They are the center that will not hold to the interpretation of how and where work takes place that governed how business was transacted for so long.

Companies need to evolve by embedding into their culture new behaviors and habits that came out of working remote. These include putting employee well-being first; streamlined, more efficient meetings; include hybrid and remote workers into unconscious bias training — ensure that employees who choose to remain remote or work hybrid are provided the same exposure to opportunities as those who return to the office full time.

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

Hiring trends. With the pandemic proving that jobs can be done anywhere, we’re already starting to see job postings listing location as “remote”. Not only is this an attractive option for employees, but it’s also a way for companies to control costs by hiring in a location where the cost of living is less expensive than in an urban hub. For example, hiring in Dallas rather than San Francisco.

Supply Chains. With the massive disruptions that occurred to supply chains during the pandemic, companies are now looking to diversify their supply chains by locating them near-shore and on-shore, in addition to off-shore. The costs incurred through the supply chain disruptions outweigh the cost of companies engaging with suppliers who are closer to home.

Reduced business travel. Again, the pandemic proved that business can take place virtually with good results. And for those people whose jobs required a lot of travel, spending more time with loved ones — is important. They’re not willing to go back to that way of life. Travel will be more measured and more meaningful.

Work flexibility. Employees will want to fit work into their lives rather than fit their lives into work. They’ll want to take their kids to school, pick them up, volunteer at the school…and companies will need to accommodate for that. The pandemic proved productivity could rise even as employees worked around responsibilities such as home schooling and caregiving. The expectation of having that level of flexibility is here to stay.

People analytics: people analytics provide insights that impact workforce decisions and drive business results. HR is beginning to collect and mine the data around people to make better business decisions around performance, promotions, identifying emerging talent, developing talent, identifying retention risks, reducing bias in practices and processes.

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?

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Gandhi. This quote shaped my perspective from an early age and has defined my approach to my career and to life. I’m not the type of person who has ever asked for permission; I’ve garnered support for an idea and acted on it. Although there were times when I met with resistance, they were few. More often I built excitement in my idea, confidence in myself and others, followership, and awareness that a need had to be filled. An example of this is when a company I worked for wanted to support women in the community where our office was located. Rather than attend a fundraiser luncheon within the community, I reached out to a domestic violence shelter to offer a day of learning at my company to help women, who were transitioning from the shelter to independent living, learn how to prepare for a job interview. I organized the company’s Women’s Network to deliver a series of workshops designed to help these women create a resume, create a LinkedIn profile, participate in a mock interview and learn how to dress for success. This successful program had as great an impact on the women who helped deliver the workshop as on the women receiving the training. This is just one example of how I live this quote and lean on it to help me be a change agent.

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.

Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl has never followed in anyone’s footsteps. She’s created her own path on her own terms. She’s taken risks in her career by taking roles where she’s not filling the shoes of other people. Most importantly, she believes in leaning in and bringing other women up by inviting them into her network and giving them access. I try to do this everyday with people I meet and those I work with. Especially those women who are struggling and don’t have the support of other women — single moms, moms of children with special needs, women in the middle of change…those are the people whose voices (and spirits) I try to elevate every chance I get.

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?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn.

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