Flexible work schedules & Arrangements — Leaders are experimenting with hybrid work schedules, the 4-day workweek, totally remote workforce, and no meeting Fridays. Employers are aware that staffers are stressed and anxious for many reasons, but mainly because of the uncertainty about what comes next with Covid variants and how that impacts their work life and taking care of children, etc. Most everyone would agree these are very real and legitimate concerns.

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 Bonnie Low-Kramen.

TEDx speaker and bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant, Bonnie Low-Kramen is committed to bridging the gaps between executives and the administrative staff in the workplace. She has spoken in 14 countries and her audiences have spoken back. Based on 1,000+ interviews, Bonnie’s new book about the workplace is called Staff Matters and will be published in late 2022.

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.

Oscar winner for Moonstruck, Olympia Dukakis was not only a gifted actress. She was also a gifted manager of people. I worked as her Personal Assistant for 25 years. She was demanding on herself and demanding on the people around her, including me. She would say, “Find ways to tell me yes. If you say no, I’ll believe you. Just be sure you have explored every option to say yes.” Saying those kinds of things makes a person work harder and be more creative. She would also say, “Bonnie, I may not always agree with you and I may not do what you say. But, I always want to know what you think.” Olympia made it safe for the people around her to tell her the truth. This built loyalty like I have never seen and leaders are well served to do this with their teams.

Olympia passed away on May 1, 2021. Her memorial event was held outdoors at the Delacorte Public Theatre in New York City. It poured rain the entire time and 250 people sat there for two hours in the rain paying tribute to her. That was a leadership lesson that will never leave me. Under my umbrella, I thought that there was no other place on Earth I would rather be on that night. I also found myself thinking who would sit in the rain for me? Who would sit in the rain for you?

Finding my voice began with a whispered eight word sentence. “I think we need to get a divorce.” I was married to a verbally abusive bully for 27 years. It took everything I had to muster up the courage to speak those eight words. Once the divorce was over, I felt a freedom like I had never known. Living through this experience helps me to relate to women and men who struggle with bullies and are perplexed by what to do next. I understand what happens to your soul when you are torn down and criticized on a daily basis. These toxic bullying behaviors happen in the workplace just like they happen at home and they destroy from the inside out. Never again will I have to bear the attacks on my self confidence and self-esteem, but I will never forget how it feels. This first-hand knowledge helps me to get to the heart of these matters with my students and audiences. I found my voice and I am not going to lose it again.

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?

What will be the same about the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now is that it will still be about the people. Always the people. Our companies will still be run by humans and therefore, discovering the best methods and strategies to hire, retain, and engage staff will be priorities. Keeping it personal will be very important. Even if more robots and AI are being used in the workplace, humans are still needed to manage them.

What will be different is that there will be more women and people of color and diversity in positions of power and leadership in companies, in government, on Boards, and organizations. This diversity will make a very positive difference for the entire workplace.

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

My advice to employers looking to future-proof their organizations is to take a fresh look at the sources for their pipeline of talent. Revamped job descriptions will attract non-traditional yet talented candidates, including non-college grads, people who may have been arrested, and the disabled. Future-proofing means being able to ride through and survive any crisis that comes along which may cause any given staffer to leave suddenly. The companies that have solid plans for cross-training, back up plans, succession planning for the staff, cybersecurity, and disaster preparedness will be the ones that are future-proofed.

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 biggest gaps will be in compensation, investment in professional development training, and policies around bullying and sexual harassment.

Compensation — Employers and HR need to figure out ways to pay more of a living wage. Staffers are looking for Pay Transparency and Pay Equity in companies. They are looking to understand their career path possibilities and what they need to do in order to earn more money. Base salary is only one way to earn money. Creative leaders can incentivize staffers with performance bonuses, commissions, and stock options.

Professional Development — Training for staff is an important benefit for all employees and to design a fair and transparent structure for receiving training will be to the benefit of staff and employers alike. The gaps can be bridged with compromise and staff may be asked to contribute a percentage of the cost of certain training.

Policies around bullying and sexual harassment — Workplace bullying and sexual harassment are toxic problems in the workplace that are chasing good staffers away. Some companies have zero-tolerance policies that are lightly enforced and others have policies which have no teeth at all. The targets of bullying and harassment are mostly women and they are being traumatized when bullying and harassment are permitted to exist. Female targets are looking for accountability and leaders who are willing to advocate for their physical and emotional/psychological safety. When they don’t get it, they find a way to quit which is a lose/lose situation for the company. Employers can do a better job at setting clear expectations around these issues for new hires. Essentially anyone new coming into the company can sign a document which says that it they bully or harass, that they understand that they will be offered training and they may be subject to immediate dismissal depending on the severity of the offense.

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

Working from home will normalize on camera video communication. Policies around cameras on or off will need to be created and refined. In addition, leaders will need to collaborate with staff on issues of meeting burn out and how, when, and for how long meetings are being held. The biggest challenge will be to fully engage the at-home workers and the in-the-office workers, avoiding conflict between the two groups.

The future of work will have much to do with how leaders lead. Leaders will need to take a fresh look at how they are managing and engaging their people. Training will be needed for leaders to truly understand what a hybrid workforce needs. The best way for them to find out the answer is to ask the staff directly. Talk with them, listen, and respond with action.

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 societal changes that are necessary for a strong workplace starts with a serious commitment to a workplace culture based on Respect and Belonging. A strong workplace means support for women as leaders, support for women and men who are caregivers of children, and support for marginalized staff members including women, people of color, LGBTQA+ staffers, and disabled staffers. To invest in a more diverse workplace will mean a more robust pipeline of talent and higher retention, especially if a sincere commitment to pay equity is made.

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

The young professionals who attend my workshops are in their twenties and thirties. They are smart and well spoken and excited about creatively taking on the challenges that will face them. Contrary to some media coverage about this age group, I see young people who have eyes that are wide open and willing to work hard. They see the problems and are open to input before they act. I believe they will be ready to lead and be unafraid to ask for fair compensation and work/life balance.

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?

The innovative strategies around the issues of mental health and wellbeing include providing financial support to receive counselling and medical help. Other initiatives that are truly meaningful include normalizing and destigmatizing the discussions about mental health. One leader I know calls the widows and widowers on his team on Thanksgiving and on their birthdays knowing that those will most likely be emotional and difficult days. Now that is innovative and oh so wonderfully human.

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 is that dissatisfied and disrespected employees are making their unhappiness/resentment/anger/frustrations known with their virtual feet. They are quitting and running to the exit. Leaders need to ask their staff about what systems are broken in their workplace and then collaborate on fixing them. Only if staff feels safe to tell the truth, will they tell their leaders about; disrespectful behaviors like bullying and sexual harassment, not being paid fairly, unfair rules and policies allowed to exist, and much more. Company cultures need to evolve into Cultures of Respect and Dignity for All. And “all” really needs to mean “all.”

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

  1. Revamped Job Descriptions to Reflect the Reality of 2022 — Given the massive changes in the workplace since March, 2020, the trend is taking a fresh look at job descriptions and titles in order to update them and make them reflective of the 2022 role. Story — Long before March, 2020, Executive Assistants were aware that their official job descriptions were painfully obsolete and out of date. During the pandemic, they either collaborated with HR on revising them or they revised the job description themselves to reflect what responsibilities they are actually doing now. In addition, titles are also being looked at and revised. Some Executive Assistants now have direct reports on the administrative staff and that was cause for a title change to Administrative Manager or Team Lead, to better reflect the job responsibilities. 2021 was being referred to as The Year of the Job Description and for good reason. I can tell you that a new title can mean the difference between a staffer staying or leaving. It is that important.
  2. Higher Salaries & Other Monetary Incentives Caused by the Great Resignation — In addition to a fresh look at Job Descriptions and titles, leaders are raising salaries in order to retain high performers and attract new talent. Signing bonuses are more common. The latest trend is to pay candidates to come to the interview. If 2021 was The Year of the Job Description, then 2022 is The Year of the Employee. We read about The Great Resignation and it has happened, in part, because of money issues and staff becoming aware that they are underpaid in the marketplace. This has been especially true with women. In 2022, the data is showing that women are now getting more raises than men and that is partly to close the wage gap.

Story — Staffers are going to HR to ask for pay evaluations to understand where they stand with compensation. They want the details on the salary bands and salary caps in the company. Pre-pandemic, money and compensation issues were considered taboo, off-limits, and a touchy subject to brooch by staff. There was much fear around money issues. The trend now is that HR is being forced into Pay Equity initiatives and Pay Transparency in order to hold onto high value employees. More and more leaders are following Marc Benioff’s lead to close the wage gap between men and women inside companies as not only the right thing to do but as the smart business decision to make.

3. Higher level Administrative Staff involved as business partners with their leader and viewed as part of the ELT — Executive Leadership Team. The C-suite Executive Assistants are consulted and involved with Interviewing Candidates (Assistants and new Leaders), Creation of revised Job Descriptions, Onboarding, Disaster Planning, Cyber Security, Succession Planning, and Training for the Administrative Staff. Executive Assistants are now considered to be an important part of the pipeline for promotional talent inside companies. Story — More and more Executive Assistants are raising their hands to offer to fill the talent gaps that are being left by the pandemic. One of my students who supports her CEO was named temporary Acting CEO during a several week emergency.

4. Annual Training Budgets to Support Professional Development of Staff and Increase Retention — The enormity of the changes in the workplace has revealed significant skill gaps in the staff, especially in technology. Leaders have discovered that it costs far less money to upskill your current staff than it costs to replace them. Interestingly, many companies rolled out Office365 in January, 2020. The staffers received the software but my students report having received little to no training on it. When the workforce was suddenly sent home, it became clearer that the staff was struggling with the new technology. Leaders saw that trial and error wastes time and money.

Story — Historically, the administrative staff had not received training as a benefit. The trend in 2022 is for recruiters to build in an annual training budget for the assistants. The average amount is 2500–5000 dollars/year. This factor is making a difference in candidates accepting or rejecting a position. Staff does not want to fight for training dollars and when they are enthusiastically supported to learn, they choose to stay.

5. Flexible work schedules & Arrangements — Leaders are experimenting with hybrid work schedules, the 4-day workweek, totally remote workforce, and no meeting Fridays. Employers are aware that staffers are stressed and anxious for many reasons, but mainly because of the uncertainty about what comes next with Covid variants and how that impacts their work life and taking care of children, etc. Most everyone would agree these are very real and legitimate concerns.

Story — The companies that are experiencing smooth operations are the ones whose leaders have been holding town hall meetings right from the beginning of the pandemic and asking the staff directly what they need. Some employers are giving their staff 500+ dollars to buy whatever they need to make their home office more viable and comfortable. Others are offering unlimited time off so that staffers can juggle the demands of their families and their lives. The smartest leaders know that the solutions are not one size fits all and are asking their staff what they need and then listening. In fact, the trend is for leaders to conduct “listening tours” to do precisely that.

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 will keep saying Yes until I have to say No. — The pandemic proved that the rug can be pulled out from underneath us with five minutes notice and then everything changes. As in, forever. I learned. Don’t wait to take a vacation. Don’t wait to say I’m sorry or I love you. Say Yes now. The No will come eventually. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Fight for what you believe in but do it in a way that leads others to join you.” The only road to real change is to build bridges of understanding between employers and staff and between peers in the workplace. We must choose respectful discussions that do not shy away from conflicting ideas. That means compromise. That means behaving like respectful, professional adults. That requires mature leaders who are unafraid of difficult conversations. No one ever said leadership was easy. I see that the most effective leaders and the most successful companies are the ones that give staff a voice and have leaders capable of building the bridges between people.

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.

Marc Benioff — He is such a forward thinker as a leader. He has been unafraid of advocating for women, equal pay, and social issues. I want to discuss with him how that happened and how did he learn to be fearless. I want to know about a time when he was afraid. I want to know his advice for women and for men in the workplace and how I can participate in making that happen.

Sheryl Sandberg — Sheryl is such a strong leader who walks the talk. I love her book Lean In. I want to talk with her about how we can fast track progress for women by including men in a real and meaningful way. As she looks ahead to the future, I want to know what she is worried about and what she is excited about? I want to know how I can collaborate with her.

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 https://www.linkedin.com/in/bonnielowkramen/ www.bonnielowkramen.com

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