24/7 Business Hours. With the blending of technology and time zones, we’re evolving into what used to be looked at as just the schedule for a doctor: on-call 24/7. Emails, text chains, and chat rooms don’t stop. This is a shift that’s continuing and employees and employers will continue to need to find a way to operate in a world that doesn’t stop after 5:00 pm, with structures that can support the ongoing productivity and response, without burning out individuals.
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 Brooke Waupsh, Founding CEO of Swoovy.
Brooke is an award-winning marketer with experience breathing life into established brands such as Coors, Clorox, Charles Schwab, and Kasasa. As Founding CEO of Swoovy (www.swoovy.com), Brooke was awarded the winner of the Austin Young Chamber’s 2021 “Austin FAVE” Award for Young Professional-led Business. She has been featured as a “Profile in Power” finalist by the Austin Business Journal, a two-time finalist for the Austin Under 40 awards for Start-Up and Innovation, named a “Female Disruptor” by Authority Magazine, a “Rising Star” by Voyage Austin and “Woman to Watch” by On the Dot.
Brooke is certified in Nonprofit Management, has also contributed to the Built In Expert Network, served as a mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance, led multiple practicum courses for entrepreneurship students at the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas, and mentored students from the C.T. Bauer College of Business Masters in Finance program at the University of Houston.
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?
There are no one or two exact experiences that have shaped who I am, but instead a series of experiences. It is about taking on what life throws you, and then seeing what you can do with it and how you grow from it. One big thing that I’ve come to learn, which has shaped a big part of who I am, is that I was adopted at a young age. I think I came into this world with a sense of independence, and perseverance. When I was seven, my mother had breast cancer, and I was by my father’s side taking care of her. After my parents divorced when I was 14, my mother found out she had a brain tumor, and I went to live with her and help take care of her during her rehabilitation. I got my first job when I was 15 to help contribute while she retired on disability. We didn’t have money for me to go to college, but I still went after graduating early from high school. I financed my college, and then graduated college early as well. It was this road during my early childhood and adulthood that fundamentally shaped who I am.
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 is that employees want to feel a connection to their work, their employer, and their colleagues. Whether we do that remotely, in-person, or hybrid, people will gravitate to where they feel a sense of purpose, and stick around where they feel connected. I think we’ve all learned and recognized over the past two years that things will evolve beyond our control. Employers need to adapt and not get stuck in the same routine or best practices when running a business. We’re already seeing it, but the power is really in the peoples’ hands — it shouldn’t be top-down. And the “best places to work” are recognizing this and cultivating a place where individual interests are recognized, and employees feel empowered and supported inside and outside of the corporate walls. We no longer live in a 9–5 world; our personal and work lives are blended, and I believe that will only continue.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Organizations must take proactive steps to understand the individuality of their employees, not only on whether they can complete a task but also what their intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are, how they naturally gravitate toward and complete work, the synergies between personality-types amongst their workforce, what their life outside of work looks like, etc. People are unique and have different approaches to engaging in their work that good companies recognize. Culture can’t be something that an executive team puts on a whiteboard. People quit people, not the job. Right now, we’re in what’s being called “The Great Resignation”, which Gallup is calling “The Great Discontent”. A new study that Gallup published shows that 48% of America’s working population is actively job searching or watching for opportunities. A company that not only articulates its values but also demonstrates them in action is key.
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?
Attracting and retaining top talent is not just about a paycheck. Companies have become more competitive in offering benefits that extend from dollars and cents to providing support for employees in different aspects of their lives, which is compelling. However, employees need the employer to close the gap by not just offering the benefit, but rather, they need to demonstrate they want and will empower the employee to utilize the benefit. For example, unlimited PTO became a popular benefit to offer that was seemingly attractive until your employer makes it uncomfortable to take the time you need. Likewise, many companies will offer paid time off to volunteer, but they will also see that time go unused and not do anything to increase the take-rate. Volunteering is not only good for the community, but has many proven mental and physical health benefits for the individual. However, the company leaves it on the individuals to jump through the “pain points’’ we’ve all experienced which hinder us from volunteering, including the time it takes to find a cause and opportunity that meets our schedule. Or the employee is left to use their time to go do a service day that was coordinated by upper management and isn’t a cause that the individual cares about. How is that a benefit? It sounded good, but if the employer filled the gap and empowered the employee with a tool to easily find opportunities, they could celebrate milestones together as a company! Over 70% of employees say it’s imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering (America’s Charities Snapshot Employee Research), and close to 60% say they would work for a socially responsible company even if they were paid less (United Health Survey).
Companies also need to look at investing more in employee engagement initiatives — this is where the gap will be filled on a macro-level. The cost to backfill an employee is over half of their salary today. Companies need to take a good look at their attrition rate, the overall cost to replace good talent, and the ROI of investing — it is more than just a t-shirt to keep someone happy and engaged in a meaningful way.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
In my previous life, I used to offer my team a work-from-home day as a benefit every two weeks. Now people are begging for a work-from-the-office day ANYTIME! Things have changed. What I truly loved throughout the experience was seeing everyone connect on a human level. Executives to entry-level staff showed up, in a vulnerable way, dedicated to their work in whatever environment they were in, and it was okay. I think it forced a sense of respect and recognizing the human side of each being and what they had going on in their lives outside of the office that we used to be seen in. Some people have come to function well and love working from home, others made it through but are hungering for an office space. In thinking about the future of work, employers will need to support offering the employee the choice of how they want to engage. I don’t think employers can dictate this either way, but this is part of attracting and retaining talent — making the offer to support the employee in the way they are most satisfied in engaging with their work. Virtual teams will continue, tools to connect in-office and at-home employees will be table stakes. Companies will need to continue to seek out technology and new platforms that can evolve the team building and extracurricular activities that they may have once been able to say were only offered in person.
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 will continue to be a hybrid of people who choose to work from home and those who want to come into an office. Companies will need to focus on how to bring together teams and support those choosing to stay virtual/remote. There was a lot of creativity in the past couple of years, like having lunches delivered to individuals’ houses during a lunch-and-learn or team building, or virtual team building activities that included painting from home or a trivia night. The strategic thinking on how to evolve, from engaging employees only in person to making them feel connected from wherever they are, will need to continue to truly maintain a culture that feels inclusive and strong.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
It is refreshing to see companies, large and small, rethink how to optimize their business operations and be forced to take a look at how they are supporting their employees. While companies are taking a hit now with the “Great Resignation”, I feel optimistic that this pain will drive change that is so necessary. People have more of a voice, companies have done things they never thought they could do in short amounts of time, and it’s only the foundation for more rapid innovation in how we approach corporate culture and building environments that people can truly thrive in.
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?
Well, of course, I’m going to say again that volunteering is a great way to improve mental and physical well-being, and it’s not enough for companies to just offer paid time off to volunteer. I think overall, looking at wraparound support for health and wellness initiatives is needed. Forced days off are always a great thing to do. In my early days, it was referred to as a “mental health day”, which made it seem like when you hit your breaking point, you could take a day. Now companies, like Indeed, are offering a “YOU day” as part of their baked-in time off, where you have a planned day to take before you need it. Company stipends are provided for employees to use a designated amount of cash for something unrelated to work — a new hobby, an experience, a dinner out, a trip — also go a long way. Finances are always a stressor, and I’ve seen more companies providing resources around financial education and planning, as well as setting aside “love funds” that can support employees with any hardship that may arise. Health and wellness can’t just be a fitness plan, although that is an important component. Companies need to have multi-faceted strategies to support health and wellness; it’s the most important piece to having a healthy and productive workforce, which will help employees feel supported and connected with the organization. There need to be proactive measures to support health and wellness, not just crisis management.
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?
I’ve touched on this a bit, but the big takeaway is the past two years gave people time (or forced them) to reflect. They’ve taken deeper looks at whether they are with a company that supports them and fulfills them, outside of just their day-to-day work — WHICH CAN BE DONE ANYWHERE. If your work can be done from anywhere, why are you staying with that company? Is it the people? The values? Do they make you feel connected? Is it a place that feels like more than just a place of work? We spend more time during the week toward work, there needs to be meaning. I’d gamble that the companies that think they have it all figured out and that their employees are happy and engaged, will be surprised this next year. It’s time to dig in, do pulse surveys, and have real conversations to learn to grow. There’s no way a company culture could come out on the other side of these past years unchanged; it’s time to evolve and do it with your employees engaged and actively involved in crafting the future. One they want to be a part of and will be a raving fan of for years.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Managing Business Where Some Colleagues are at Home and Others are On-Site. Scheduling a meeting and a meeting room for everyone to gather will never be the same. But what’s good is that some teams had remote/distant workers before that managed time zones and locations, now we all do it and it’s more inclusive than it was before. The lone salesperson outside of the office traveling on their own and checking in with the “home base” is what we all knew before, and moving forward there will be an acknowledgment of how everyone can be present, whether in the room or not.
- 4 Day Work Weeks and/or Flex Time. With a blur between home life and work life, accessibility through technology, and also bringing together more people across various time-zones, companies are looking at ways to offer more ways to find balance and time to refresh, including schedules that are a condensed work-week or that include more available time off.
- 24/7 Business Hours. With the blending of technology and time zones, we’re evolving into what used to be looked at as just the schedule for a doctor: on-call 24/7. Emails, text chains, and chat rooms don’t stop. This is a shift that’s continuing and employees and employers will continue to need to find a way to operate in a world that doesn’t stop after 5:00 pm, with structures that can support the ongoing productivity and response, without burning out individuals.
- Hybrid Work Environments. It will be difficult for companies to demand or make it a requirement for anyone to come into the office. We’ve proven we can work from home and across teams, and we have the means to do so. Some have come to like it. Employees will be given the option from other companies to maintain that work environment, which will force companies to offer it as an option across the board.
- Hotel Work-Space. Office spaces as we know have changed. The assigned executive office and lineup of cubicles are now shifting to open, hotel-like spaces that can be reserved or used temporarily without a hard nameplate assigned.
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?
A nonprofit leader, who I was having a virtual coffee with not too long ago, said his current mantra was, “Celebrate wins longer than you dwell on losses.” It struck a chord and has been something I’ve kept on a sticky note on my computer since. I’m building a company from scratch. We got hit just like everyone at the onset of the pandemic, and I had to look at whether to close shop or push on. There have been so many bumps in the road, and there always will be, but I choose to celebrate the wins and learn from the losses.
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.
Ashton Kutcher would be on my list to connect with! From MySpace to his involvement with start-ups and technology, to his or her passions around philanthropy impact ventures — he’s been very involved and passionate about innovation, building communities, and investing in technology that pushes us forward.
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?
Swoovy is always looking to connect with and support people leaders of companies, human resources executives, culture leaders, and community impact enthusiasts. If you or your company, or organization, would be interested in learning more, please reach out to me via email at [email protected].
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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.