Remote workforce. I keep coming back to this and will continue to do so! This is not working from your kitchen table during a global pandemic, and this is not just work from home — this is work from anywhere. And this trend will fuel a bunch of other workforce innovations in support of this structure.
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 Cy Wise.
Cy Wise is Co-Founder and COO of Tangle, a remote studio communication and culture platform that looks to cultivate meaningful collaboration for dispersed teams. A 15-year games industry veteran and AAA games expat, she uses her experience in fostering player communities and natural human interactions to create a sense of joy and a human-first philosophy. When she isn’t building mindful studios and team culture, she can be found writing jokes and hiding easter eggs in all her projects.
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.
I started working in AAA MMO games when I was 20 and worked my way up from customer support. Throughout that journey I was able to impact a bunch of different departments, teams, cultures and structures — and I saw what worked, and what very much didn’t work. I had a ton of experience being on the receiving end of company culture, processes, and policy, and how that affected myself and my peers. I then decided to study sociology in my late 20s, focusing specifically on dispersed teams and how they foster a sense of community cohesion and collaborate effectively when they cannot depend on constant, effortless, serendipity that comes from co-located interaction. (I was interested in Guilds, Clans, and fandom groups, you see!) These two experiences truly gave me an appreciation and reverence for remote teams and the culture that they foster in their groups!
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 can only speak to Western computer-based work culture and practices, as that’s my expertise. I think people will still be figuring out how to manage work-life balance and burnout. We care about our work so much (of course we do! We devote a huge chunk of our lives to it!) that it’s easy to give more of ourselves and our brain-realestate to work than is healthy, and there’s embedded reward systems for doing so. I suspect, however, that companies will be better at understanding their own power in these circumstances and there will be a movement toward more mindful policies to help mitigate the worst of these pressures. Offering remote or flexible hybrid work will be standard– this is already on its way now– as well as a more cohesive suite of benefits. Expect to see everything from better PTO and parental leave policies, to competitive office reimbursement and offered home assistive services to help give employees more freedom and flexibility in how they work.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
My number one piece of advice is if you move toward putting healthy, sustainable work culture at the heart of your organization, you’ll be set up to navigate whatever the future throws at you, or whatever trends occur in your industry. In this moment, this means doing things like being open and flexible to remote work, and being open minded about new technologies and processes that will help these remote workforces.
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?
Traditional employers are trying to force people back to office in an effort to “get back to normal”, while not understanding that the mythologies of the ubiquitous and necessary co-located workforce have been dismantled. We all now know that you can be just as productive, often more so, when you have the flexibility to work where and how you want. So the best way is to embrace these changes, and seek to pioneer in this space — experiment with various ways your employees can have more control over their lives and give them the psychological safety to make truly interesting and creative choices.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
In a twist, we haven’t yet actually been able to globally try “working from home” these past few years. What we experienced was “working during a global pandemic, quarantined in our homes.” It’s important to remember this, because these past few years have been marked by WFH, yes, but under duress, incurring vast amounts of stress and while globally mourning.
What this time did is open the doors to further exploration of what a remote working environment could be like. Not just work from home, but work from anywhere. That means near a beach, in the mountains, near your family, with your best friend from college. This understanding has shifted remote work to be an expectation of workers, either partially or completely. And by embracing this trend we are given an opportunity to restructure work in a way that’s actually sustainable and scalable for the next decades.
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’s some transformative infrastructure stuff that will begin to get prioritized. With remote work becoming more of the norm, reliable internet access becomes a necessity. These needs drive innovation for better internet solutions, such as satellite and municipal internet services, to become more common.
You’ll also start seeing more and more people moving to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities as it becomes less necessary to be in large hubs like New York, LA, and Silicon Valley. With better real estate prices and more options, people will be able to move closer to where they are most comfortable, either by their support networks or in their favorite places. I happen to love New England. It’s the biome that makes my heart sing. But for those who aren’t a fan of dreary days and long winters, this is a brutal suggestion. New England isn’t FOR everyone. But with remote, it doesn’t have to be. And for folks like me, we can finally live in our remote, wooded, rainy paradise without giving up the work we love.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I’m really excited by tech and gaming start-ups’ willingness to innovate and play with the remote work structure. During the pandemic, we moved to remote work in a hurry — meaning we didn’t really get to think about remote work as it’s own system, and design it from the ground up with that use case in mind. Rather, in our urgency, we applied co-located paradigms to a remote workforce. Keeping our “butts in seats” mentality, our meetings, our benefits, our expectations of availability when work is defined by access to technology (which, these days, is 100% of the time). A lot of tech and gaming start-ups are trying new things: 4-day work weeks, reduced core hours, flexible and robust PTO, new benefits offerings, DEI-informed policies, and aggressive time management rituals. By trying out a bunch of new things, they will help inform what works, and I’m truly excited by what that industry comes up with. Hopefully something very weird and cool!
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?
Right now, organizations are viewing mental health as an issue to be resolved and throwing a series of disconnected solutions at the symptoms rather than identifying and addressing the cause. To use tech language, we’ve basically just applied patches to our work culture to make up for this deficiency. Giving people unlimited PTO, for example, doesn’t work if you are still in a culture where work productivity is defined by how available you are– this works at cross-purposes. Even better, defining PTO to encourage employees to take that time off doesn’t work if those employees are still taking their laptop with them because their organization’s culture has made them feel that not being present is going to hinder their career progression.
Rather, we will need to redefine how work fits into our lives. In previous paradigms, your life is what happened around the work day. The 9-to-5 work schedule was top priority, and everything else needed to be fit in between the cracks left over. With remote work, the flexibility of your schedule allows you to easily go pick up your kids at 2pm, to run to get your dog’s medicine before the vet closes, or even to take a long walk on a particularly beautiful day. This allows people to start thinking about work as a part of their lives, and orient their expectations around that.
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?
Take these seriously! Employees have a lot more power and choice in where and how they work and this is a GOOD thing. This goes back to the human element. Focus on employee health, happiness and psychological safety, versus what employers can do to optimize productivity. Be mindful of burnout, the tendency to expect employees to be always available, and be intentional and deliberate about boundaries. People deserve to have a life that they define. It’s our role as employees to be respectful of that life.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Remote workforce. I keep coming back to this and will continue to do so! This is not working from your kitchen table during a global pandemic, and this is not just work from home — this is work from anywhere. And this trend will fuel a bunch of other workforce innovations in support of this structure.
- Remote benefit suites. An on-site gym and unlimited soda selections won’t cut it anymore. We’ll need to start looking into a whole host of benefits specifically designed for remote workers. Subsidized co-working spaces and remote office stipends. Snack delivery and child and pet care stipends. Are corporate Instacart accounts a thing yet? They should be!
- DEI-informed company policies. As work moves into a more personal space, it’s important that we keep those actual human hearts in mind as we are developing policies. This means focusing on equity, rather than equality. Not everyone will need help setting up a home office, but for those who do, that help can unblock and unlock their ability to make creative innovations. Not everyone will need childcare help, but for those that do, that assistance will give them the peace of mind to think deeply about the problems they are tasked with solving. DEI-informed policies give people the psychological safety to become truly creative and innovative in the chances they take.
- Tier 2 and 3 cities will grow. I spoke about this in more detail before, but with the unlocking of remote work, people will have the freedom and opportunity to move to locations that make them happier, be it with family and friends, or in environments that they love. There are cities already capitalizing on this — Northwest Arkansas recently created a program that gave folks $10k and a mountain bike if they moved there! These cities will need to build up their infrastructure to house these remote workers.
- Cohesive team cultures to house different local cultures. With remote work, you are no longer limited to employees all in a single location with a shared culture. Rather, you now have the opportunity to create a team from all over the world, with all their vastly different experiences and expertise! This also allows for miscommunications and misalignments in how people work together. This makes development and maintenance of a healthy, inclusive, deliberate, and (most importantly?) articulately communicated company culture a huge priority in remote studios. We’ll see an influx of People Ops and DEI experts being more intrinsically tied into the company, and those cultural advances being woven seamlessly into organizational 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?
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” In both product development and company culture, it is easy to want to hold off on doing anything until it hits some platonic ideal of perfection. Especially when you are dealing with human hearts (which you often are when developing organizational culture), you want to make sure that everyone is encompassed, and fostered. These are worthy goals! In reality, however, this striving for perfection can mean that you end up with good ideas that never get implemented. Rather, this has encouraged me to put out things half-realized, and see if they actually work in the wild. And let those real-life experiences shape the development of the product and policies that I implement. It’s an ever-growing process, so you have to give it the space to grow.
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.
God, can I speak with Brene Brown please? I would love to just chat with her about her applications to remote culture.
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?
The best way to connect with me is via my Twitter account @cyceratops, and keep up to date on what I’m up to through Tangle’s Twitter: @tangle_app.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.