Remote Work — It’s not going anywhere. The pandemic showed some teams what’s possible and opened the doors for talent acquisition from all over the world. They’re better off for the remote talent.

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 Dan Hunter.

Dan Hunter is the founder of Workzinga, an app and an assessment that better matches employers and job seekers based on workplace culture fit. After interviewing over 1,000 candidates in various positions throughout his career, Dan and his team founded Workzinga after noticing there needed to be a significant shift in the current state of workforce development. He is the former vice president of revenue cycle operations at SmileDirectClub and former vice president of Access Dental Lab and PhyBus, Inc.

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.

The life experiences which shaped me? First, my family takes the top slot. The support I have enjoyed has emboldened me to seek opportunities and take risks. Fatherhood is a central part of my self-identity, and it’s a driving force for me to look for ways to make a difference. Lastly, I would say that I’ve been given the chance to work with various companies of different sizes and cultures. This has allowed me to distill my own belief about leadership and the importance of work environment.

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?

Some constants won’t change. Generally speaking, people want to have some interaction with others in the workplace. The human connection at work is important, and I don’t see a significant shift away from that dynamic in favor of a more siloed model. The manner of interaction may change; I can see some companies shifting from less face-to-face and synchronized communication to a more remote and asynchronous model. But at our core, I believe most people want interaction with others in the workplace.

As for what may change, our motivations for work may shift. We have already seen many people drop out of the workforce since the pandemic began. The “Gig Economy” was already prevalent before COVID, but now some people see that as a way to secure income without the negatives of a traditional work environment. And we have seen a democratization of investing, which has allowed more and more individuals to enter the investment market. This may allow workers to have a supplemental income source, which would mean less reliance on a traditional job for income; this reduced reliance will accompany a trend towards selecting a job that workers enjoy instead of a job that provides a salary.

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

  • Hiring a new team member is a significant investment; most business owners and hiring managers understand this point. To hire the right fit for your team, it’s vital that you ask more questions. Nothing is more important than trust.
  • Question every rule you have around your talent management — is it an archaic rule that does not really serve a purpose? Is it outdated and unnecessarily restrictive? Does the rule essentially tell your teammates that you do not trust them? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, ditch the rule!
  • Seek out your teammates’ feedback on anything and everything. Listen to them. And then, ACT on what you hear! Being asked an opinion is nice; having that opinion then ignored is insulting. Engagement surveys with zero feedback and action will do far more harm than good.
  • Hire the individual as a whole — not just for the hard skills you need. Do not hire with the hope to “shape” or “change” someone to fit your company’s culture.
  • Do not settle for candidates who are not ideal during the hiring process. A bad hire can set you back further than waiting for the right candidate.

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?

Historically, the most significant gap has been compensation; however, I think that flexibility will become the new sticking point. I believe job seekers are going to look for opportunities that are harmonious with their personal lives. The idea of work-life balance has become trite as companies believe they’ve been offering it all along. Whatever they were doing before won’t be enough going forward. This won’t be about vacation days or sick time, holidays or other very narrow ways to offer personal time to employees. I think a new dynamic will emerge where employees will want to spend work hours how and where they see fit and in a way that blends with their home lives.

One approach I recommend is to “manage to goals” instead of “manage to time.” Establish clear and achievable goals with time requirements and quality expectations. And then step back and let teammates manage their own time to hit those goals. We already have goals in mind; that’s why we hire people. So why do we manage their time and attendance instead of the goals? Why is 40 hours important? Why is ten vacation days critical? The bottom line is we need x work done in y amount of time; manage to that, and not the details of your teammates’ comings and goings. Will this solution work for every situation? Obviously not, but it is one solution that could begin to change how some companies manage the performance of their workforce.

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

I believe working from home is likely here to stay, although both businesses and employees will need to find a happy medium so that both sides’ needs are being met. Due to the pandemic, many moved abruptly to WFH and did not have the infrastructure or procedures firmly in place to make it a permanent solution. Many companies see the value in the “in-person” working environment, and those preferences and advantages do not simply go away because people have become accustomed to working from home. What may be great for the employees can be very difficult for businesses to maintain.

That said, it’s a fact that WFH has shown many of us that we can accomplish much of our work from the comfort of our home, without a long commute to work or investment in work attire. Many in our workforce will want WFH solutions to be part of their normal routine, so businesses will need to adapt. This may bring about new tech solutions that better enable businesses to interact with remote teammates and, just as important, allow remote teammates to interact with each other. We may also see companies innovate and begin managing to goals instead of focusing so heavily on time and attendance. Lastly, WFH may bring about additional discussions about what it really means to have work/life harmony and how integrated the two may become.

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 pandemic forced our world to get honest about the issues that affect our workforce, like sick leave, working parents, hybrid work opportunities and more. In the past, society put this pressure on us to show up even when we were sick, and work needed to always be in the office 9 to 5. However, the pandemic revealed that we don’t need to cave to these societal norms to do good business. Our own culture can set the standard within our team.

The pandemic also forced many teams to suddenly work from home, work at unusual hours to compensate for childcare struggles, health issues and more. As a result, many employees are now actually working more than before. The future of work means more intentional conversations about time and boundaries with work to avoid employee burnout.

The pandemic also brought forth the Great Resignation, which is scary for some employers. For others, it’s an opportunity to have an honest conversation with current employees to find out what they really want in a career. However, it’s also a great opportunity to let those leave who aren’t a fit and go after employees who are looking for a change and are a GREAT fit for your team.

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

Commerce is the heart of our economy, and that means businesses producing goods and services by utilizing their workforces. That fundamental dynamic is key, and the relationship between employee and employer is core. The stronger and more resilient that relationship, the more likely an employer will weather the downturns and capitalize on the upswings. This is good for both employee and employer; this success means an employee’s source of income is more secure, and the employer has a stronger market position. So why am I optimistic? Because all the energy and focus right now on workforce satisfaction and the alignment between company and worker could yield a fundamental shift to sustainable improvements; however, making that happen means both sides looking at this relationship not as transactional but as strategic. You see some companies accomplishing great things; now, we need to translate that to a much broader audience. We’re all talking, so let’s start making something happen.

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?

First, I could see many employers choosing to wrap improved mental health services into their existing health benefit plans. Many insurance plans have marginal benefits supporting mental health, and I think you’ll see enhanced employee benefits being offered. Coverage for counseling, a resurgence of Employee Assistance Plans and paid time off specifically for mental well-being are all benefits that could easily be implemented each plan year.

Second, there is a growing need for mental health consultants in workplaces; this may not be a permanent role, but I can see employers bringing in a consulting team to provide an assessment of the work environment and teammate engagement. Then, they could make recommendations that specifically target mental well-being in the workplace.

Lastly, I think training or retraining is needed for all leaders in organizations, which would equip them to identify teammates’ behaviors that could indicate a well-being concern and address those concerns when they arise. Most leaders are not adequately prepared for dealing with employees’ mental health issues, and too often, it is relegated to the human resources team to address.

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 have noticed that this conversation is often viewed from the employers’ perspective, and the focus is on the challenges companies face. This is a two-way street, and failing to realize this is precisely how we got here in the first place. What employers see as The Great Resignation, their employees see as “The Great Opportunity” or “The Great Go-Do-What-I-Want-To-Do.” To truly understand this, leaders must see it from their teammates’ perspectives. Workers want more fulfillment, more rewards and more satisfaction from their jobs. They’re spending 8+ hours a day at a job, and they’re realizing there are ways to earn a paycheck AND like what they’re doing. The message is clear: know your teams and what drives them, and then act on that. If you simply cannot meet their needs, then accept that they’ll leave and recruit replacements who do know exactly what you offer and who want that same thing.

We can offer many alternative names this period — Great Reflection or Great Reorganization — but the intent is the same. Workers want more than what they’ve been getting. Now is the time for companies to ask the difficult questions about “who are we” and “what does my team want?” How can I simultaneously meet my financial and market goals while also supporting my employees’ goals of fulfillment and a sense of purpose?

And when you begin to understand, truly understand, what your team needs, you must invest the time and resources required to make real change happen. This shift in employees’ work paradigm is not going away; it may modify over time, but the increased focus on quality over paycheck is very likely here to stay for many workers. And these are the workers who are having children and passing along their work values, so it’s a generational shift that will have a lasting impact.

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

  1. The workforce participation rate has not rebounded from pre-pandemic levels. This statistic measures the percentage of working-age civilians who are actually in the workforce or seeking work. While we have seen a steady decline in the last two decades, the pandemic reduced the percentage from 63.4% in February 2020 to 60.2% in April 2020. We only recovered to 61.9% in December 2021. That means over 2 million people have just dropped out of the workforce since the start of the pandemic, and they are not looking for a job. How many of these were dissatisfied workers who simply decided not to go back to work? (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  2. Remote Work — It’s not going anywhere. The pandemic showed some teams what’s possible and opened the doors for talent acquisition from all over the world. They’re better off for the remote talent.
  3. Reliance on Data — Focusing on the numbers behind an organization will allow teams to operate more effectively. We’ve seen this in recent years, and data management and analytics are becoming easier to use for all sizes of teams.
  4. Mental Health — Employees care more than ever, which means employers need to care, too. More than eight in ten candidates said that working in a job that was a poor cultural fit has had negative impacts on their mental well-being, and 79% of candidates prefer a warm and supportive environment vs. a competitive environment. (Source: Workzinga’s Culture Report Survey)
  5. Culture is the key — 85% of Americans who are either employed or unemployed but looking for work consider “good culture fit” important when considering a new job (Source: Workzinga’s Culture Report Survey). We’re seeing culture matter in a new and significant way. This trend is only getting more prevalent in the hiring process and team dynamics.

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?

This is an easy one: If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me

I can’t speak to the origin of that quote; I have seen it referenced a couple of different times. Those ten two-letter words convey such a simple message, but one that can change everything. Like Gandhi’s quote about being the change we wish to see in the world, I think it makes it clear that we each have the power to make a difference. It just takes desire and vision.

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.

Wow…only one? Condoleezza Rice is a top choice. Condi is incredibly intelligent, has demonstrated a strong 360-degree leadership style and is poised and professional. Her track record in academia and politics plus her private sector experience make her an accomplished role model in many ways.

If Condi doesn’t read this, any chance I could get a sit down with @MarthaStewart or @DaymondJohn?!

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?

I am always eager to talk about the exciting product we are creating and the impact we can all make on workplace satisfaction. Please reach out to me directly at [email protected] and follow us on social media at Facebook and Instagram.

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