Flexible Workplace: The 9 to 5 work schedule is over. The future of work is flexible as employees continue to blend their work and home lives. Employers will find new ways to support employees through this evolution, such as offering flexible paid time off programs and by incentivizing accomplishing goals versus time spent working.

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 Deb Myers.

Deb was named Chief People Officer in September 2019 and is responsible for all aspects of Newfold Digital’s global human resources strategy. Her prior assignments include executive leadership responsibility for human resources, mergers & acquisitions integrations, global real estate, and strategic business planning at technology and financial services companies including; Novanta, ADI, Fidelity Investments and Sycamore Networks. She served as an adjunct professor in the Whittemore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire and has a BS in Business Administration and an MBA from Northeastern University.

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.

What I care about most is making a difference — I’ve always wanted to give back to others. That’s what incidentally led me to start my own small business early in my career. I used to be a marathon runner, and after an injury, when nothing else seemed to be working, I was introduced to acupuncture to help with my recovery. I was amazed at the modality of the treatment and immediately wanted to share it with the world. Next thing you know, I have my own business. I partnered with a trained acupuncturist and opened a practice in downtown Boston. Even though we were only open for a few years, we helped move the needle in getting the local medical community and insurance companies to adopt acupuncture as a real treatment for pain management. It was one of my most rewarding experiences. Fast forward, as Chief People Officer of Newfold Digital, I help to empower SMBs around the globe.

Another experience I still look back on was when I was an adjunct professor at the Whittemore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire. My favorite assignment was asking our junior and senior students to select a small business in their community to partner with to identify and explore real-world growth opportunities. The students then were tasked with presenting their business case to the class and business owners. My only requirement was that the presentation and business case had to be “board-ready” — meaning it had to be something that they would feel confident to bring to a board of directors. This requirement changed the game for them — it had to be their best. By requiring board-ready work, the students put forward thoughtful ideas and presented with confidence and passion. It was a reminder of how infusing passion and purpose into your work can go a long way. When you need a little push, ask yourself, “Would I present this to the board?”

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 different? The partnership between corporation and community is going to be forever changed — for the better. In the next several years, we’ll see big changes in the expectation of reciprocity and return, in terms of how employees and employers invest in each other. Millennials, especially, are pushing boundaries that have never been pushed before, and the best thing that they are bringing to the table is a missional aspect to work. They want to do work that makes a difference, and younger generations are taking a cue. I feel confident that we are moving the workforce in a more meaningful and impactful direction.

What will be the same? People. While the workplace will continue to evolve, the need for connection will remain the same. Connections and work relationships can either positively or negatively affect employees’ stress levels, productivity and general feelings of happiness. Employers need to create environments that foster connections and a sense of belonging between employees and leaders, whether in person or remote. Those that do will continue to see high employee engagement and happiness.

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

As I mentioned previously, something that will remain constant in the future is employees’ need for connection. While we can’t predict the future, employers can future-proof their organization by establishing a culture of connection.

Connection can take many forms, but one of the most important is aligning the workforce on a mission. For example, we recently merged two large digital presence companies to form Newfold Digital. The early days of any merger can be a bit of controlled chaos meets confusion. The navigational challenges for employees can become overwhelming, especially when you are doing mergers across a global and remote work environment. A sense of connection and belonging is critical to keep employees engaged. To create a connection between the employees and the newly formed company, we turned our attention to the one thing we all had in common — the customer. By establishing our mission to help small businesses succeed online, we were able to unite teams and defy silos established by functions, brands and regions. Future-proofing your organization means getting employees passionate, excited and connected to a bigger picture mission.

Additionally, employers can future-proof their organization by ensuring that all employees have a space, or spaces, in which they can be their authentic selves. Another example from my company’s recent merger was the introduction of affinity groups. Employees from all different teams could talk and build relationships with one another based upon shared experiences and values — it helped dispel fear in the face of change and shifted the employee mindset to “We will do this together.”

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 gap between employees’ expectations and what employers can and are willing to deliver can be summed up as the “Employee Value Proposition.” As we’ve learned through this most recent — and unprecedented — shift, expectations change drastically from generation to generation and year over year. COVID just forced existing issues to the surface, and the stratification of how work-life happens has effectively collapsed.

What’s interesting to me in the current environment is that, for the first time in a long time, the alignment between what employees, customers and investors want is uniquely the same: a return on their investment. From an employee’s perspective, they want a return on the time, energy and commitment that they are making in the company. That return goes well beyond money, and that’s where the gap lies — between employees’ expectations of ROI and how the company meets those expectations.

The essential strategy for filling the gap is to create feedback loops. As leaders, we must empower our employees to give us direct feedback on what that return on investment looks like. However, keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all, and employers need to listen carefully to discover the true need. In my experience, people ask for a number of things that are important to them — from swag to career development and everything in between. While it may seem like they want different things on the surface, underneath they are looking for connection, as well as opportunities for both personal and professional growth. Often, as employers, we spend more time apologizing for what we do and do not offer versus really listening to employees and delivering a value proposition that is important to them.

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

What the working-from-home experiment has reinforced is the importance of employee connections and caring about what you do. Everyone is sitting at home, not knowing what one another is going through or thinking about — so, what unites us is shared goals and passions.

I’m lucky in that I really believe in my employer, and my wish for everyone would be that they do too, whether self-employed or part of a large company. Believing in what you do is essential to bringing others along with you. The Great Resignation is the epitomizing example that people want to feel purpose and hold a sense of belief around what they get up and do every day. We might not have come to this conclusion had we not been forced to reconcile work with our home lives in such an up-close and personal way.

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?

To create a future of work that really does work for everyone, we need to consider everyone’s unique perspectives, experiences and backgrounds. It’s about creating a culture of flexibility, communication and feedback. We can’t have leaders who are still thinking ‘my way or the highway’ — I’ve learned a lot about the importance of listening and leveraging continuous feedback loops. I actually look forward to diving into comments we receive via engagement surveys, even those that might be uncomfortable at times, because that’s how you learn and grow and adapt. Leaders need to be humble and really listen deeply to what employees are saying. You can’t put a value tag on that.

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

The Great Resignation is a blessing in disguise — it’s taught us the importance of looking at employees as more than just a workforce, and instead as a force of unique humans, each capable of something amazing. As a manager, I strive to see things in others that they don’t see in themselves. This becomes critical to business, too — if we wait too long to really look at our employees and try to understand them, and we aren’t consciously looking to shape new and different pathways for them, we risk losing them. I am grateful for this new chapter that’s enabled us to slow down and rediscover our values. Needless to say, I am very optimistic about the future of work!

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?

One of the best things an employer can do during times of uncertainty is over-communicate. Information and communication can help keep misinformation and rumors low and squash any fears. Employers need to create communication processes and systems that ensure every employee receives the information through multiple methods like email, internal communications platforms or verbally through a manager. By ensuring all employees are receiving consistent communications, employers are creating an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging.

Flexibility is another way to support employee mental health. Employers should offer as much flexibility as possible, especially during uncertain times. Whether it’s a weather event or just a personal day, employees need to be empowered to take the time they need without fear of losing their job or retaliation.

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?

Resignation, reconfiguration, reevaluation — all just variations on a central theme. The main takeaway here is that a massive change is underway, and leaders need to get on board or get left behind. As evidenced by The Great Resignation, the issue of work-life balance has been pushed to the forefront and can no longer be dismissed. What I’m seeing more and more is that employees want meaningful connections within an organization that aligns with their personal values. People are looking for a return on their investment at work — work that is fulfilling, supports their lifestyles and makes a difference. The winners from The Great Resignation, those that attract and retain the best talent amid this mass migration, will be the companies that factor in the employee value proposition.

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

  1. Employer-driven education: Employers will offer and promote learning and development benefits to help support the personal and professional growth of employees, investing back into their learning journeys. At Newfold Digital, we offer a variety of learning experiences, ranging from virtual classrooms to on-demand learning through LinkedIn Learning. The virtual classrooms offer connection and shared experiences while on-demand learning affords employees an opportunity to explore learning opportunities at their own pace. Our Learning and Growth Club offerings include business, creative and technology skills to help employees achieve their goals. We will see more employers offer education opportunities like LinkedIn Learning in replacement of or in addition to tuition assistance.
  2. Flexible Workplace: The 9 to 5 work schedule is over. The future of work is flexible as employees continue to blend their work and home lives. Employers will find new ways to support employees through this evolution, such as offering flexible paid time off programs and by incentivizing accomplishing goals versus time spent working.
  3. New hires demand DE&I: For businesses to compete for top talent during the Great Resignation and beyond, companies will need to be able to demonstrate their commitment to a diverse team. Similar to health benefits, DE&I will be a top priority topic for talent as they go through the interview process. Current employees and prospective employees want to know two things — if can they be their authentic selves at work and if they will be better, personally and professionally, for having invested their time in the company.
  4. Digital Transformation: We live in a world where access to global real-time information is a productivity game-changer. This is more important now than ever before. In the past, our digital tools were viewed as decision-making tools. Today, technology goes beyond real-time decision-making and is instrumental in facilitating a global connection. From Microsoft Teams to Facetime, we will see technology continue to evolve and make connections easier with intuitive tools. I think we could all use fewer “You’re on mute” on video calls.
  5. Health & Wellbeing: I believe, and hope, that the future of work is going to be healthier and more balanced. Many people expected that working from home would provide a healthier environment, with more time to eat well and exercise. What we are finding is that this may not be the case — many employees are sitting at their computers for longer periods of time. In the office, they would have walked to talk to a colleague — now they are calling them. And the allure of getting out one more e-mail is what keeps employees working longer hours at home than they did at the office. As we continue to adapt to remote work, employers and employees will begin to partner with each other to address both physical and mental health in this new work paradigm. Employer-sponsored health-focused challenges are one way to engage employees to focus on their health and well-being. More importantly, it signals to employees that this is important and, hopefully, employees will carve out time to be active and healthy.

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?

The quote that grounds me is actually a question — “What opportunity are we trying to leverage or what problem are we trying to solve?” When faced with an obstacle or challenge, I come back to this question, and it provides focus. It has served me well in both my personal and professional life.

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.

As a previous small business owner and an executive at a company serving millions of small businesses, I would prefer to have lunch or breakfast with a customer or prospective customer. The early days of starting a small business are hard but rewarding, so I would want to ask them about their motivations and challenges. I would find that conversation inspiring, personally and professionally. Talking to someone who is defying the odds and starting a business on their own — what’s cooler than that?

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 is the best place to reach me!

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