Hyper-personalization of the employee work experience. Now that employees have experienced much greater flexibility and agency in making decisions about how, when, and where they work, they will expect more of this into the future.

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 Debbie Goodman.

Debbie Goodman, Group CEO of Jack Hammer Global, is a global executive search and board advisor, high-impact leadership coach, speaker, and author. Firm in the knowledge that companies depend on great leaders to accelerate growth and create thriving cultures, she has dedicated more than two decades to helping boards and CEOs with their most strategic people, leadership, and talent decisions. Her most recent book, ‘The Living Room Leader — Leadership Lessons for a Hybrid Future’ became an Amazon Bestseller and is helping prepare leaders all over the world for the future of work.

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.

Thank you for having me! I would say that although at first blush it may seem unrelated, my original career path as a professional dancer & choreographer has given me many of the skills I needed to be the entrepreneur I am today. Two of the main qualities you need to be a professional athlete are discipline and creativity. Naturally, those are also two valuable skills that every successful entrepreneur possesses.

I’ve had people say to me, “How could you leave the world of the arts and go into business?” I always tell them I feel equally creative in my daily work now as I did then. I create something out of nothing every day. It’s extremely exciting, rewarding, and fulfilling. But none of it can happen without real discipline, so my dance training has really served me well in my entrepreneurial endeavors. I like to say I used to be a physical athlete, but now I’m a corporate athlete. The skills needed to succeed in both of those spheres are one and the same.

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?

Predictions about the future are always tough because everything is moving and evolving at such an exponential pace. That said, I do have a few thoughts that I think we will definitely see come to fruition based on current trends.

  1. Hyper-personalized Workplaces.

We’re seeing people leave companies where they feel they have a limited say in how they work, how they are treated, and their work conditions, in droves. These employees feel that there is a lack of humanity in their workplace, and they want to work on their own terms. This is going to lead to a push for hyper-personalized workplaces, which means an environment where employees have a say in how they work, where they work, when they work, and what they work on. At its worst, an organization can be a toxic hell for its employees, but at its best, it can be a hub of wellness, particularly for companies that build their work culture around the individualized needs of their employees.

2. Autonomous & Decentralized Workplaces.

Tech has and will continue to play a huge role in this. Advances in AR, VR, and the metaverse, which may sound awfully cerebral at the moment, are going to make big changes in the relationships between employee and employer. These avenues are going to create options for flexibility & brand new solutions that we’ve never seen before, and are really going to advance the corporate social-scape.

3. Teams will become modular.

While the bulk of the current workforce is comprised of traditional full time employees, we are beginning to see a shift into the rise of the gig worker & the hyper-specialized worker, and I believe that shift will continue. Some of the most talented people are not going to want to be employees in the traditional sense. Companies will need to adapt to these demands by offering specialized positions for freelancers, consultants, and specialists, while also finding alternative ways to create & maintain a solid company culture within the expanded web of a non-traditional workforce. The way these companies organize their corporate structure to accommodate this will be the magic sauce.

Something I don’t think will change is the current push for high quality leaders who are able to plan and implement a company culture that emphasizes the human aspect of their business. Today’s employees want to have agency and mastery over the way that we work. We want to add value and gain progress through meaning and connection. We want to work on our own terms, but still be a part of something bigger, a community. Great leaders who can innovate these solutions become the glue that holds these organizations together.

The pandemic has provided the space and the opportunity for us to really think differently about our workplace conditions in a way that we haven’t seen en masse since the Industrial Revolution. There’s a desperate need to balance the scales of productivity with more realistic, human-centric solutions.

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

Future-proofing is a lovely buzzword, but almost impossible to do in a concrete way. The best future-proofing you can do is to create an environment where resilience thrives.

You can never really anticipate the variables that are going to disrupt your industry or your company. You can think about, plan for, and work around the things in your sphere of what is known, but there are always going to be factors that totally blindside you.

When you practice and build a foundation of resilience in every level of your organization, you’re able to respond to extraordinary circumstances quicker & more creatively, rather than engaging in a stress response of Fight, Flight, or Freeze.

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?

I think we’re already seeing these gaps come to light. Employees are no longer willing to accept the bare minimum. They increasingly want to work on their own terms; flexibility, good salaries, they want to have a say in where they work, when they work, how they work, and what they work on. Employers are not going to be able to accommodate every single one of those needs, so there’s going to be a need for compromise on both sides.

The most talented people are going to be able to demand more of the ‘wants’ on their checklist, and organizations should get ready to be innovative in their solutions to ensure they can attract, and keep, the top talent. But these companies will benefit from the work that gets produced by employees who feel valued and are given a say in the rules of engagement.

People are more willing to take ownership and accountability when they’re treated well, so involving employees (regardless of their level in the corporate hierarchy) in important conversations regarding the corporate culture will cultivate trust and loyalty. Put plainly, it gives them skin in the game.

Now I think it’s worth saying that these gaps will morph and change depending on different variables. Some gaps might be narrow, but some might be a bit wider. For example, “We can offer lots of flexibility, but we can’t afford to pay you that much.” This is where employees and employers who co-create the work environment & culture together will do well, as there will be a greater willingness to compromise on both sides.

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

I think prior to the pandemic, while we did see a few companies offer more flexible work environments, especially in emerging industries, the majority of traditional businesses did not show a willingness to allow remote work on a large scale. There’s multiple reasons for this, but I believe a permeating concern was that employees would not be as productive working remotely.

When the pandemic really left businesses no choice but to either implement a remote work strategy or pause entirely, employees were given an opportunity to prove that they not only can be just as productive in non-traditional environments, but in some cases even more productive. And they did.

But mostly, what I think we have seen during this ‘global experiment’ is that there really is no one-size-fits-all solution regarding work environments. Every individual’s needs are so unique. One employee might work optimally from home, while another employee on the same team may do better in a more structured environment, and others still might prefer a hybrid of the two. I think above all, in the future we will see different, more personalized options emerge as companies begin to place emphasis on the workplace needs of the individual. Technology plays a huge role in making this possible, so we will definitely continue to see more platforms, apps, and solutions roll out that are geared towards connection as it pertains to evolving corporate structures & environments.

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?

It’s difficult to discuss this topic without mentioning the impact this reshaping has had on women in the workforce. Especially when we talk about The Great Resignation, a large chunk of people that resigned were the women that could not work from home while also balancing domestic responsibilities, home schooling, and childcare. It’s just too much.

These responsibilities were already unbalanced, with the brunt of domestic labor falling on women even prior to the pandemic when they were working in the traditional office space. But when the pandemic hit, these scales tipped too far. It’s not sustainable.

I think we realized that while remote work is a good option for some, it doesn’t automatically work for everyone. There’s a lot of variables that go into determining if work-from-home is the right fit. There are certain segments of society that are at a disadvantage when it comes to remote work, specifically those that have a lack of access to technology and childcare, to name a few.

So to answer your question, I’d say a necessary change would be to initiate open conversations with these individuals so that employees and employers can innovate solutions that work for everyone.

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

My greatest source of optimism about the future of work would be the shift in power dynamics that we’re currently seeing, where people are demanding more of a say in their working conditions. Employees are becoming vocal and empowered, and this is where real, lasting change happens.

I think the pandemic sparked a lot of compassion for our fellow workers that had been missing within traditional corporate structures. We’re becoming more human, and some organizations are following suit.

A healthy work-life balance is no longer being seen as a pipedream, but as a necessity for optimal productivity on both sides of the aisle. This push for wellness in the workplace has long reaching and supremely powerful connotations.

I’m also quite optimistic about the willingness of businesses to find creative and innovative solutions to problems, as well as this new interest in a workplace culture that prioritizes the mental health of their employees, not just as a half-hearted “we care about our employees” but really making the effort to educate themselves and make changes culturally.

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?

  1. Breaks, Breaks, & More Breaks

There’s often an unspoken expectation that actions such as skipping lunch, answering emails at all hours, coming early and staying late, is the behavior that demonstrates commitment and gets rewarded. This is a very dangerous precedent that directly contributes to the mental health issues we all want to avoid, but many employees have been conditioned by past and current work environments to keep working even when the proverbial room is on fire.

It’s up to us, as leaders, to make our expectations clear and properly model these often unspoken work culture norms. For example, I’m in a different time zone from many of my team members, so I often send emails during what is off-work hours for them. I make it extremely clear to my team that they are not expected to respond outside of their on-work hours. If we don’t lay out these expectations clearly, and continue to do so, people can be very compelled to stay in that ‘always on’ mode, and it simply isn’t healthy or sustainable. It becomes almost a competition as to who can stay the latest, answer the earliest, etc. We have to make it clear that they don’t get points for that.

2. Offer Mental Health Benefits (And then some)

Offering gym memberships, yoga, and access to mental health experts is wonderful, but it’s not enough. It’s crucial for leaders to insist upon & model the benefits.

Anecdotally, at the beginning of 2020 I told my team that the company would cover the costs of therapy for everyone. Months went by, and almost nobody took me up on the offer.

What I realized is that people are much more willing to speak up about physical pain and illness than they are about needing or wanting mental health benefits. They’re concerned about being seen as compromised, weak, unable to handle the pressure of their position, etc. There is a stigma there.

I could have just let it go, and drawn the conclusion that nobody wanted to take me up on the offer. But instead, I realized I needed to change my messaging, and shared openly that I see a therapist regularly, have a business coach, and rely on this support for my emotional robustness and wellbeing. By the end of the year every single person on my team had taken me up on the offer and began seeing a therapist. Unsurprisingly, out of all the benefits my company offers our team, this has been the singular most valuable opportunity of them all.

In short, it’s essential to not only offer mental health benefits, but model the behavior, be consistent in messaging, and do your part to remove the stigma surrounding the usage of these benefits.

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?

People have realized if they don’t feel valued, have a sense of belonging, or that they’re being treated well, they don’t have to take it anymore. They can, and will, leave. I think it’s a major wake up call for leaders across the board.

I think the message businesses need to hear from these headlines is that if they aren’t willing to meet their employees where they are, listen, and compromise, they’re going to fall behind the curve. The corporate workforce has demonstrated what is important to them, and the old school methods simply aren’t going to cut it anymore. It’s time to evolve.

Similarly, I think the corporate world is learning that offering mental health benefits, flexible scheduling, and hyper-personalization are not ‘extras’, but must-haves if they want to continue to attract and keep top talent. Thankfully, tech has created a lot of great solutions for companies that are looking to evolve, and has made a lot of these changes really accessible and easy to implement and scale.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Hyper-personalization of the employee work experience.
  • Now that employees have experienced much greater flexibility and agency in making decisions about how, when, and where they work, they will expect more of this into the future.
  • This is evidenced by an increasing number of top candidates turning down excellent jobs that require mandatory in-office attendance. While they may be willing to come into the office at times, or when required for specific types of gatherings or meetings, they want to have the option to choose their in-office time.

2. The office becomes a place of purpose.

  • We have proven that, for the most part, people can function and be productive from anywhere. If that’s the case, then the office as a place to do the same activity that people were doing from home becomes pointless. The office, therefore, needs to become a place of purpose, where leaders and teams intentionally create new rituals and meaning to the experience of communing together synchronously.
  • E.g. An increasing number of companies are working with their teams to figure out what’s new and special about being in the office together. Is the office a place for social interaction, strategic conversations, engagements that focus on creativity and innovation, or other? In essence, what can happen in the office that’s not possible or less effective in a remote work setup?

3. Mental and emotional well-being in the spotlight.

  • Mental and emotional health is in the spotlight, due to circumstances brought about through the prolonged pandemic. With the melding of work and home, people have become more ‘always on’ than ever, and increasing fatigue and burnout as a consequence is pervasive in almost all organizations that I encounter.
  • While many companies have realized the need to offer some type of support to help those who are mentally or emotionally unwell, there remains a stigma around this type of incapacity. People are much more willing to call in sick or go and see a doctor for a physical ailment, but still very reluctant to do so when they are experiencing burnout, depression, or other mental illness. To ensure that affected people are getting the support they need, is a constant effort — ongoing normalization of psychotherapy and insistence and assurance about confidentiality. You might not get it right on the first offer, but over time, people will eventually start to take up the support.

4. Inclusion, equality, and bias gains an additional layer of significance.

  • With the hybrid workplace likely to become the norm, leaders in every team will need to pay attention to how decisions are being made, both ‘formally’ and ‘informally’. With some people being in the office, it will be tempting (and easy) for quick impromptu meetings to take place with those who see one another in person on a regular basis — leaving those who have chosen to work remotely excluded from the conversation. The decision-making ‘table’ so to speak, needs to remain inclusive, and this is going to require deliberate awareness and intention.
  • In addition, leaders need to become aware of bias and judgment that could creep into the workplace in relation to remote workers. Being passed up for projects, promotions or other opportunities are possible career limitations that could arise for those who are not ‘in person’, if those in the power seats have returned to the office.

5. Social impact is a critical differentiator for attracting top talent.

  • The way in which high-quality candidates make decisions about their future has changed. Emerging as one of the key differentiators in the talent attraction process is the value, purpose and meaning that companies offer their employees. The pandemic period has been intensely introspective for many, resulting in a re-evaluation of priorities, and more people seeking to gain meaning (rather than just money) from their daily work.
  • Across the board (not just Millennials or Gen Z’s), great performers are more likely to consider one company over another because of the potential to make a meaningful contribution with their work.

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?

“People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)

In my earlier years, I would often put action, output, and results ahead of people. Being an entrepreneur means that I have a tendency to be impatient, not always tactful, and very driven. That drive is often seen as a positive thing, and it is, but the shadow side of that drive means that the excitement of moving ahead can manifest as impatience and a lack of consideration. Specifically, putting immediate action above how I deliver my message.

I began to get feedback that my communication was being perceived a bit harsher than I intended. My enthusiasm for results was translating as overly intense. I started to realize that how you say something is just as important, if not more so, than what you say. Your method of delivery deserves just as much thought as the message you are delivering.

Now, my goal is to make sure everyone I interact with walks away from the conversation feeling positive. Even if I’m giving critical feedback or addressing a mistake, I never want anyone to feel negatively about the interaction itself. This lesson has carried over into my personal life as well, and I’ve seen such a difference.

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.

This is a tough question because there’re so many people I admire and would love to chat with, but if I had to pick one person I’d say Brenė Brown. She has such a wealth of knowledge within the social science & leadership space, and as someone who is fascinated by human behavior, I’d love to be able to pick her brain! Her work is exceptional and has made a huge difference in the way I view leadership, empathy, resilience, and many other things.

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 share original content and resources on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and on my website www.debbiegoodmanleadership.com.

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