A real work/life balance — The script will flip because employees will be interviewing potential employers to see if there will be support for personal wellbeing and lifestyle needs. This cannot just be lip service but will need to be demonstrated through the company policies and benefits packages. Time-off, child and elderly parent care, gym, yoga, and mindfulness classes, remote work, and flexible working hours, to name a few.

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 Delante L. Bess.

Delante is the VP of Technology and Digital Transformation at New Apprenticeship, an organization providing opportunities for underserved populations by developing their technical leadership skills and placing them into companies all over the United States. Delante is also the founder and CEO of D.L. Bess Consulting, a technical consulting firm delivering web design, development, and consulting services to businesses all over the world. When Delante is not working you can find him biking, hiking, reading, drawing, photographing, watching all things Marvel, making coffee from scratch, faking like he can play golf, or spending quality time with his family.

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.

Thinking back, I would say reading at 4 years old was probably one of the most powerful life-changing experiences for me that has shaped who I am today, since it opened another dimension in my young mind. At that young age, you are already very curious and inquisitive, and now to add new ideas written hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago was phenomenal.

To add to that, my father, who taught me to read (I remember vividly the flashcards and spelling books), was another major change agent in my life. So, when he prematurely passed in 2012, this was a huge life-altering experience for me. There was so much that I wanted to do with him and talk to him about but never got a chance to. While grieving over a loss in your life never goes away, I figured to make him proud and do what he may have done, so I took up his advice, which was to “learn to talk to machines and people.” And, that’s what I am doing!

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 think we are seeing the beginning stages of what work will look like in the future. I can see people working from anywhere, at any time, with more flexibility in the waking hours of the day. The meta world will redefine how meetings will be conducted, and I am not just talking about FaceBook, but other companies leveraging AR/VR for a more immersive experience outside of the physical walls of a building.

Automation will be a major workforce driver. We have seen robots take over repetitive tasks for areas such as manufacturing, but automated systems will work in conjunction with human resources. For instance, we use automation at New Apprenticeship to reduce time spent on tedious administrative tasks, giving team members more strategic and creative time.

I am also keeping an eye out on the space travel and technology in general that have literally taken off in the last couple of years, which can lead to groundbreaking changes in how we work. For example, companies like Solstar Space that are developing internet in space, or the company Made in Space that is producing 3D-printing tools and equipment in an off-Earth environment, could potentially make breakthroughs for things we can use here on Earth.

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

If the last two years have taught us anything, be ready to pivot at any given moment. The continual investment in your company’s digital infrastructure and innovation will be vital from here on out. It will be necessary to continue digitally accelerating to create innovations, hopefully without burning out employees.

This leads me to the second point: focus on the employee experience. There is an increasing amount of evidence now that demonstrates when employees feel valued and listened to, it directly correlates to an increase of happiness, productivity, and profits for businesses. Even something as simple as sending your team a one-question monthly email survey can help communicate to them that their opinions hold merit in company operations as a whole. At New Apprenticeship, our payroll software, Gusto, implements this automatically for us each month. So our employees get to voice their opinions regularly and leadership can easily view the feedback and take it into consideration.

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 will be between the measurement of time and productivity. If employers are going to allow flexible time, time-off, sabbaticals, etc., employees will need to demonstrate quantifiable measurements of productivity respective of the job requirement. Employers setting real KPIs per individual via business unit, with incentives to produce at a high level will be useful. As long as the employee can meet those expectations, it should not matter if they are working at 9 am — 5 pm, or if they are sitting in between the four walls of a building.

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

First off we’ll need to shift our mindset about what is normal, and organizations probably should not try to put the “toothpaste back in the tube” by trying to recreate what they thought was normal pre-pandemic. Now is the time to enable more flexibility and creativity with the WFH and hybrid models. This will mean educating employees to develop their digital skills and/or hiring more digitally resilient people.

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?

As much as I want to say that we need to create a working environment for everyone, the fact is, there will be resistors. In the 21st century, we have people still resistant to technological change. Therefore, there will need to be a concerted effort by public and private institutions in educating the society on the benefits of digital transformation.

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

Wow…this is a good one! I would say viewing the resilience of humanity to persevere through any crises, whether that be a terrorist attack, economic depression, pandemic, and now, as I write this, an international war. I recall being stuck in an airport (O’Hare) recently for over 3 hours, and some people had been there for 8 hours, or all day and night; however, I witnessed the humanity of people helping each other. Strangers entertaining other people’s children to keep them from crying and probably from themselves going crazy, or a person buying food for someone else that could not afford it. We were all stuck on the same “boat”…or plane rather and were from every demographic background imaginable, but supporting each other. I see the work environment will have to do the same, support and listen to the needs of its workers.

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?

Before we do anything revolutionary, we’ll need employers to do the fundamental things consistently. For example, proper time off without the guilt of taking a mental break for x amount of time to perform self-care. I still hear from employees today that they fear taking too much time off because of the stigma or perception that they are not doing enough to contribute to the business. So, time off is critical to collect your thoughts and recharge your mind and body.

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?

Conduct a company audit that surveys the pulse and feelings of your employees. Find out where they are at mentally and try to meet them there. Most people work more than they do anything else in their day-to-day lives, so it is imperative that employers understand the mental processes and be proactive with that. The leadership of any company needs to be trained to recognize the emotional makeup of their direct reports. Perhaps specialized training in Emotional Intelligence (EQ) would add value in the long run.

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

1. A real work/life balance — The script will flip because employees will be interviewing potential employers to see if there will be support for personal wellbeing and lifestyle needs. This cannot just be lip service but will need to be demonstrated through the company policies and benefits packages. Time-off, child and elderly parent care, gym, yoga, and mindfulness classes, remote work, and flexible working hours, to name a few.

2. Diversity and equity in leadership — Employees are keeping an eye on how companies are opening pathways of growth for a wider demographic. I am a living example of that, not only when I assume a role in a company, but when people see me in a leadership position, they inquire about how to join forces. Interestingly, I just finished watching the first black woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court today. That will resonate.

3. Apprenticeships — This may be a bit biased, but it is a serious topic right now with the shortage of trained labor. Employers need to train culturally and technically from the bottom-up to develop new leaders in their organizations: perhaps looking past the traditional criteria of getting an expensive degree from a “good” school and really thinking about bringing people in as an apprentice to work under their mentorship. You know…a New Apprenticeship!

4. Creative Destruction — Major companies are investing heavily in artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate a number of different jobs with software platforms or robots. Ideally, I would like to see people retrained in other areas if they get replaced by an automated machine, so that is why I am keeping a close eye on this trend.

5. Entrepreneurship  I do believe that those who have retired early or quit their jobs may just need a break from the rat race and still have something to offer to the world economy. Start-ups and small businesses may rise in the next 5–10 years.

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?

“Excuses are tools of the incompetent. They build monuments of nothingness. Those who choose to use them seldom amount to anything.” I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and this quote was required to be memorized. We had to memorize a lot of things, but this one stuck with me…forever.

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 hard one, seriously. I have a long list. Can we make this a last supper type environment with many players at the table?

I am going to leverage recency bias here and flip a coin. One side (Heads) is Neal deGrasse Tyson, because I just finished his Masterclass and the other side (Tails) is Howard Schultz, because I am currently reading his book Pour Your Heart into It…and…Tails won. Either would have been great, but I’d love to have a discussion on the romance of coffee, from the green bean to the cup. And, of course, entrepreneurial, business, and leadership. By the way, when I think of the future of work and the relationship between employers and employees, look no further than Starbucks, it has been a champion of work/life balance for decades now.

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 can be found at dlbessconsulting.com or newapprenticeship.com.

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

Thank you so much for this opportunity and I hope to speak with you again soon.