Location Independence and Flexibility. Some newer organizations have been operating this way even pre-COVID. For instance, Galactic Fed, a growth marketing organization has 100 employees working in 12 different countries. Co-Founder Zach Boyette hasn’t paid mortgage or rent since 2016, preferring instead to live as a full-time nomad. While there is a shortage of nurses and nursing assistants, there is an upturn in traveling nurses. There are even organizations like Remote Year, that provide opportunities to travel the world while you work. More and more people want location-independence or at least more flexibility in scheduling to allow for true work-life balance.
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 Donna Cutting.
Donna Cutting is the author of “Employees First! Inspire, Engage, and Focus on the HEART of Your Organization” (Career Press, 2022) and the Founder and CEO of Red-Carpet Learning Worldwide. She and her team work with mission-driven leaders to create cultures of happy people who deliver red-carpet customer service.
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.
When I was a young girl, my Dad and his 13 siblings pulled their money together to send my grandparents (Memere and Pepere) to Rome, Italy. It was one of only a few times they had ever left Fall River, Massachusetts. On the day they were to arrive home a bunch of the family gathered in their house. My aunts were cooking up a storm and my mother was put in charge of decorations. She found this remnant of some carpet, which happened to be red, in the back of a closet. She rolled it out on the sidewalk and asked my Uncle Arthur to park the car in front of it when he brought my grandparents back from the airport. I watched as they got out of the car and stepped on the red carpet like stars of the silver screen. This is an image I’ve held onto all my life, and it inspired my first book and my message around the idea that everyone deserves the red-carpet treatment. It’s all about making people feel seen, heard and important.
As a young adult, I had a wonderful boss named Dawn who naturally made people feel seen, heard, and important. I watched how she expertly built a real team, and she gave me opportunities to grow in my role. Her mentorship and example are another reason why I’m able to do all that I’m doing today.
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 remain the same is that we’ll be working with human beings who bring with them all their emotions, passions, belief systems, fears, love, and the need to be seen, heard, and know they matter. Even with rapid technological changes, the use of artificial intelligence, robots, etc., human beings will always be needed.
So, what must change is that we stop treating people like commodities and develop leaders who bring more empathy, heart, and compassion to the workplace. There will be less top-down leadership and more collaboration between departments and people at every level of an organization. Employees will have louder voices and drive change in greater ways than they do now.
Our expectation of employee retention will change as people are less likely to stay with one company for many years, preferring instead to have many different experiences. To retain people for as long as they can, employers will want to personalize the employee experience. For instance, realizing that benefits are not one-size-fits-all. Your twenty-five-year-old employee may not care about your great 401K plan and your baby boomers may not care about college tuition. Providing opportunities for flexible scheduling, location-independence, or job sharing may work for some. Others may prefer to work on-site every day. Companies will personalize the experience for employees much like they strive to do for customers.
Watch, also, for more family friendly policies and actual attention to what it means to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Start actively listening to your employees. The Great Resignation is one way they are speaking up and saying that they are not happy with the way we’ve been working. Go beyond your annual employee survey and host listening sessions, one-on-one conversations, and focus groups. Keep an open mind and refrain from taking a defensive position. Then use the information you receive to co-collaborate the future of the workplace. Involve people at every level of the organization in the conversations. Your team members know what it will take to create a place where they want to work — the question is, are you listening and working with them to make the needed changes?
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?
There’s been a tendency to look for quick fixes for deeper issues. Employers will call upon human resource departments to create programs or launch initiatives to combat employee retention challenges. Even before the pandemic, it wasn’t working. According to the 2019 Retention Report conducted by the Work Institute, there has been an 88 percent increase in U.S. employee turnover since 2010, and the global talent shortage in April 2020 was almost double what it was ten years prior. With all the focus on employee engagement and retention “programs,” the numbers were getting worse, not better.
The biggest gaps will be whether employers are willing to do the deep work needed to create workplaces where people feel included and cared about. For instance, you can host annual diversity, equity and inclusion workshops and check a box, or you can dive into your organizational structure to reveal the opportunities and make the changes needed to become a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
It’s about more than compensation and benefits, although those certainly come in to play. Rather, what are the daily working conditions? Employers must be willing to do the difficult work of streamlining long-entrenched procedures to reduce workload to manageable levels, improve communication channels, and make it easier for people to do their jobs effectively.
The answer is not in a program, it’s in your culture. However, culture goes beyond ping pong tables and beer Fridays. It starts by taking a tough look at your current policies and procedures and shedding what’s no longer necessary as we move into the future of work.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
It already has influenced the workplace. You’re always going to have people who would prefer to work at the company’s location, but more and more have realized they can work from anywhere. One salesperson exclaimed to me that just one day at home would enable her to knock out more of her prospect calls but, now that we’re beyond the initial stages of the pandemic, her employer wouldn’t allow it.
Employers who expect people to work onsite exclusively should expect pushback. Most people today can work from anywhere and more and more people are more interested in location independence so they can travel while doing their jobs.
There are, of course, tethered employees such as many health care workers that will always have to show up to a specific location and work directly with patients or other customers. Employers who want to be attractive to those in these types of positions will offer flexible schedules, job sharing, or other options that enable people to put their home lives ahead of their work lives. Even still, many health care institutions are being forced to rely on traveling nurses and nursing assistants as candidates are embracing higher wages and the ability to work on their own schedule. You can fight the changes or you can lean in and reshape the way the people at your company work.
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?
We’ve got to move out of heads and into our hearts. As a society, I believe we’ve gone through a collective values readjustment. We got a chance to see what really matters and I think it’s going to be interesting in the coming years to see what becomes important to us.
Materialism and status may be out, and caring about the world and others will, hopefully, be in. The new generation is definitely more interested in purpose over profits when it comes to their choice of workplace.
We also have to normalize the conversation around mental health. The past couple of years have been no less than a traumatic experience and will impact our emotional wellness we may not even recognize yet. As a society we’ve got to end the stigma of mental illness and create safe spaces for people to get the help they need.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
With great turbulence often comes great transformation. This is what I hang onto during disruptive times. We can use this time as a wakeup call to create a workplace that’s more respectful, caring, inclusive, and safe for everyone.
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?
In addition to offering and promoting Employee Assistance Programs, smart employers are working to create real world strategies for reducing workplace stress. This means reprioritizing and reducing workloads, as well as opening up the channels of communication and giving people safe spaces to speak up.
It’s time for leaders to take humanity into account and build workplace systems that work for the whole person. Create a sustainable approach to work where people can have real work-life balance.
Some organizations are also offering wellness programs that help people in their daily lives — whether it’s with their physical health, their financial health, or counseling services for their emotional health. We’re going to see more of this as time goes on as the need will become even more apparent on the other side of this pandemic.
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?
The media boils these events down to soundbites and headlines, but the reality is that the conversation around employee turnover has been happening for a very long time. It took a pandemic to lead most of us into a collective values readjustment and people are making concrete decisions about what they truly want for their lives. The message of “The Great Resignation” is that the cultures in our workplaces aren’t working for many of us.
Even pre-pandemic, leaders have been trying to figure out how to retain employees and employee turnover was at an all time high. The retention programs, initiatives, and quick fixes didn’t work. It’s time to go deeper. This means actively listening to people, valuing and respecting their opinions and experience, and understanding that your culture is built with every interaction between each individual that works at your organization.
It also means that leaders must be open to new ways of working, whether that means more flexibility with locations or scheduling, giving people more of a voice, collaborating across departments and positions, reconfiguring compensation models, or something else. The answer will come when you deeply listen to the people you employ.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Employees Will Have a Louder Voice in the Organization. The Great Resignation, the current unionization efforts by some, the trend towards gig work and entrepreneurism are all ways that employees are speaking up! Smart employers will start listening and be more intentional about including employees in change-conversations and the decisions that impact them. The Voice of the Employee will become as important as the Voice of the Customer and as a result, leadership style will become more collaborative.
In fact, I’ve been conducting interviews with hourly wage workers on what makes them feel valued and listening to them tops the list. Here’s a link to a video that offers my research results on the 5 Things that Make Employees Feel Valued.
2. Purpose-Driven Work will be paramount. Millennials and others are looking for purposeful work and place a higher priority on working for organizations that are making the world a better place. A 2018 study called the Employee Retention Report by TINYpulse found that employees who believe their company has a higher purpose over money making are 27% more likely to stay. Companies can achieve this by focusing on how their products and services make a difference in the world or aligning themselves with other organizations that do. However, the intention must be a real desire to involve employees in a cause greater than themselves and place purpose and people over profits.
3. More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Workplaces. People are also placing greater priority on more diverse and inclusive workplaces. This means going beyond giving lip service to DEI (the many statements created after the killing of George Floyd with minimum action taken, for example) to doing the real work of being more inclusive. Gone are the days where you can offer one education session on DEI and call it a day. Employers who are more intentional about hiring, language, education, and whose voices are being heard will attract and retain a larger pool of talent.
4. Location Independence and Flexibility. Some newer organizations have been operating this way even pre-COVID. For instance, Galactic Fed, a growth marketing organization has 100 employees working in 12 different countries. Co-Founder Zach Boyette hasn’t paid mortgage or rent since 2016, preferring instead to live as a full-time nomad. While there is a shortage of nurses and nursing assistants, there is an upturn in traveling nurses. There are even organizations like Remote Year, that provide opportunities to travel the world while you work. More and more people want location-independence or at least more flexibility in scheduling to allow for true work-life balance.
5. Transparent Communication. With remote work and a more collaborative style of management comes the need for more timely and transparent communication. It no longer works for top leaders or middle managers to be the keeper of keys and shut others out of the information they need to do their jobs well. Both synchronistic and asynchronistic communication channels will be necessary as people work across many time zones. Companies like Buffer.com, a social media scheduling tool, has even posted the salaries of every employee on their website for the world to see.
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?
There’s a quote from Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, that reads: Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two lies resistance.
It sits in a frame on my desk and has guided me through many intentional leaps in my career and personal life. It’s appropriate in the context of this conversation as well. There’s an amazing company culture out there waiting to be created. One that will attract and retain people. The only thing in its way is resistance. Open your minds and hearts to new possibilities and you may just find yourselves in a vibrant, exciting workplace where people are lining up to contribute.
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.
Oh, gosh, so many people! May I name three?
Brene Brown — her story, her research, her realness — it’s all so inspiring. Her book Dare to Lead is one of the books I think everyone in a leadership position should be reading right now. There are no quick fixes in her work. The woman goes deep and invites others to go with her.
Oprah Winfrey — I recognize I’m not alone in this wish. What an extraordinary story of perseverance, intentional living, failure, and success. I’m inspired by the choices she makes to use her work to make the world a better place. I strive to do the same.
Richard Branson — Perhaps the world’s greatest modern visionary who has, for many years, has understood the importance of putting employees first.
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?
Thank you for asking!
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.