How We Define “Skill” is Changing — A certain level of experience is always valuable, but organizations are seeing that skills can be taught. Mindset, enthusiasm, and passion are often better indicators of a worker’s potential than their past job experience or educational background.

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 Doug Hanson.

Doug is the CEO of Topcoder, a crowdsourcing company and platform with a community of over 1 million designers, developers, data scientists, programmers, and other talented professionals. Prior to joining Topcoder, Doug served as COO for 6 Degrees Health — where he led business optimization, sales, and the go-to-market strategy — and held several leadership positions at GrubHub, Amazon, Vivid Seats, and Microsoft. Throughout his career, Doug has played pivotal roles including launching and scaling business lines, driving revenue growth, optimizing performance marketing, and architecting customer-focused business analytics for global organizations.

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.

This is a tough question to start with. I believe there are so many experiences in your life that help shape who you are. Who I was as a young adult is a fraction of who I am today. If I look back to my early years, I was raised by a single mom who worked really hard. She always found time for her family. She was, and still is, a very positive and open-minded person. My mom is a great listener, empathetic, and sees the good in everyone. She taught me to trust and believe in people. Those are qualities that I continue to carry with me 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?

Staffing will still be difficult 10–15 years from now, not for lack of technology, but because of the core challenge of aligning supply (people) with demand (needs of a company). Technology can streamline the process and provide all the necessary tools, but people need to decide if they want to work in a specific field.

In terms of what will be different, the workforce will be more fluid and agile. It will be easier to become a freelancer and more fulfilling. Companies will always have a core group of employees, but there will be more gig workers and crowdsourced work. Work will look different; it will be atomized and broken into smaller pieces for highly skilled and passionate workers to take on. Because of open innovation platforms, “novelty” will flourish. New ideas and approaches to solving problems will come from individuals we never would have thought to look to in the past.

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

From a personnel perspective, you have to invest in understanding what your employees are passionate about. It’s not always about pay for people — money and perks will only keep them for so long. One way to allow your organization to be more fluid is to look at how work is assigned. Is there an opportunity for your employees to get involved in projects across your organization where they can upskill, take on a passion project, and/or showcase an untapped skill? When you care about your employees and their futures, you future-proof your organization.

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 gaps will be in flexibility. Employers need to be more flexible and not worry about where, what, who, and when. They should focus on getting the work done. Companies who can’t get there are going to struggle

As far as strategies, employers need to listen to their employees and get feedback. It’s not always about pay, it’s building trust with your employees. That starts with listening to what their needs are. Don’t assume you know what your employees want because it’s not one-size-fits-all. Employers who are unwilling to offer hybrid work and insist on employees being in the office 40 hours a week should likewise expect to pay more for talent going forward. Employees expect flexibility and more focus on mental health and a healthy work-life balance. Organizations need to make sure HR and culture are set up to support that.

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

Employers should understand that there will be productivity gains if companies can allow more flexibility and empowerment. Flexibility doesn’t mean “do whatever you want”, it means, “I trust you to produce quality results and I don’t need to stand over you.” If this happens, employees will be more engaged and passionate about their work.

Flexibility means opening up to working with someone who might not have the education or exact work experience you initially expected. If you’re more flexible, you’ll get people that are more inspired, ultimately resulting in a higher quality output.

Flexibility means updating how you think about productivity. Historically, if someone was sitting in their seat, the assumption was that they were working. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The future of work will break free of this idea — that time spent equals work. Actually getting the work done — that’s productivity.

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 have to be open to ideas from all around and from everywhere. We must be humble enough to admit that we don’t know everything and be open to new and different ways to solve problems. If, as a society, we really value openness and inclusion, we have to be willing to work with people who aren’t exactly like us. It’s easy to say, “I want diversity”, but we need to truly live those values. We all need to play our part in making diversity and inclusion the norm.

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

I have a lot of optimism for the future of work. I joined Topcoder because I strongly believe in a future where we’re able to unlock the potential of individuals all over the world. When people are putting time and effort into work that they find rewarding and are passionate about, there will be higher quality outcomes for everyone. I’m optimistic that open talent models, crowdsourcing, and the gig economy will render workplace bias and hiring inequality obsolete. There will be opportunities provided for all. I’m optimistic that these changes will have a positive impact on everyone in the equation — workers, organizations, and society.

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?

I think it’s important that we not stigmatize mental health. From there, it’s about adopting programs and practices that put the people in your organization first. Businesses are all about people, so if you don’t take care of your people, you’re not going to take care of the business. We need to normalize taking mental health days. People bring their whole selves to work, whether you want them to or not, so the more you can treat them as whole people, the better off you will be.

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?

Employees are not happy. Leaders need to ask, “What do my people need to be inspired every day?” Employers should encourage dialogue and listen, that’s how you’ll build trust. You can’t force a company culture. Culture is a living thing — behaviors and practices that express an organization’s values. Transparency and communication are critical. Employers should develop a set of values and live by them.

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

  1. Open Talent Models Have Mainstreamed — On-demand open talent models have become a mainstreamed part of the workforce, and businesses are utilizing on-demand talent frequently and regularly.

For example, businesses are acquiring, investing in, and developing closer relationships with specialized B2B talent networks and platforms, using the on-demand talent platforms to hire (or stream) the skills they need exactly when they need them.

2. Work Structures are Changing — Open talent strategies and horizontal cross-functional teams are replacing traditional vertical hierarchies and siloed organizational models.

For example, companies increasingly tackle mission-critical projects with cross-functional teams, sometimes called SWAT teams, Tiger Teams, squads, or fellowships. These groups guide projects through the stages of planning, execution, and delivery, and make it easier for companies to address more than one problem at a time. This practice promotes empowerment, expertise sharing, accountability, focus, professional growth, and concurrency.

3. How We Define “Skill” is Changing — A certain level of experience is always valuable, but organizations are seeing that skills can be taught. Mindset, enthusiasm, and passion are often better indicators of a worker’s potential than their past job experience or educational background.

For example, more companies are engaging in re-skilling and upskilling initiatives. Employees who want to learn a new skill or tackle an unfamiliar project are being encouraged, rather than discouraged, to do so. Side interests and passions are no longer viewed as potential distractions, but rather untapped areas for development and growth.

4. We’re Becoming Less Enamored with Subject Matter Expertise and Becoming More Interested in Curiosity, Creativity and Growth Mindset — Workers and leaders that have range and bring novel approaches are on the rise. There’s a lot to be gained from outside ideas and I think we’ll see more of that.

For example, David Epstein’s book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” was named “The most important business — and parenting — book of the year”, by Forbes in 2019.

5. Adaptability Will be Key — Those that adapt to the new, networked talent ecosystems will have an advantage.

This quote from Paul Hlivko, CTO and CXO of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, sums up the advantages of adapting:

“This is really transformative for our teams. We have teams of one or smaller that are crowd powered. We get access to more diversity for talent and problem solving. We get to leverage the intellectual capital of more people. We get the right person to do the right work. We get increased resiliency. During a pandemic, we get a lot faster speed to market, and when we’re innovating, rather than just one idea from one team member or partner, we can get lots of optionality. At the end of the day, the talent demand curve is a better match.”

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?

It’s a quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I find myself saying a shortened version of that to my kids all the time, because I feel so strongly about it. I tell them, “Treat people the way you want to be treated”. It’s an old standby that works not only in your personal life, but also in business.

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.

There are so many great leaders out there that I admire and would enjoy meeting. However, if I could only choose one that’s still with us today, it would be the Dalai Lama. After reading some of his literature and seeing videos of him speaking, I feel as though anyone that meets him will walk away enlightened.

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?

They can email me at [email protected] or find me at LinkedIn at

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