Flexible hours — particularly for working parents. COVID-19 has allowed employees to discuss aspects of work/life balance that had been previously brushed under the rug. Now working parents are more comfortable asking managers to leave early to collect the kids, and can readjust their work to fit their lifestyle — not the other way around.

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 Ed Rossiter.

Ed Rossiter is the founder and co-CEO of Phoenix, a global specialist recruitment brand. He founded Phoenix in 2018 and scaled rapidly throughout the course of the pandemic, while servicing many companies with the same ambitions. Phoenix offer recruitment services to companies in tech, fintech, financial services and professional services. Phoenix is a modern recruitment agency, focusing on the issues that impact the future of the workforce.

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! So, I grew up in a very tiny rural village in the south east of Ireland where we had no grocery store, two bars (how cliche), a church and my entire elementary school had 24 people in it. We also grew up very near an amazing beach where we spent a lot of time growing up and probably shaped my love for beaches around the world. Fun fact — the movie Saving Private Ryan was filmed right beside where we lived so I used to get up at sunrise and walk to the sand dunes to watch Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg do their thing!

My parents have always been a big influence on me as a person — my Mom is a farmer’s daughter, a nurse and grew up in a family of 11. My father worked in technology sales and leadership for many years and also ran his own small business for a period. Both have always worked tirelessly to provide, my mother worked night shifts, weekends and holidays and in the early 90s I remember my father lost his job due to a recession and struggled to find something suitable locally so he ended up having to move to Germany to work on a building site for months on end. He used to wire home his pay every month to keep things running at home. This ‘whatever it takes’ attitude is something that has always stuck with me and absolutely shaped me into the person I am 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?

This is the million dollar question really! So, the seismic shift from office based to fully remote really just showed us all that working remotely and effectively is absolutely possible for most people. Remote working isn’t a new concept, in fact it’s been around since 1973 and IBM had over 2000 remote workers in 1983. However, for the most part, remote working has been associated with those who work in individual contributing roles such as software development. The desire for remote work from employees really ramped up in the past 10 years or so and COVID simply accelerated what was already happening and technology has allowed us to do this successfully. The real challenge, from what I have seen, is twofold — how do we bring teams together that traditionally feed off of team energy, collaboration and problem solving such as GTM teams and secondly how can companies build a collaborative and social culture if the majority of the business is working remotely.

When I think about the workplace & workforce 10–15 years from now, I believe a lot of what we see today will still be there. People will want the flexibility to work from wherever when desired, work the hours that suits them best but also have the opportunity to be part of an office based culture and build relationships in person with their colleagues. COVID reminded me and many others that we are social creatures, we crave interactions and relationships which simply cannot be replaced by Zoom or Teams meetings. In real life (IRL) meetings are very hard to replicate and to me, it’s what builds a culture in any organisation. Technology will certainly evolve over the next 10 years or so — perhaps instead of Zoom meetings, we will all have VR headsets on and sit in a meeting room with our colleagues in the Metaverse.

The workplace of the future, in my opinion, will be a much more collaborative, team centric environment where there are no individual desks or cubicles, only spaces where teams come together once a week or month to strategize and most importantly — socialise.

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

Flexibility — what worked 3 years ago, simply does not work today. Organisations that have taken a hard line on a return to office have suffered from a PR and employee engagement perspective. As an employer myself, I understand the natural desire to have people back in the office as much as possible but this desire can be easily resolved by investing in the best tech stack for your business. We use a data analytics platform so all our staff can track their daily or weekly activity levels to ensure they remain on track, we invested in cloud based phone solutions which allows us to work anywhere if we wish and we have blended this flexibility with a positive in office experience also.

Unfortunately, with a recession looming, my fear is that some employers will leverage this as an opportunity to revert back to a less flexible model. A healthy blend between the two is essential. It’s important to remember that a workplace is an incredibly social place and where many lifelong friendships are made — for younger generations entering the workforce, they expect the flexibility and choice to work remotely but also long for the social interaction with people of a similar age. Let’s remember that most people don’t move to major cities to sit in an apartment and work from their bedside — they want to interact with others and build relationships, so offering an environment to do this in is essential.

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?

At a basic level, and in the short term, I think a lot of the struggle will revolve around flexibility and how often people need to attend an office space. However, the past 5+ years has conditioned the majority of employees to expect a lot more from their prospective or current employers — most of which revolve around benefits and perks. The recent dip in Tech stocks specifically has been an interesting development when you connect it back to employee’s expectations. In recent years, the company that offered the most share options, free ‘merch’, had the best free food and socials were strongly considered very attractive by employees.

Given the recent collapse of many tech valuations and the retraction of VC funding, many tech companies will have to rethink where their money is spent and whether these extra perks are worth the cost. Anecdotally, I’ve heard many of my friends who work in tech been given additional shares in the business for winning a team competition or challenge — this is obviously unsustainable but conditioning your staff to expect these rewards and perks may leave many employees irked when employers simply can’t afford to offer the same level going forward.

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

As I mentioned, the companies that remain flexible and open to their employees working remotely will win in the long run.

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?

The workforce has gone through a staggering amount of change in recent years, and I do not see this as slowing down anytime soon. Acceptance that there should no longer be a one size fits all approach to work is crucial at all levels.

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

People — As much as ‘how we work’ has changed in recent years, I still firmly believe that people need in person, social interaction to be truly fulfilled. It’s who we are as humans and we all want to identify as someone who is part of a clan and is proud to work for a company that values their contribution.

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?

The area of mental health and wellbeing support has become one of the key criteria for most job seekers. Many of whom place these benefits above an increase in salary. Some of the more innovative strategies offered to employees include a monthly subscription allowance to mental health apps like Headspace or Calm.

We have seen companies offer mental health days to employees — an allowance of days where employees can take a day for themselves at their choosing. Other innovative initiatives include ‘no meeting days’, company wide weeks off to avoid burnout, company paid for therapy sessions and telem edical services are some of new initiatives being rolled out by companies to support positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

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?

I don’t typically buy into the flashy headlines or taglines attached to the employment market — for the most part it’s a media driven way of gathering attention, saying that, the underlying context of these labels I always find interesting. From the Great Resignation to the Great Reevaluation — the key message to leaders is that the workforce has changed, people expect more flexibility in how they work and even when they work. Workplaces need to evolve quickly to accommodate this or they will lose out on the best talent. People value more than just a salary in exchange for labour, they want to feel empowered to structure their work life and home life in a way that suits them best.

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

  1. Hybrid working — both the prevalence of this trend, as well as how employers will view the demand as we continue to move out of the COVID-19 aftermath will be of interest.
  2. Flexible hours — particularly for working parents. COVID-19 has allowed employees to discuss aspects of work/life balance that had been previously brushed under the rug. Now working parents are more comfortable asking managers to leave early to collect the kids, and can readjust their work to fit their lifestyle — not the other way around.
  3. Upskilling and training for employees — there has been a shift in the workforce, focusing more on ‘skills’ than role’s, and this is something that I think we will see continuing over the next few years. Companies are spending more time and resources into training employees, focusing on both hard and soft skills, which can save a lot of turnover heartache.
  4. Emphasis on mental health — more and more existing, and prospective, employees are citing wellness benefits as an important factor when choosing a job, as well as an increasing number of companies acknowledging this shift and putting systems in place to match this.
  5. Digital transformation — it is impacting every area of our lives, and work will not be much different.

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?

One that I say on repeat is ‘Trust the process’ — I’m sure everyone in Phoenix is bored of me saying that but it’s something I truly live by. Once you have a plan or strategy, stick with it but be flexible in how you achieve the goal — there will always be ups and downs but if you trust that the path you are on is ultimately the correct path to success, then in my experience, it will always work out.

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.

I’m a big sports fan so here’s hoping that Tom Brady or Michael Jordan is free for breakfast. From a business standpoint, I grew up reading Richard Branson’s books and learning about how he started his entrepreneurial journey, the chances he took, the mistakes he made and he’s certainly had a big impact on me. Interestingly my very first business venture was a social magazine too!

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?

Find me on Linkedin & twitter (@edphoenixrec)

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