SUSTAINABILITY. Sustainability is on the strategic agenda to stay. A company’s impact, its role in overall society, is a leadership responsibility that should be integral to any business strategy. Not only is it good business, it has the potential to deliver very real bottom-line benefits.

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 Eric Schurke.

Appointed CEO North America in 2020, following the acquisition of VoiceNation and Ninja Number, Eric joined Moneypenny to provide support to employees and lead in the development of tailor-made specialist communication solutions to clients across the US.

Eric’s main goal is to expand Moneypenny’s reach within the US market, with a particular focus on sectors such as real estate, legal, finance and medical and working hard to ensure that Moneypenny’s unique culture and ethos remains at the core of the business. It’s thanks to this passion that sees him leading over 250 employees, working from the state-of-the-art headquarters in Atlanta, who support hundreds of US businesses with their calls and live chat.

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. 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’m going to go against the grain here, but I think there will always be a role for the office, it will simply look a bit different.

Offices provide a physical designated space in which to work. They keep our home and work life separate, providing a clear place of work which you physically leave at the end of the day supporting the wellbeing of your team. A well-rested mind will then be able to create and innovate the very next day.

Offices make it easier to benefit from the culture of your workplace. Culture is linked to wellbeing, productivity, creativity and business performance. Having your teams together means that senior members can not only monitor the welfare of their team members but also work together to seek out opportunities, share knowledge and solve issues.

Offices help build human connections. From small talk to sharing concerns to celebrating a work anniversary being able to turn to a colleague or manager is invaluable. As a leader I am not suggesting we return to the office so that we can keep an eye on our employees in a Big Brother way, I am saying that it allows me to see my teams and to look them in the eye to support them to do the best that they can be. We need to be connected with other people, even the guy you nod to every morning on the commute makes us feel a sense of community, of belonging. We can use technology to recreate this, the advances are amazing, but can it really replace it?

So, based on this I see the office playing a role in a hybrid working style. But I do see offices changing in how they look and feel, into places people want to come to work, designed for creativity, fun, collaboration and teamwork. They will become more like second homes and this is something we have already created with our stunning offices at Moneypenny, a blurring of the lines in office and home design, with comfortable break out areas. Space will be used creatively too, with areas to support all types of working and collaboration as well as where people can work independently. And it will be flexible / multi-functional to support future growth and development.

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

It all comes down to maintaining culture, wellbeing and team empowerment. Not just because they are linked to productivity and creativity but because it is the way you do business. In future-proofing your organization you need to begin with your people, hiring the right people, trusting them, empowering them and then they will do great things for the business whatever the world throws at you.

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?

With any change comes a few teething problems. There will be disconnects between employees and employers. In moving forwards and transforming the way we work and do business, it is not a quick fix. It is a fundamental change of culture. And every business is different.

We will only get there if we communicate. As such, the foundation of successful transformation lies within leadership and culture. It is about taking people on the journey. You need to be clear on the outcomes of the transformation, how you will measure success but most importantly you need to double down on communication and training. You cannot overcommunicate.

There will be many people who feel uncomfortable and challenged by large scale change but in order to succeed they must be engaged. You need to be clear about how they fit into the future and constantly communicate why your changing things and support them through the journey.

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

It has proven two key factors that we need to learn from. First that we are humans, and we crave human connections. Looking at our business stats, call volumes increased by a third and the average length of a call increased by nearly a quarter in Lockdown 1. People want to speak to people, especially in uncertain times. They want the answer now, but they also want reassurance. Just as you have been battling, so have your clients. It can make all the difference to your business. However we do it, and whether it is for work or pleasure, we seek out ways to communicate, to connect to another person or business.

Second, it has shown us what can be achieved through embracing technology. Some would say that we have survived because of it. Working with tech giants Microsoft, Facebook, Zoom and Google, for example, companies have been able to nearly seamlessly continue whilst their teams worked from home. We have proven we can do it, and technology will continue to play its role. We have proven its significance when we weren’t quite prepared, so just think of the potential now…

And finally, it has taught us to trust our people. Culture and great tech is our thing at Moneypenny. It is something we value extremely highly but you need to trust the people that you employ, otherwise, why employ them? Even with this at the core of everything we do, we noticed that productivity actually increased during lockdown, with people doing that little extra at the start or end of the day. Having said that, we also had to tell people to ‘go home’ as they found it more difficult to switch off.

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?

Kindness and understanding. Not to be mistaken for going soft. In so many workplaces there is the perceived expectation that performance trumps all, so letting our defenses down and showing kindness also shows vulnerability — a bad thing. I disagree. Vulnerability, or allowing yourself to be exposed / who you are, means you are authentic, real and self-aware, but no one is perfect. Sharing stories of mistakes, fears is not a weakness, it is a strength. It connects us to others and it’s what gives us purpose.

Today, as a society we aim to be kind, we aren’t bad people. We have our own battles to survive, our own bias or negativities to overcome and acts of kindness are sometimes not high on our agenda as we come to terms with them. On the other hand, we can all remember a time when the simple kindness of a stranger perhaps, made a difference to our day. When we feel safe and positive, we are kinder to ourselves and others, encouraging connections with others and cooperation. Social scientists call it the ‘survival of the kindest’. And it usurps ‘survival of the fittest’ any day of the week.

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

The relationship between people and technology and the massive potential that has on the world. We know that technology will play a significant role but people are your biggest asset by far. Just think if you provide them with all the tools to become the very best version of themselves, and provide them with the technology to support that you are creating an organization of super-humans ready and agile to take on the ever-changing future of work.

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?

Create a culture of celebrity. Treating your customers as celebrities is not a new concept, they are your life blood. But when it comes to your people, your VIPs, they deserve the same red-carpet treatment, surely?

It begins with building trust from the very top, a transparent culture of openness and honesty in which people understand their value and do not fear the implications of being judged. Add an environment in which people feel safe and valued and creating a shared definition. As for your team of VIPs, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone is unique, we all respond differently, we all have different motivators, neither is better or worse than the other, simply different.

And so in offering strategies to support employee mental health and wellbeing it is about listening to what they need, and by that I mean listening and truly hearing and then providing that support. It could be sleep pods, it could be professional development, or a zen-zone or flexible working. The list is literally endless, the important factor is that the strategies are available and tailored to your celebrities.

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?

That people beat process every time. Businesses around the world state that their employees are their most important asset, proportionately few deeply embed the mantra into everything that they do. A people-based business has a culture that focuses on employees first, as well as customer relationships, before concentrating on earnings. It focuses on the human element. People do business with people.

And the benefits to business are immeasurable. Knowing that they are important to the business and that they have some ownership you will get committed, engaged, and empowered employees. Communication is open, honest, and positive. Customers become valued partners. And your business will grow in success.

The key is equipping your business and all who sail in her with the tools to be the best that they can be whatever may lay ahead. These headlines indicate that this cannot be emphasized enough, the lesson has to be learned. The business model for the future is agility — the ability to innovate, react and evolve quickly and effectively.

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

  1. HYBRID WORKING. Employees will split time between the office and home. As organization’s listen to their people more, and accept them for who they are, that they have responsibilities outside of the office, hybrid-working will be sticking around for a long time into the future. I have no doubt that how we are looking at hybrid today will have changed but that flexibility will be the driver along with the technological advancements.
  2. EMPLOYEE HEALTH & WELLBEING. The disconnect between mental health and the workplace will be addressed. As the wider acceptance of the power of your people develops, more and more value will be placed on employee wellbeing, and, like I had said, not just to look good but actually placed at the heart of a business’s values and purpose.
  3. SUSTAINABILITY. Sustainability is on the strategic agenda to stay. A company’s impact, its role in overall society, is a leadership responsibility that should be integral to any business strategy. Not only is it good business, it has the potential to deliver very real bottom-line benefits.
  4. PURPOSE. In a constantly changing world, where consumers are over-faced with options, leading with purpose and authenticity creates trust and the potential to create more resilient relationships with all involved. Customers and employees want to work with others who have similar values. And it needs to be a part of a business’ DNA.
  5. ADVANCES IN COMMUNCIATION. We’re doing a lot of work around speech to text and conversational AI right now. We’re training our own Automatic Speech Recognition systems using our PA’s so that we can increase the accuracy of our transcriptions. We’re also working with companies like Huggingface to implement state of the art conversational AI capabilities into our product base. Our goal is for our technology to work in synergy with our PA’s and to leverage AI to make the next conversation better than the last. This will only advance further…

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?

Get out of the office. Block time out of your diary for ‘me time’. That means no calls, no meetings, no interruptions. Go outside and exercise for an hour, whatever works for you. I think this is more important than ever right now with the hybrid or full-time remote work, the days never seem to end. Working from home you can end up working all day long. After dinner somehow the laptop finds its way back into your lap.

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.

It would have to be Shaquille O’Neal. An incredibly talented athlete, hugely successful entrepreneur, and tons of charity work to give back. And quite a funny sense of humor.

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