Flexibility with work hours will remain a necessary trend. Giving employees flexibility improves the morale of existing teams and gives organizations an improved chance at attracting top talent, all while maintaining productivity.

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 Evan Kaplan, CEO of InfluxData.

Evan is a passionate entrepreneur and technology leader with more than 20 years of experience in the CEO role. Evan’s career spans from creating startups in his own garage to leading NASDAQ-listed companies generating nearly $200m in annual revenue. Prior to InfluxData, Evan served as Executive in Residence at Trinity Ventures, and President and CEO at iPass Corporation (global Wi-Fi connectivity leader), and Founder, Chairman, and CEO at Aventail Corporation (pioneer of SSL VPNs, now part of Dell Corporation).

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.

I lost both my parents relatively early in my life so that had a profound impact on me (and was part of the reason I have a non-traditional background for a CEO). I had a chance to shape my life and pursue a bunch of alternative paths that were perhaps not available to my older siblings. After graduating from college, I spent a lot of time skiing and climbing around the world. Those experiences shaped my leadership style in many ways. For example, I make a point to look at a prospect’s holistic background — not just their work experience. I want to understand both their personal and professional journey, and I have come to really value candidates who evidence risk-taking and exploration. When I interview candidates, I try to understand the breadth of their experiences rather than just looking at their resumes. You can learn a lot more about people — what motivates them, what they’re looking for, etc. — when you see them in the broader context of their lives.

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?

In terms of what will stay the same, we’ll always prioritize collaboration in groups and on teams. We will continue to seek out opportunities for high-value in-person work as we do today — whether it’s an annual all-hands, team meetings, regional gatherings, etc. What will be different are the mediums we use to communicate and collaborate virtually — we’ve already seen this change since the start of the pandemic. Soon a lot of collaboration will take place in the metaverse, or we will see organizations increasingly use emerging technologies such as AR/VR to enhance the remote employee experience.

We’re also slowly moving away from the nine-to-five workday, and even the five-day workweek. The pandemic has blurred the lines between our work and home lines and ushered in this new era of employee empowerment. So with that naturally comes more flexibility for employees and inherent trust that they will get their work done within the hours that work for them.

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

Invest in your people. Right now, the competition over talent is fierce and that’s unlikely to change in the next 15–20 years. With this backdrop as our new normal, leaders need a shift in mindset and think more proactively about how they can retain employees, and keep them engaged and invested in their company’s mission.

Outside of people, leaders should look to create a multiplicity of environments that allow for both in-person and remote collaboration. Hybrid is the future of work so leaders need to evolve the way they work to address every scenario. No company will be fully in the office or fully remote at any given time. Leaders that embrace this new world order will be better positioned in the war for top talent.

For example, at InfluxData we hold a daily company-wide ‘stand up’ meeting to create a sense of unity at a company where the team is distributed around the world. Every employee joins the video chat, which lasts for about 10 minutes, and we share announcements and updates from the different divisions of our business, give employee shout-outs or recognize work anniversaries. As a fully remote company, standup has helped our company maintain its strong culture throughout the pandemic, while keeping our distributed team engaged and connected and invested in our common goal.

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?

Right now, it’s an employee’s market, so you’re going to have to increasingly index toward how people want to work. For example, employees that are located in different time zones will still need to be available at certain times of the day. But overall, we’ve entered this new era of employee empowerment, so leaders need to recognize there has been a power shift and reevaluate every aspect of the employee experience. This does not mean that there needs to be any meaningful lowering of expectations — just an increase in flexibility and trust.

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

The pandemic fundamentally changed the nature of work. The hybrid workplace will define this next era of work. While the benefits of remote/hybrid work are significant, it also presents a new hurdle for organizations to address: How to effectively strike a balance between employee trust and accountability. Organizations that empower employees to work in ways they are most effective, but still hold them accountable to their goals and objectives will be better positioned in this new world order.

I didn’t always feel this way about remote work so this is a new way of thinking for me. Early in my career, if I didn’t see employees in the office, I would get anxious. But over the past few years, I’ve been able to completely let go of that mindset. It’s about trusting your people, but also making sure they are being held accountable. If both those things are happening, it doesn’t really matter where the actual work is taking place.

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?

Everyone, from leaders to every part of the organization, will need to rely more on trust, accountability and flexibility than they did pre-pandemic. The most successful businesses will be those that embrace these three qualities and use them to adapt to the fluid nature of today’s workforce. Employees will be working in most (if not all) time zones and won’t see each other in-person every day, but that doesn’t mean productivity needs to take a hit. In fact, companies that do it right will improve both productivity and work/life balance for their teams.

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

I’m incredibly optimistic about the distributed workforce and the kinds of opportunities that it opens for employees. People can now live wherever they want. They’re no longer required to live in urban areas if they don’t want to. I love that this has unlocked new levels of flexibility that have never existed before.

I’m also happy to see there is less of an emphasis on conventional educational backgrounds. Credentials can come from a variety of different alternative education sources, which we’ve already seen with coding schools and big tech companies creating certification programs for different disciplines. We’re seeing this new type of education spread: employers are less interested in credentialization from traditional colleges and universities. Instead, employers are pursuing individuals who have specific skill sets rather than specific degrees. This opens significantly more doors, which makes the talent pool bigger and benefits both employees seeking new roles as well as organizations trying to fill them.

We’re already seeing these benefits transition into our own workforce at InfluxData. We don’t require employees to graduate from a four-year university.

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?

Most — if not all — leading tech companies, including us, have built a safety net of capabilities that employees can opt into to support both their general health and mental health. This is one positive outcome of the pandemic; these kinds of mental health services will continue to be relevant and will likely improve over time. Benefits programs were previously more focused on general healthcare, but now it includes broader offerings around mental health, birth counseling, meditation, exercise, etc. This is another good outcome of the pandemic for employees.

Another facet of mental health in the workplace is the importance of social intelligence. Good managers are attuned to their team members even if they are working remotely. If someone is slower to respond than usual, it may be that they’re stuck on a difficult project and need extra support. Maybe a usually warm and collaborative employee is getting frustrated with their peers — this could be a sign of an underlying conflict that needs to be addressed. People aren’t robots, and there are special circumstances to consider with an all-virtual workforce.

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 most important thing for business leaders to understand is this is not ‘business as usual.’ We had a complete and fundamental reshuffling of the deck, so we cannot simply return to the way things were pre-pandemic. Some things will return to the way they were; others, such as the distributed workforce and the reliance on video and other communication technologies that accelerated during the pandemic, are now part of the fabric and will not be going away. Leaders will need to understand that many of these changes are ultimately positive for their employees and should lean into them rather than resist. Leaders should support employee flexibility, but balance it with trust and accountability.

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

  1. The nine-to-five workday and, potentially, the five-day workweek, will not exist as we currently know it. This has already started in a number of organizations, and I expect that trend to continue.
  2. A new emphasis on high-value, in-person employee experiences. Organizations are increasingly bringing employees together in person for sales kick-off meetings and other company-wide events, and I think they’ll get more creative in making these events both engaging and productive.
  3. The technology we use will continue to evolve, particularly the use of technology for communication. The looming metaverse experiences and increasingly sophisticated interactions on Zoom are the first steps of virtual meetings becoming more of a true 3-D experience. With technology constantly evolving to meet modern needs, the tools for communication will surely improve too.
  4. Flexibility with work hours will remain a necessary trend. Giving employees flexibility improves the morale of existing teams and gives organizations an improved chance at attracting top talent, all while maintaining productivity.
  5. Measuring trust and accountability — actually making it a part of performance reviews and strategies like that — will emerge as a new trend. Gauging whether employees feel trusted, as well as how much trust they have in others, will help businesses develop a level of transparency that will benefit them as work continues to evolve.

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?

Not really my favorite quote, but an important idea that has shaped my perspective is “When great people meet an average product-market fit, the outcome will be average every time. But when mediocre people meet a great product-market fit, great product-market fit wins every time.”

What I mean by this is business model and product-market fit are fundamental to successful companies. While it seems obvious, it’s easy as a leader to spend your time optimizing a variety of go-to-market and operational systems and lose track of what makes people fundamentally interested in using your product. This is particularly relevant for us as an open source company — product-market fit is essential.

I also keep quotes from a variety of philosophers and leaders that inspire me.

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 don’t really feel like I need to have coffee or breakfast with anyone I admire. In these days of podcasting and long-form content, I feel free to explore interesting people and their ideas. But if I had to choose, I think it would be awesome to spend the day with Bruce Springsteen as I have grown up with his music and really enjoy virtually everything he has come out with.

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 regularly share articles about leadership, InfluxData and the time series market on LinkedIn. And if you’re interested in joining our team at InfluxData, check out our careers page — we’re hiring across departments!

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