… Human Relations: Rather than HR standing for “human resources,” in the hybrid world it can be rebranded as “human relations.” Companies are placing more of an emphasis on investing in mental health, employee wellbeing and improved lines of communication to increase productivity. With this in mind, the hybrid model naturally aligns with better mental health because people are less frequently forced to compromise their own needs for those of the company.

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 Fatima Koning.

IWG Chief Commercial Officer Fatima Koning has been with IWG for six years, leading the commercial division for the world’s largest workspace operator with over 3,300 buildings in 120 markets. She is at the forefront of supporting organizations of all sizes as they radically shift the way in which they work. Fatima is passionate about the benefits of hybrid working for both companies and employees and has seen first-hand the many virtues it brings to work-life balance, productivity and even the environment. She has built a diverse team across multiple markets and geographies.

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.

One of the most formative experiences of my life was becoming a mother. It probably sounds like a cliche, but the way parenthood changes you is profound — and the shift that surprised me most is how my journey as a mum has influenced my professional development.

When a child is young — vulnerable to every infection, dependent on you for everything, learning to walk and talk — you realise what a tremendous responsibility you’ve taken on. It’s actually a bit terrifying, but the truth is that who this person’s going to become — the kind of adult they’ll grow into — is, to a huge extent, shaped by you. Your care, your support and the time you put in make all the difference, and what keeps you going during those early years with children is the focus on their potential.

My daughter, Lamisse, is ten now — but in being her mum I’ve come to understand something really important. As a leader of people in a professional setting, I realised I could achieve better outcomes, and have a happier, more fulfilled team, if I focused on nurturing talent.

When you’re helping a child learn to read, you don’t worry about what they can do today — you’re motivated by what they’ll be able to do tomorrow, next week, next year. Being a mum hasn’t made me a softer, more emotional leader — it’s made me a better, more supportive leader, with a stronger emphasis than ever on investing in my team’s future success.

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?

The original catalyst for the shift to hybrid working was the digital revolution and it has only been in the last four or five years with advancements in technology that the shift towards hybrid work has gathered pace.

It is the improvements in technology that have enabled employees to split their time between home-working, visiting a nearby workspace and spending time at the HQ. This model will still prevail in the future, but the experience of remote working will continue to improve. Collaboration tools such as Zoom and Teams will become more sophisticated and the much anticipated introduction of the metaverse will add a new dimension.

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

The race for talent couldn’t be any more competitive and as we’re seeing employees have made their voices clear. They want to be able to work in the hybrid model and companies that fail to offer it will simply lag behind.

IWG’s research shows that almost half of workers would quit their job if asked to return to the office 5 days a week and only 1 in 5 is now willing to commute for more than 30 minutes.

Organizations wanting to future-proof their business should embrace the hybrid work model for more than just attracting and retaining good people. In addition, studies have shown that flexibility for employees can help companies improve their productivity.

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?

Accelerated by the pandemic, employees place a much greater emphasis on their work-life balance, and commuting for several hours a day is now a deal-breaker.

The past couple of years have proved that there are clear benefits to both working in an office and working remotely — and that employees can excel in their jobs while getting the best of both worlds. We now know that productivity is not linked to being in the same location every day.

Employees now want and expect a hybrid model, but it’s important that businesses check in with their employees and ensure that flexible work policies run smoothly. In order to retain top-tier talent, employers need to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their people, offering frequent company surveys to understand how they can best support their teams.

To attract the right people, offering policies that accommodate flexibility and life outside of work is just as important as offering higher compensation plans. The numbers back this up: A US survey from earlier this year found that better work/life balance and better pay were cited almost equally as reasons for leaving a job among respondents who quit their job in the last two years, at 55% and 57% respectively.

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

The past two years have proved that people can be just as productive, if not more productive — working at home or at an office close to home, as they would be going into a headquarters every day.

While people overwhelmingly don’t want to return to the five days a week, working from home has reminded millions of people around the world what they like about being in an office — whether it’s the separation of work and life, collaborating and socializing with colleagues, or a distraction-free work environment.

With hybrid work, employees don’t have to choose. Hybrid work allows people to work from home when it makes sense and in an office when it makes sense — maximizing the benefits of each and resulting in a happier, more productive life.

Hyper-local work isn’t just revolutionary for the way that we work; it’s revolutionary for the way that we live — and the way that our cities are designed. The idea of the 15 minute city, an environmentally and human-friendly urban planning concept, where everything a resident needs — from work and education to restaurants and parks is located within 15 minutes of their home — has picked up traction. We will continue to see the growth of the 15 minute city concept over the coming years as the shift towards living and working in vibrant and sustainable local communities continues at pace.

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?

With employees able to work from anywhere thanks to the hybrid working model, recruiting from a national or even global pool of candidates (rather than purely local) is becoming the norm for companies, giving them the chance to find the very best candidates for a role. This kind of workforce dispersion offers employers a way to support diversity in their organizations and provide opportunities to people and places that might otherwise have remained outside the margins. By not restricting the location of work to expensive cities, you greatly increase your talent pool, allowing businesses to thrive with the best people and resources available.

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

Hybrid working is revolutionizing the make-up of entire countries, turning once dormant local towns and villages into vibrant places to live and work, and boosting spending outside of major urban hubs. Work in the future will be happening in the heart of local communities everywhere — cities and suburbs, towns and villages — and IWG is focused on providing hyper-local workplaces that people can access close to home, no matter where they live.

I’m incredibly optimistic that this will have a very positive impact on future generations, leaving them with more enriched lives with a better work-life balance.

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?

Progressive companies are rightly taking a people-first approach in the workplace and have grasped the importance of looking after their teams’ physical wellbeing and their mental health. The benefits of offering wellness incentives and importantly, embodying a company culture that empowers employees to use their time off, cannot be overstated. Studies have shown that taking time off increases employees’ productivity, job satisfaction, and even health. In fact, we have already seen employers such as Nike, Bumble, KPMG and LinkedIn giving staff impromptu ‘pop-up’ paid leave to reboot or spend some time on a passion project in a bid to avoid mass burnout. Additionally, progressive companies offering hybrid work as a way to decrease commute time and frequency are enabling employees to take back valuable personal time, like spending time with family and friends, which can positively impact mental health and wellbeing.

Likewise, giving employees ownership of their daily schedules is extremely meaningful to promoting a work-life balance. A workday isn’t a one-size-fits-all blueprint, and employers that understand that will have a significant advantage in attracting and retaining talent. Empowering employees to exercise and taking quality time to enjoy with their family can make a huge difference for their mental health and decrease the stress and anxiety that can often be associated with 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?

The last two years have been transformational for employees. Not only has the world’s biggest experiment in remote working proved that work can be carried out productively away from the head office, but workers now have a much more powerful voice than ever before. Their voice is now defining how, where and the environment in which we work.

It’s a common adage that people are the backbone of any successful business, and adopting flexible, people-focused work policies is a key part of keeping workers happy and bringing in new talent.

It’s simple, companies that don’t offer some form of hybrid working will not be able to attract or keep the best people and the impact of the Great Resignation will be even more pronounced.

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

We have outlined several trends shaping work in 2022 in IWG’s most recent white paper. Here are a few of the top trends to track in the future of work:

  • Human Relations: Rather than HR standing for “human resources,” in the hybrid world it can be rebranded as “human relations.” Companies are placing more of an emphasis on investing in mental health, employee wellbeing and improved lines of communication to increase productivity. With this in mind, the hybrid model naturally aligns with better mental health because people are less frequently forced to compromise their own needs for those of the company.
  • Hyper Flexibility: There will continue to be a widespread adoption of initiatives such as a four-day workweek to accommodate flexible work schedules. Last year, an IWG survey revealed that almost half of all office workers would quit if asked to go back to the office five days a week, while nearly three quarters said they would prefer the option of hybrid working to a 10% pay rise, if offered the choice. With the new focus on output and performance rather than time spent at a desk, there could even be more widespread adoption of initiatives such as a four-day workweek, which has already been trialed in countries such as Iceland, New Zealand, and — most recently — Belgium.
  • Workforce Dispersion: Employees are moving out of cities to more suburban and rural areas where they can have a better work-life balance, while companies can recruit talent from more remote locations than would previously have been possible. For example, a company in California could hire someone living in London to do a job that previously would have needed them to relocate to San Francisco. In the hybrid world, they can simply check in via Zoom from a coworking site in the UK and visit the transatlantic head office two or three times a year.
  • Suburban Revitalization: Thanks to hybrid workin, people are no longer obligated to attend a central office on a daily basis, which not only enables them to move out of cities to better-value areas in terms of housing (or spend more time in suburban communities), but also motivates companies to invest in local coworking spaces that are more convenient and less costly than expansive HQs at premium city addresses. In Britain, IWG has seen the highest increase in demand for its flexible workspaces in suburban areas such as Bromsgrove (+153%), Andover (+86%) and Havant (+79%).
  • Part-Time Commutes: In the US, before the pandemic there had been a 45% rise in ‘super commutes’ of 90 minutes or more each way between 2010 and 2019 (according to a report in The New York Times), as a result of distance from the office, road congestion and insufficient public transport. In a strange twist of fate, the pandemic has been a catalyst for the part-time commute, with only 1 in 5 people willing to commute more than 30 minutes daily. With greater flexibility around when and where people work, the hybrid model spells the end of the rush hour — at least on some days of the week — because people don’t have to travel to and from a city-center office every morning and evening. Not only does this save employees money, it also leads to less stress and allows more time for health-promoting activities such as exercising and sleeping: a further sustainability benefit.

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?

Check out the IWG blog and follow me on LinkedIn here.

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?

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

For me, the quote from Alexander Den Heijer is particularly powerful. Our surrounding environment influences our actions to such a high degree and we always need to look holistically at a problem before coming up with a solution.

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 has to be Elon Musk. His influence is unparalleled. With less than 280 characters, he can move markets. He’s the ultimate disruptor.

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