Collocating for collaboration. The main purpose of the office is changing from where business as usual gets done, to where remote teams come together to connect, plan, and brainstorm. This requires a very different setup than the open offices of the past. These offices focus on versatile spaces designed for collaboration.

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 Fresia Jackson, Lead Researcher at Culture Amp.

Fresia Jackson is the Lead Researcher at Culture Amp, a platform empowering over 25 million employees across 6,000+ companies to create a better world of work, where she guides and oversees Culture Amp’s research projects connecting product data to business outcomes.

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.

When I was in high school I was suspended and recommended to be expelled for taking birth control at school. At first I didn’t want anyone to know what happened, but I realized if I was silent other people would also be victims of zero-tolerance drug policies. So I spoke to a reporter who wrote an article in the Washington Post. The writers of The Colbert Report saw it and asked if I would do a segment. At 17, I was terrified to have my face connected to this movement but accepted. After the segment aired, and others joined the fight, the policy was ultimately changed. While I can’t take credit for that change, it did teach me to own my story, speak up, and that change happens from the actions of many people taking courageous steps.

In college, I interned at a mental health hospital to see if I wanted to work in that environment. I quickly learned a few things.

  1. An immense amount of respect for all of the individuals who support folks through difficult psychological times (e.g., nurses, psychiatrists, case workers).
  2. That anyone can go through a tough time mentally and come out the other side.
  3. I couldn’t handle the emotional labor and was incapable of compartmentalizing what I experienced at work from my personal life.

This is what made me google “types of psychology” and ultimately find Industrial/Organizational Psychology. This was a lightbulb moment for me that we could use psychology to help everyone by applying what we know about human behavior to the thing that most people spend ⅓ to ½ of their waking life doing. This set me on the path to getting my masters in I/O and ultimately the research that I do today to make the world of work a better place.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now?

While technology changes at a rapid pace, humans (and our brains) don’t. Employees will still have the same basic needs, like for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. They’ll still desire to see progress and develop in their career (we found development is the #1 reason employees both join and leave companies). Managers will still be key to helping employees reach their full potential. And workplaces will still need to put in the effort to identify what engages their employees and provide it to them.

What do you predict will be different?

Two big things. First, what employees work on. New roles and domains are constantly being developed. Second, how that work gets done. Specifically what technology is used and what the relationship between employer and employee looks like. Over time we’ve seen that relationship get looser as employees identify less and less with their employer.

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

Go back to the basics. On the people side, ask your employees what they want and act on it. On the business side, ask your customers what they want and deliver it. And when listening, seek out contradictory opinions and escape the echo chamber. Be quick to say “this isn’t working” and pivot as needed.

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?

That’s really hard to predict because each organization is in a different position. E.g., there are some industries and roles that won’t be able to offer flexible or remote working. Across the board the biggest gap is the realization that a company gets out what they put in. The quiet quitting phenomenon is showing that if you treat your employees like a number, they will treat their role as just a job.

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

I’m optimistic that employers will see the research showing that employees working from home are just as productive, if not more productive. And incorporate that flexibility for roles that are able to be completed remotely.

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?

High-speed internet needs to be a public utility. While there are some roles that can’t be performed remotely, there are some people locked out of the remote workforce because of internet access. And this is often in the most impoverished and rural places (only 67% of rural areas have access to high speed internet which excludes up to 42 million Americans). This creates a society of haves and have nots when it comes to high-earning remote jobs. Additionally, workplace and public policies need to focus on supporting caregivers who are struggling to keep up with demands (over half say they’re too burned out to do their job well) and are choosing to leave because of it (⅓ have voluntarily left a job due to caregiving responsibilities). What form this support comes in will look different for each company, but could include things like job-sharing where 2 (or more) part-time employees hare a full-time position.

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

Companies (and governments) who will try new ways of working and document their impact. For example, Iceland’s research on the impact of reducing working hours (hint: employees were less stressed and sick, and there was no decline in productivity). You mentioned the word “experiment” in a previous question and in order for us to live up to that word we need to test different variables and document what happens. It’s exciting to see the successful experiments, but organizations need to be transparent about ideas that didn’t pan out, too.

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’m seeing a lot of innovative strategies like offering free subscriptions to meditation apps and giving additional vacation time. These will have no impact ‌unless they address the core problem of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. That requires companies to create a culture where wellbeing is prioritized and to put resources behind it by offering things like adequate parental leave and mental health care. The culture piece is easier said than done because that means not rewarding behavior that may help the business but is ultimately hurting employees. E.g., the boss that gets their team to reach 200% quota through intimidation and overtime. It also requires leaders to create a succinct strategy, ruthlessly prioritize projects, align resources across the whole business, and fund a hiring plan that keeps up with demand. And finally, it requires managers and employees to have frank discussions about mental health, role expectations, and what’s realistic to get done in their working hours.

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?

Seek feedback from your employees. I crunched the numbers and the best predictor of if your employee is going to leave is… just asking them! Employees are honest about their intentions and they express their dissatisfaction months before leaving.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Proximity bias. As more companies use hybrid working models, managers and organizations will need to make sure that they’re treating in-office and remote employees equitably. It’s easy for managers to bias towards the employees they see everyday in the office when doling out promotions and development opportunities. Where someone is located should be a new factor that is used when calibrating performance outcomes. This is even more important because women, people of color, and those with disabilities are more likely to desire to continue working from home.
  2. Income inequity. As organizations hire employees across the country (and world) they need to decide if they’re prioritizing for income equity within the organization (and therefore paying employees the same no matter where they are located) or income equity within communities (paying employees based on the cost of living in their location). Both create an inequity somewhere, for example with zoom towns pricing out locals, however we’re starting to see a reversal at least in home prices for many of those cities.
  3. Colocating for collaboration. The main purpose of the office is changing from where business as usual gets done, to where remote teams come together to connect, plan, and brainstorm. This requires a very different setup than the open offices of the past. These offices focus on versatile spaces designed for collaboration.
  4. AI and reskilling. This is a trend that continues — most notably in transport like trucking (which employed over 3.3 million people in 2020). Determining how to reskill large swaths of the workforce that lose their jobs to automation will be a challenge and opportunity we face in the years to come.
  5. People want to do good, not just do well. As environmental and social issues become more salient, workers are looking beyond salary and wanting to find meaning in their work. If your company isn’t a responsible corporate citizen, you’ll find it hard to attract and retain quality talent. This is why I’m incredibly proud to work for a B-Corp.

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?

Be brave, not perfect. I have twice taken on completely net-new roles in an organization where there was no blueprint of what success looked like. In those situations, my perfectionism can impede progress. Be brave, not perfect reminds me to take an agile approach, try things out, and not take things personally.

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.

Dan Pink! I would love to know more about his method for researching new topics, and his tips for how to make research not only digestible but also enticing.

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?

Connect with me on LinkedIn! I always share the latest research nuggets there.

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