The rise of the nomadic workforce. With the technology that has allowed people to collaborate remotely over vast distances, we will see increasing numbers of opportunities for people to steer away from being tethered to just one city or town.
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 Henry Kurkowski.
Arts advocate, entrepreneur, and author Henry Kurkowski is a pioneer in managed Wi-Fi technologies, remote work technology and digital engagement. He’s an experienced founding partner in up-start technology companies with a long history in the telecommunications and SaaS industries. He is the author of the book, Remote Work Technology, keeping your small business thriving from anywhere.
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 can say with confidence that working in the restaurant and nightlife industry for 15 years in New York and South Florida has had the biggest impact on who I am today. Regardless of whether I was waiting tables in a high-end restaurant or tending bar in a packed hot spot, I learned that how I treated people had a direct impact on if it was going to be a good night or not.
I’m not just talking about how much I walked out within tips, but also how my interactions impacted how smooth the night was going to go. Communicating clearly and building good relationships with the bussers and barbacks made my job easier and helped me make more money than I could tip them out in return. Treating customers well and being attentive to their needs got their appreciation and encouraged them to become regulars who would ask for me when they came back.
This also gave me the opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with individuals from different countries and cultures. Gaining insights into this diversity of backgrounds helped me to better understand their outlooks and the various things that were important to them both in work and in their personal lives.
On top of that, working in those industries helped me to think quickly on my feet and be able to stay cool even under a great amount of stress if I got in the weeds. It reminds me of the duck who seems to be calm on the water, but you never see that his feet are paddling rapidly under the surface.
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?
There will still be in-office employees but it will be a business standard to have a hybrid office model. Remote work technology has taken a huge evolutionary leap due to the COVID-19 shutdowns and that push will continue to help distributed teams to collaborate and communicate more efficiently across the digital divide. Virtual reality and the metaverse will play big roles in this endeavor helping teams to work together as if they were sharing the same physical space.
There will be a paradigm shift to vastly reduce group meetings in favor of more asynchronous forms of communicating. We’ve discovered that large numbers of meetings each week not only contribute to higher rates of burnout, they negatively impact productivity and employee satisfaction.
We’ve all left at least one meeting realizing that everything said could have been communicated just as effectively in an email. Due to the sudden shift to remote work, we have come to better understand that when we pull teams into meetings, we are reducing their opportunities for deeper and higher-quality work. They sit in these meetings knowing that their time could be better spent working on their assigned projects and it creates frustrations that build up over time.
These realizations will come to shape internal communication policies to eliminate unnecessary meetings and look at both the financial impact and drain on the productivity of not leveraging asynchronous communications in a more strategic manner.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Nurture a people-first company culture that expresses its values in every communication and every action with great consistency. Employees want to work for managers that they can admire and for a company that they can trust. That is only possible with consistency in both policies and actions. Company culture is not set by the words written on a memo or in shared documents from human resources. It is defined by the actions of the leadership, the managers of the company, and the rest of the team.
To maintain, shape, and build a company culture with high levels of authenticity, organizations should emphasize their core values in their actions, behaviors, and communications with everyone they interact with from employees to vendors to customers. Every email, memo, and meeting should be shaped with intention, by the core values of the company.
This brings consistency & authenticity to their culture. It becomes something their people can trust. It becomes something that they want to be a part of and nurture. This authenticity is not only a great recruitment tool, it helps create reasons for people to want to stay with the company.
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?
I think that upper management and leadership of the larger corporations may cling too tightly to keep up the status quo of butts in seats at the office during fixed working hours. We’ve seen this happen before during the forced mass exodus back to the office in 2017. Companies such as Aetna, Bank of America, and IBM forced their people to go back to the office and eliminate or greatly reduce remote work opportunities.
At the time, these big corporations cited collaboration issues and productivity loss as the main decision factors to get rid of remote work. But what we’ve discovered from the great shift to remote work in 2020 is that there is an innate fear of productivity loss when it comes to remote work. Too many managers want to be able to see that work is being done. If they can’t keep an eye on workers in person, they turn to employee monitoring apps. That then creates an ever-widening trust gap between the company and its workers. You can’t retain great talent if there is no trust.
This lack of trust creates an environment where the employee feels unvalued but worse than that, it makes the employee experience purely transactional. At times, it even makes the work experience adversarial to the point that employees find ways to trick the monitoring software so that they can use the restroom without feeling the need to be rushed.
Instead of using intrusive monitoring apps, companies should create paths for higher levels of authentic employee engagement. Lean into trust, flexibility, and a results-based methodology of gauging productivity. Instead of rigid rules of when work should be done, create guidelines that have an abundance of clarity on expectations and accountability of each team member. Deadlines must be maintained, but when the work is done to meet those deadlines should not be a major factor in the eyes of management.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
What the shift to working from home has shown us is that we can overcome the collaboration and communication issues that we experienced in the old formats of remote work. We could not go back to the office during the shutdowns and this forced both technology and management styles to step up and find ways of being just as productive when the teams were distributed. This means that in the future, distributed teams can be a default setting for offices instead of something that happens with only a small percentage of employees.
This empowers companies to go beyond geographic limitations to find talented employees anywhere they may live and it allows workers to choose where they want to live instead of having the job dictate their zip code.
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?
I see higher-speed broadband becoming more available to larger segments of the population. This will positively impact not only business but education and rural communities as well. It will allow for larger opportunities for remote learning, job training, greater access to mental health resources via telehealth, and of course greater access to a growing diversity of remote jobs.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The greatest source of optimism about the future of work is that the technology will empower greater equality in the workforce and give employment opportunities that were previously out of reach for many. The technology that has emerged and which continues to improve shows that employing remote workers on a large scale is a viable option for companies of every size.
This means that people who are differently abled can be considered for more jobs that will no longer require them to physically come into the office. Small towns in rural areas have been slowly shrinking due to a lack of industry and good-paying jobs. People who live in rural areas will not feel the need to flee to the cities for employment. People will not need to have where they work to be the decision-maker for where they choose to live.
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’ve seen an uptick in companies creating company cultures where self-care is not only promoted but publicly recognized. This helps reverse the cultural norm that working all time is the professional ideal and that rest or sleep is for the lazy people who don’t want to get ahead in the company. The grinding all-day mentality is an outdated mindset that contributes to burnout and unhealthy company cultures.
By using slack channels and meetings to showcase management’s appreciation for employees taking time for their health we promote a culture of self-care. This is part of a company culture that truly values its people. Setting boundaries and promoting a healthy work/life balance creates an environment where people want to stay and continue to grow professionally.
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?
It is vital that companies shift their outlooks and management styles to an employee-first mentality if they are to recruit and retain top talent. As opposed to putting the goals of the company first, organizations must pivot and look to the aligned goals of both the company and the workers. The future of work is based on the employee experience and the mutual trust in goals that are aligned with company growth and the employees’ careers.
Just as an employer wants a commitment from those they hire, employees want to feel that their company is committed to them and their goals. Higher levels of engagement are needed to see what each worker has in mind for personal and professional development. Find out what can help them with both their life and their careers.
Many employees will look for opportunities to learn new skill sets and expand their roles in the company. Some will appreciate the chance to be leaders and mentors, while others would relish the chance to be mentored in soft skills, business networking, and relationship building. Help match these desires with the strengths of others on your team. These complementary strengths and skillsets keep a cycle of both wisdom and experience-based knowledge flowing through your company culture.
By helping create development road maps, you increase the value of each team member while increasing engagement and overall job satisfaction. Those are elements of a company culture that people want to be a part of and learn from.
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.)
- More automation and AI.
We will see that a large number of everyday undertakings will become automated. Adding automation technologies to work processes will help close gaps in efficiency and help improve the employee experience by eliminating mundane and repetitive tasks. This then will free up time for team members to do deeper and more focused work.
Artificial intelligence will be heavily used to sort through the mountains of data that companies collect to become more efficient in the workplace and reach growth goals at a quicker pace. The ability of AI to see patterns in data that may not be easily spotted by humans will allow companies to better target their advertising, realize new market segments, and gain insights into consumer trends as they emerge.
2. Hybrid will be the default setting for offices.
As we are already seeing as companies bring people back to the office, not every employee wants to go back. A very large percentage of the workforce that got to work from home have become enamored with remote work and want to keep the freedoms and benefits that come with working from home.
At the same time, a number of employees miss the in-person comradery that is in the office environment. There are also those that feel the lack of visibility that comes from working remotely has cost them promotions and has negatively impacted their careers. To have a company that truly values its people, all of these concerns must be taken seriously. The flexibility that comes from a hybrid office environment of in-office and remote employees as well as those that float in-between will be a vital component to the success of companies.
3. A stronger focus on mental health and employee well-being .
As companies got deeper into remote work due to the shutdowns, HR executives and senior management saw the importance of taking action when it came to the mental health and overall well-being of their teams. This is something that companies will look to be more proactive with in the future.
It used to be that a worker’s well-being was an employer’s concern only when it had to do with when physically injured or physically ill. This is no longer the case. Growing numbers of companies have learned that mental health and stress levels also cause concern when it comes to the welfare of their people.
A company’s focus on employee well-being will be expanded beyond just their physical health to include emotional and mental health support as well as creating social channels and career development. All of this combined will help strategies for greater employee resilience.
4. Alignments of corporate and personal values.
As we have seen in the great resignation, workers want to work for companies that they can trust and have jobs with a purpose. In fact, many workers prioritize purpose over salary when it comes to their jobs. When companies express their values through their company cultures and those values align with the personal values of their employees, they create an opportunity for purpose-driven work.
Purpose-driven work is meaningful work. Purpose-driven work is also high-quality work. In healthy company cultures, each individual sees themselves as part of the larger team. As a team member who wants to belong, they want to see the team succeed in its goals. They have an attachment to good outcomes for the team and are willing to put in the effort to achieve those outcomes. They work towards that greater purpose.
By creating a values-driven company, businesses can hire team members who share those values and want to work towards the success of both the individuals they work alongside and the organization as a whole.
5. The rise of the nomadic workforce.
With the technology that has allowed people to collaborate remotely over vast distances, we will see increasing numbers of opportunities for people to steer away from being tethered to just one city or town.
The camper van industry has grown at an incredible rate over the past two years, and digital nomads are a big part of that growth. With van life, people are traveling in their vans for weeks, sometimes months at a time all while working remotely. At the same time, apartment swapping networks have also grown in size and popularity. People can exchange apartments within the networks and be able to affordably experience new places while still working.
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?
My favorite quote is from Bruce Lee who said, life itself is your teacher, you are in a constant state of learning. To me, this is a multi-faceted lesson. A part of this lesson is that as we are always learning, we must be open to what is being taught. We cannot learn if we choose to close our minds on any given topic and ignore new information as it comes up. Also, as we are tested in life by events and the people we encounter. We should look to discover what lesson we may take away from those situations and what we can learn from each experience.
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 may seem like an unusual choice when we are discussing the future of business, but I’d love to meet up with Ryan Reynolds. When the bulk of people hears his name, their minds go to his acting roles. I tend to think of his business acumen. Not only does he have a great sense of comedic timing, but also great business timing. And as many say, in business, timing is everything.
Along with Mint Mobile and Aviation Gin, he is well known for his production company Maximum Effort. Ryan has a high fluid intelligence that is revealed through his quick wit and the very timely ad spots that his production company has released. He is a culturally savvy entrepreneur who is unafraid of taking risks and putting himself out there.
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?
It’s best to follow me on Twitter @henryindy. I talk about the things I am working on, share some of my thoughts on current topics and some insights on what’s going on in my personal life.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.