Flexible work is here to stay. Hybrid work arrangements will be supported by our organization where they are feasible for our clients, partners, and employees.

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 Jeanne Meister.

Jeanne Meister is Founder, Future Workplace, and Executive Vice President, Executive Networks, the leading HR Peer Network company for the Global 1,000.

Jeanne is the best-selling author of three books, Corporate Universities: Lessons in Building a World-Class Work Force, The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today, and The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees. Jeanne’s books have received the Silver Best Business Book Award for Human Resources professionals and the Bellwether award, by the Community College Futures Assembly. Jeanne is also a Contributor to Forbes and Harvard Business Review. Jeanne is leading a multi-client research program for Executive Networks on the future role of the CHRO, the future of working and learning, and employee well-being.

Jeanne is also a member of Excelsior University Trustees, where she is on the Executive Committee.

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 life experience that has shaped who I am is being the first in my family to attend a four-year university. I have seen first-hand the power of education to change one’s life. For the past four years, I have been a member of the Board of Trustees of Excelsior University, a nonprofit where the average age of our students is 36 years old and, for many of them, are also the first in their family to attend college.

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? What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations? 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 the biggest gap between what employees expect and what employers are doing is the expectation of workers to have flexibility in where, when, and how they work. Hybrid working has gone from a temporary accommodation to a mainstream workplace practice. Pre-pandemic, 20% of U.S. adults whose jobs could mostly or entirely be performed outside of the office worked from home. That number jumped to 71% during the pandemic, according to Pew Research.

While the majority of people have gone back to in-person shopping, traveling, attending sports events, and eating in restaurants, offices continue to be half empty. Kastle Systems Back to Office Barometer reports an office occupancy rate of 43% across ten cities and projects this half full office occupancy is the “next normal.”

As hybrid working continues to be expected by current and prospective workers, employers must create a set of principles for success. These are not top-down policies but principles to give workers a framework for how to navigate a new way of working.

This hybrid working playbook can cover four areas such as:

  1. Acknowledge that hybrid working is a permanent shift in how, where, and when work happens for knowledge workers.
  2. Communicate how your company is approaching this shift, identifying the principles for success and how your company will create guardrails for hybrid working.
  3. Identify why and when being face-to-face matters, this includes defining how your organization will make the commute worth it and how you plan to create the office as an intentional destination for team collaboration, product launches, social networking, and innovation.
  4. Drive to make flexible work practices available to all workers, both knowledge workers and frontline workers, and what you will do to bring this vision to reality.

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

Executive Networks and meQuilibrium partnered to conduct research among 1,000 HR leaders, business leaders, and workers on the topic of The New Hybrid Workplace. Our top line findings include:

Nearly half of our survey sample, 42%, are unable to work in their ideal work environment, whether that is fully in-person, hybrid, or remote. When this mismatch occurs, workers are more likely to feel burned out and are more likely to quit.

Hybrid workers are the one segment of the workforce that are reporting the least burnout when compared to other segments. One reason maybe that Hybrid workers feel more connected to their organization’s culture because the office and the hybrid workplace are being treated with greater intentionality. After all, the office never equaled culture. Employers who are aware of making hybrid working “work,” are creating a culture of caring. They are deliberating creating in-office experiences which offer meaningful ways to network, collaborate, and share experiences.

Finally, we identified what we call “the career conundrum,” where 32% of workers report they prefer a hybrid work model, but 43% view in-person working as the best for their career advancement and development.

Overall, this research points to the importance of training leaders in how to create successful hybrid work experiences and training managers in how to lead in this hybrid world of work where more frequent communication and coordination is needed as well as being more conscious of employee wellbeing.

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?

Two of the biggest changes I see over the next three years are the changing composition of the workforce and the expectation of workers to work for passion and purpose not just a paycheck.

Executive Networks CHRO of the Future research conducted among CHROs of the Global 1,000 found a changing composition of the workforce to include more women, more diverse workers, fewer full-time employees, and more gig workers, part time workers and digital automation assistants (BOTS). The new “blended workforce” of diverse workers and machines will require leaders to have a greater understanding of how ensure collaboration will produce higher levels of innovation. But one caveat for leaders to be aware of is the rise of women leaving the workplace. McKinsey and LeanIn’s most recent research, The Great Breakup, found the gap between female and male leaders leaving their jobs is the largest it’s ever been. For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors choose to leave their company. While there are myriad of issues behind high quit rates among women, one is noteworthy to address here: the expectation for workplace flexibility. According to McKinsey and LeanIn research, 49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three considerations when deciding whether to join or stay with a company, compared to only 34% of men leaders. Companies employing large populations of knowledge workers need to recognize workplace flexibility is here to stay and communicate how workers can be successful in this new way of working.

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

There is a growing awareness that navigating the future of work is an issue for all workers, and not just knowledge workers. It’s time for employers to redefine flexibility beyond where one works or when they work, and to explore ways to offer flexibility to salaried and hourly frontline workers. Approximately 70% of the current US workforce is concentrated in frontline jobs, ranging from registered nurses and firefighters, to retail workers and cooks. The future of work needs to “work” for all workers and that means identifying ways flexible work practices can be incorporated into frontline jobs.

This can start with flexible compensation, defined as the ability to access earned wages at a time other than a weekly or bi-weekly pay period. After all, we live in a 24/7 world where all aspects of our lives — from shopping to banking, watching movies, listening to music, learning, and communicating — are all on-demand. We need to now ask ourselves: Why are employees typically only paid every two weeks? Flexible payroll addresses a societal issue where, according to Federal Reserve Bank research, 40% of adults cannot cover an emergency expense costing $400, forcing many to live paycheck-to-paycheck and, all too often, to be forced into payday loans, bank overdrafts, credit card late fees, and borrowing from friends and family to fund emergency cash needs.

Beyond offering flexible compensation to frontline workers, employers can also consider giving greater flexibility to shift swapping or allowing frontline workers to work longer shifts when there is a need for emergency cash. With inflation at its highest level in 41 years, all employees are demanding flexibility, from where and when they work, to flexibility in their compensation and benefits.

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?

A growing number of companies now view employee well-being not as an HR perk but as a critical business strategy to attract and retain workers. This means total rewards packages now include a fuller set of benefits for well-being and mental health, not just for the individual employee but also for all the loved ones an individual employee cares for and about.

I see a number of innovative strategies companies are using to nurture the well-being of their workforce. These include:

  • Microsoft Cares, which includes a set of holistic well-being benefits where employees can access 24×7 professional mental health counselors and wellness coaches, along with a host of legal, financial, and nutritional resources. Taking this holistic approach to well-being and embedding it into the fabric of the company is a critical step to nurturing well-being.
  • HP Spirit, which is targeted to both HP employees as well as their families. A McKinsey survey found that 45% of the respondents who resigned from their jobs did so because of the demands of working full time and caring for their loved ones. HP Spirit includes a range of services such as assistance with home schooling, extended family leave, access to Working Parents Employee Resource Groups, and opportunities for job sharing.

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?

Executive Networks CHRO of the Future research found that three-quarters of CHROs indicated that talent retention and attraction are their key priorities. Eight in 10 global organizations (83%) are facing a significant talent retention problem. The top factors CHROs attributed to higher levels of voluntary turnover include stress, employee burnout, lack of visibility into career advancement/development, work life balance issues, and requests for increased compensation. HR and Business leaders need to focus not only on recruiting new talent but also commit to recognizing employees are constantly re-evaluating their priorities and purpose. It is undeniable that people want to work for companies whose values align with their own. Previous research conducted by Executive Networks and Blue Beyond with 750 full time workers found 70% of workers want their employer to be a force for good in society. This finding reaches 80% for workers under the age of 45 years old. This expectation that workers align their values with their employer is impacting talent acquisition as we found two out of three workers say they would be unlikely to join a company if its values did not match their own.

Leaders must address the gap in employee expectations and determine how this is impacting their voluntary turnover rates. Employees expect their employer to care about them as a whole person, and address their burnout, increased fatigue, and stress with a culture of care. Leaders can start by speaking authentically and directly on these issues and create space for learning and dialogue.

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

My Top Five Trends to Track in the Future of Work Include:

Employee Well-being Has Expanded from a Perk to a Critical Business Strategy.

Employee well-being is no longer just an employee benefit. Rather, well-being is an employer’s opportunity to support employees in all aspects of their personal and work lives. Our CHRO of the Future research probed into a range of factors impacting voluntary turnover and we found that well-being was number one, followed by a need for increased transparency into career development. Only 18% believed employees are leaving because they want more compensation. More companies will follow the lead of Microsoft and PwC where well-being and flexibility are now woven into the culture of the organization with greater personalization and commitment to increased mental health benefits.

Provide Principles for How to Work Successfully in a Hybrid Work Model.

Hybrid working is a permanent way of working for knowledge workers. One of the first steps companies are taking is to create enterprise principles for flexible working. Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has done just this with its set of guidelines for workplace flexibility. These enterprise principles for flexible work demonstrate the importance of providing guidance and autonomy, rather than “top-down policies,” in how to be successful working in a hybrid model.

The principles created by Royal Bank of Canada for successful hybrid working include the following:

Principle #1: Flexible work is here to stay. Hybrid work arrangements will be supported by our organization where they are feasible for our clients, partners, and employees.

Principle #2: Our approach to hybrid working starts with our business strategy. Our business units have the flexibility to adopt a tailored approach to working optimized across teams, roles, and regions, while enterprise standards will set the parameters to enable consistency and scale.

Principle #3: Proximity still matters. Being close to our colleagues and communities is core to our culture, and will remain so in the future, so for the majority of our workers, this means residing within a commutable distance to the office.

Principle #4: Strategic investment is required for success in hybrid working. To fully enable our employees, we will invest in technology infrastructure and skills to operate successfully in a flexible working environment.

Principle #5: Inclusive culture with growth opportunities. Employees should have a consistent and meaningful employee experience with equal access to development opportunities regardless of their work arrangement of location.

Re-Invent How We Work.

While the pandemic may have eliminated our commute to work, many of us ended up working longer hours and less efficiently, leading to excessive workloads. In fact, Microsoft Teams data shows between February 2020 and February 2021, time spent on Teams meetings more than doubled, and continues to climb, with workers reporting they respond to Teams chats every five minutes.

This hyper-responsiveness is leading to greater stress and employee burnout. The American Institute of Stress reports 83% of American workers suffer from workplace stress, and 52% of American workers surveyed by Indeed are feeling burned out.

Some companies are recognizing this and adopting new ways of working. Salesforce is experimenting with going meeting-free for one week. This is now called “working asynchronously” at Salesforce. To do this successfully, Salesforce created a preparation guide as well as tips for moving in-person brainstorming meetings to digital channels like Miro, and best practices for focusing on heads-down work for long stretches. VTT Research Centre of Finland’s future of work experiment also created a company-wide principle for an ‘offline hour’ when all employees are unreachable via online channels. This was created to allow all workers time to focus on work without interruptions.

Skills Based Hiring is on the Rise Today and Will be Part of The Future of Talent Acquisition.

More companies are offering job candidates well-paying jobs if they can demonstrate critical skills, even if they lack a college degree. Glassdoor reports that 15 companies ranging from IBM to Google, Hilton Hotels, and Apple are in the market with jobs aligned to candidates who can demonstrate they have skills and competencies but have no formal degree. At IBM, 50% of its U.S. jobs are open to anyone with the right skills or a willingness to learn them. At IBM this approach is called Skills Over Degrees and was implemented as a response to a global shortage of technology workers as well as the realization that the half-life of skills is getting shorter. This allows IBM to tap into an expanded universe of job candidates.

HR Issues are Increasing on the Board of Director Agendas.

HR leaders have always played a critical role in their organizations, but since the pandemic, the job of an HR leader has become much more complex. They are not only in charge of people management issues, they are also navigating changes in how work gets done, where employees work, when they work, and the new role and purpose of the office.

This expanded role has occurred at the same time as the great resignation. So, it is not surprising to have CHROs report that HR issues are increasingly on the Board of Director agendas. The top five HR issues increasingly on the agenda for Boards of Directors include talent retention, reporting ESG metrics, talent attraction, Future of Work issues such as hybrid working, and internal talent mobility.

As more companies are embedding ESG (environmental, social, and governance) into business practices and strategy, they not just as reporting ESG results, but also using their commitment to ESG as a way to attract and retain talent. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, societal leadership is now a core function of business. Six out of ten respondents said when considering a new job, they expect their CEO to be visible on social issues. One new strategy is the creation of a company Purpose Report, like Cisco’s 2021 Purpose Report which reports how Cisco will increase the diversity of its new hires and managers, embrace hybrid work solutions, and commit to creating smaller and lighter packaging for its customers.

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.

Yes, I would love to have a private breakfast with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani female education activist awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate at 17 years old. She now leads the Malala Fund working for a world where every girl can learn and lead. The world will only grow when all girls have equal opportunities for learning and leading in the global marketplace. I would be thrilled to have a discussion with her about her journey and where she is going next.

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 the opportunity to be interviewed by Authority Magazine! Your readers can connect with me in the following ways:

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeannemeister/

Twitter: @jcmeister

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