Work will keep changing, and despite more superior technology and automation, the need for qualified people is sure to grow. Just a few years ago there was a stark warning that automation would replace people at huge levels. To be sure some spaces will see rapid charge: truck drivers, taxi drivers…transportation of all sorts will undergo a major transformation, but this will open more opportunities than it closes.

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 Jeff Senne.

Jeff Senne is the Founder and CEO of Sandbar Solutions, LLC, a consultancy that supports CSOs, C-suites, Boards, investors, and non-profits working to define and activate their Purpose and drive holistic value creation through their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts. A multi-lingual, global executive with three decades of experience, he is experienced in the complexities of international business and societal change efforts. Jeff is also a husband, father, and avid kite surfer who has lived in five countries and worked in more than 40. He is now based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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.

My earliest memories are of my brother. My parents adopted him when he was three months old. He is a year younger than me but still thinks he is the big brother. He has had a very successful Wall Street career and lives in Dubai. We have been through a lot together — our parents’ divorce and many other challenges living in small towns without a lot of means. That created a special bond between us. When we were about eight, our mom asked us who the most important person in our life was and without skipping a beat, we both pointed to each other. His being with me through thick and thin has been a defining part of my life, and the fact that he is Black brought the gift of diversity into my life. It also, from a very young age, has made the racial inequities in our country very obvious to me.

A second defining experience for me happened when I finished college. I flew to Paris with my bicycle, camping gear, and very little money. I rode to London and then onto Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Switzerland. It was hard, and more than once, I sat down on the side of some small road in the middle of nowhere and wondered what I was doing. But I persevered and the experience steeled me. Also, along the way, I found a base level of goodness in most people. A man I stopped in Rotterdam to ask how to cross the river explained it was hard to find and rode out of his way to show me the tunnel. Families took me in for a meal or a night’s sleep. It was a challenging trip but mostly joyous. It was a journey of self-discovery that instilled in me a love of travel and adventure and first helped me tap into my drive to take the road less traveled and adopt a leave no trace ethos. For those who are new to this concept, it is from camping where you seek to leave a place the same — or better — than you found it.

My resolve to leave things better than I found them led me to my career in ESG — environmental, social, and governance. The concept is simple — business has a role to play in making the world a better place. It sounds self-evident but until recently meant cutting against the grain of mainstream thinking on the role of business in society. For more than 200 years the purpose of companies has been widely accepted to be the production of profit for their shareholders. But of course, today is different. Today stakeholders of all sorts are asking company leaders what they do help meet a need or problems they solve for their customers and wider stakeholders.

I still crave adventure and love to see the world — whether it’s the long-distance kiteboarding I now do along sections of the coast of NE Brazil or the 800+ mile motorcycle trip I just recently took. I am often asked if I’m afraid of doing X or Y or Z. The answer is yes. I am often scared. But, in my experience, the best, most interesting parts of life happen not when you seek to remove fear; but rather when you face it.

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?

Companies are making real strides in building cultures of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which, alongside company efforts to define and live their purpose and a company’s broader ESG efforts, drive a greater sense of belonging inside companies. Together, these efforts are helping to drive a greater realization that this work that I, and many others do, is essential. Many good people are doing great work. That is miles from the way work was seen even just a decade ago and a continuing focus on this effort will drive important and much-needed change over time.

In order for that change to be a true transformation, the secret elixir to much of employee engagement also needs to come into play — Purpose. There is no cause or issue that all engage with universally. Still, by setting a north star and showing how the company charts its course accordingly, employees see a vision and authenticity that is too often in short supply in today’s workplace.

Even so — 10 to 15 years in the future — work is still going to be great some days, tolerable others and some days — it will be terrible. Of course, I am being glib, but anyone who thinks that work will undergo some transformation where it will always be great is kidding themselves. Some days, your boss will still irritate you, the result will bore you, you will be distracted or disinterested. After all, we will all be human ten years from now. But having a purpose to guide and support us will provide support for the business strategy, clients, and staff and that does vastly improve workplaces and cultures.

A colleague of mine rightly taught me that employee engagement (the willingness to go above and beyond for your employer) is an equation that shifts day to day and sometimes hour by hour and companies can’t make employee engagement perfect. But that does not mean they shouldn’t try. Companies need to develop cultures that unlock engagement, attract, and retain the best and brightest, and drive better productivity, customer satisfaction, and ultimately greater profits.

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

In my work with companies of all sizes across very different industries and operating in very different countries, I find more commonalities than not and the best way for all organizations to future-proof is to develop their Purpose and a culture that lives it.

While many in the corporate responsibility space say that one day their work will be done because ESG issues are engraved in the DNA of the company, I say poppycock. The issue de jour will always outpace the company’s moral compass and ability to adapt. Who could have foreseen that McDonald’s and Coke would leave Russia because of Ukraine? Or see Shell apologize for buying Russian oil at a discount? Companies will always need teams that scout the terrain ahead and develop programs to engage and bring a company’s purpose and ESG activities to life. Just like self-development, the work is never over.

What do you predict will be the most significant gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you suggest about how to reconcile those gaps?

That purpose will be authentic, accurate, and actionable. Far too many companies use purpose as a bumper sticker. They talk about their purpose but don’t live it. That is worse than never having talked about it to begin with. The same is true of company ESG efforts. Better to do nothing than be a greenwasher.

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

While many companies want to bring their teams back to the office full time, believing this will drive better connectivity, they need to realize it will also limit their employees’ choices and, therefore, their choice of top talent. Many whose disabilities might not be obvious have found great respite in working remotely. Having the flexibility to work as you work best is rightly becoming part of the diversity and inclusion.

There is value in meeting in person and fomenting water cooler conversations, but I am fond of saying that for those who want remote work experience, there is a tax to be paid. Each day, pick up the phone and call two people you did not have on your call sheet just to check in. If you do that, productivity and connectivity will grow, not diminish.

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?

Systemic racism has to be removed from the root and stem, which won’t be easy. We can see the backlash against even opening up the conversation about race with school districts banning books and even the expressions of identities (LGBTQ in Florida). But there is no doubt that history is on the side of a more inclusive society. There will be ebbs and flows between how much our society is open or closed, but I have little doubt the business world will continue towards openness, acceptance, acknowledgment, and action to ensure systems are fair and equitable, which they are not today.

Companies also have to greatly reduce their carbon footprints which means less travel. There’s just no way around it. Sure, biofuels and electric planes will come, but too late for the crisis we have unfolding as we speak. Companies today need to manage their energy use, travel, and all other sources of climate changing emissions.

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

The people I work with. Each day I partner, collaborate, and strategize with business leaders who imagine a future in which their companies are helping to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems. It is easy to get pessimistic and think the world is regressing because we see a reemergence of a Cold War mentality, political tribalism, climate change denial, pushback on DEI efforts, and so many other complicated issues to tackle. But while there is cause for concern, the world has never been more equal and more aware.

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?

Mental health in our modern society is a growing problem. Modern life creates mental health problems and then assuages that affliction with a more significant affliction, the distraction of consumerism. What we need in companies is to develop a sense of rational growth and the production of real value not fleeting value to be replaced by the new thing tomorrow. More needs to be done inside companies to help those who are suffering from the pandemic of metal health issues and to ensure they are solving important problems with their products and services, not just hawking stuff.

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?

Change is the norm in all aspects of the marketplace today and people aren’t afraid to leave the certainty of one job to embark on the next adventure. Whether it’s moving to a new country and starting their own companies — as I did — or moving across the country, to a competitor, or embracing an entirely new career path — it’s never been easier to chart a new path and it’s hard to remember a time when more people around all of us have been doing this.

The vast majority of leaders I work with understand that they can’t just boomerang back to their pre-pandemic culture. What worked then — doesn’t necessarily work for everyone now. People are changed. Individual purposes and responsibilities have evolved. Eyes are opened to new ways of working. Millions are recalibrating what is important to them and how they get it. The world has changed and so have the 5-year plans people had in place in 2019.

I like to say, “Uber yourself before you get Kodaked.”

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

  1. Purpose-centered and values-led — Companies that lead with their values will prosper. Some I may like (Patagonia) and others I may not (the Koch Brothers), but I admire both as they live their purpose and values through their work.
  2. Flexible — The genie is out of the bottle, and companies will be forced to be flexible or pay a premium if they choose not to. Group cohesion is a critical part of work, but the digital tools are proving amazingly adaptable. This should reduce costs, and some of that savings can make in-person experiences all the more engaging and productive. When I led the ESG team at PwC, we were scattered across 10 states and I can say without a doubt that the team was amazingly productive and engaged. But a positive team culture does not come without regular care and feeding.
  3. Inclusive — Whether it be gender, race, ethnicity, personal circumstance, or even political lean, we all need to become better at widening our circles, identifying unconscious bias, and building inclusive and equitable company cultures. It is essential to note the inclusion of politics here. We can’t claim to be inclusive and yet not bring politics into the office. Our political view, for many, is an expression of our identity, and to ignore or try to cover it up is a mistake. Just like we need our representatives in the government to be able to talk, we need to be able to talk to those who don’t see or experience the world the same as we do. As they say, change starts at home.
  4. Employees will continue to demand more from their employers, and managers need to prepare. Too many bad managers have become leaders, and they throw money or other perks at their staff as penance for bad behavior. This only covers bad corporate cultures and is not a winning strategy. Companies need to ask why managers are not doing well and what they can do to fix it because while some managers are just plain bad, for many, their behavior is learned and an echo from the days of Mad Men or some such, thankfully, bygone era.
  5. Work will keep changing, and despite more superior technology and automation, the need for qualified people is sure to grow. Just a few years ago there was a stark warning that automation would replace people at huge levels. To be sure some spaces will see rapid charge: truck drivers, taxi drivers…transportation of all sorts will undergo a major transformation, but this will open more opportunities than it closes.

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?

I have many, and most revolve around charge and how difficult it can be. When I think of the purpose and ESG movement over the 20 years I have been part of it, I have pride on the change that has happened. But it has been hard, and in many ways remains so. I look for why that resistance is so entrenched, and I come back to fear. Change is hard and can generate fear which reminds me of the quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” by Franklin D. Roosevelt

I think we need to get past our fear that the movement to a low carbon economy or to dismantle systemic racism will endanger our economic process, our standing or privilege. We need to use our standing and privilege, as a country, business community and as individuals to drive change. Real debate on how should continue, but to advance as fast as we must we need to identity our fears, ask what is causing them and move ahead in spite of them.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might see this if we tag them.

The Dutch woman who rode her motorcycle worldwide — Noraly Schoenmaker AKA Itchy Boots. I love adventures and am so impressed with her resolve and fortitude but, more than anything, her positive attitude. It is impressive, inspiring, and, more than anything, a lesson to those with the means to read this article that our experience of the world is mainly based on our response to it. She chooses optimism, trust, and positivity. She faces fear with resolve. Sounds easy, it is not.

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