Employees need to be more open-minded and adaptable than ever before as they enter a new normal that neither they nor their employers have ever experienced before. Both employers and employees need the other’s help and feedback to “get it right.” This means that sometimes you need to experiment to see if something works. If it works, you keep doing it; if it doesn’t, pivot quickly and be honest as to why.

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 Jennifer Sun.

Jennifer Sun is the Chief Executive Officer of StarCompliance, a leading provider of compliance technology solutions to the global financial services industry. Jennifer is a seasoned financial and capital markets executive with over 20 years experience, including 17 years in entrepreneurial environments building and managing successful high growth, fast-paced businesses. Prior to joining Star in 2018, Jennifer served as Executive Vice President of Commercial Execution at Ipreo, which was acquired by IHS Markit in August 2018 for $1.9 billion.

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 father shaped much of who I am today and how I approach life. He grew up in China during the Communist Revolution, but fled to Taiwan with his older brother and my grandparents to start a new life there. As my grandparents were not educated, my father took it upon himself to make a better life for himself and for his family by going to school. Through his hard work, he was admitted to the top middle school, high school, and university in Taiwan. He then came to the U.S. for his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, and earned a PhD from UC Berkeley.

His belief in the importance of education and effort made a lasting impact on me and my sisters, reinforced by our visits to his office, where he would help us complete our homework while he finished his typically long work day. While my father did well professionally, his greatest achievement was when he returned to Taiwan after 30 years to become a senator in the country’s parliament. I remember him tearing up after the inauguration ceremony. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “I feel so sad that my parents never got to see their son as a senator, and to know that their hard work and sacrifices led me directly to this moment — making me who I am today.”

His can-do attitude, work ethic, appreciation for others, and positive outlook represent a lasting legacy that has inspired me throughout my life.

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?

Many of the decisions that business leaders make today for their companies are likely to have an impact for a number of years. That’s why it’s important for executives to determine the different models for working in the office — whether that’s fully remote work, fully onsite work, or a hybrid approach — and their reasons for doing so.

There is likely to be a limited window of opportunity for them to do this, especially if the pandemic dissipates in the months ahead. I think larger companies are fully aware of this, which is why many are bringing employees back as soon as possible so that the hybrid/remote model doesn’t become irreversible. This trend is particularly noticeable in financial services, where higher compensation gives leadership greater leverage in enforcing working arrangements.

The situation is somewhat different for smaller and mid-sized firms, like ours. We have the ability to mold culture and create an environment in which individual accountability is paramount. Like other growing firms, we are always recruiting while looking to retain top talent. The hybrid/remote structure can be used as a tool in these efforts but we see it primarily as a benefit for those who have earned that right. This ability to think and act nimbly is one of the many advantages smaller firms have in terms of shaping the culture of their organization.

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

It’s important for me to focus on what makes our organization a great place to work — why employees choose to join and why they choose to stay. No matter what direction or shape the workplace of the future takes, I think it’s a good idea to maintain an open-minded and flexible approach so your organization can adapt to the changes going on around your business. I would encourage fellow leaders to go back to the roots of their culture and ask, ”What makes our business tick?” Draw on this and embed it into whatever the “new normal” work model turns out to be.

At StarCompliance, our employees value autonomy and flexibility, which we consider to be two of our greatest strengths. When we decided to adopt a hybrid work style, individual managers and their teams were given the autonomy to create a hybrid work plan that best suited their particular needs, while still allowing them to achieve wider, company goals. We gave managers maximum flexibility to decide how often and when their teams would come to the office, as long as it was true to the “hybrid” spirit: that is, a reasonable, balanced mix of onsite and offsite work.

I think that being constantly aware of what your employees value about your company and using that as a guide to your decisions is a good way to future-proof the organization against whatever lies ahead. You should also evolve with your team, which clearly requires having a deep understanding of the values of the individuals working for you. This is a two-way street and there are in-kind responsibilities for employees, especially in terms of work ethic. After all, it should be borne in mind that working remotely and other flexible approaches to the workplace are really benefits, not rights.

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?

In the world of finance, many of the larger organizations are looking to get a majority of their workforce back into the office. However, the past couple of years have proven that some, but not all, workers can be equally or more productive working from home.

I think that it is in the interests of business leaders to consider ways to adapt the more traditional working practices to those that suit the modern workplace. We’ve already seen many businesses being flexible over the number of days they expect their employees to be working from the office, especially those that provide graduate schemes, internships and apprenticeships that provide the next generation with more hands-on experience. Communication is at the heart of these programs and it is important to ensure that there is alignment of objectives and values across the organization. When employees feel connected to the purpose of the company, and the culture fosters a positive work environment, it is much easier to resolve any potential gaps between employees and employers.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the primary reason for the remote/hybrid trend is due to what is expected to be a temporary phenomenon. The different workplace models being used by companies are somewhat experimental at this stage. Mistakes will be made and abuses will take place. As a result, for any employee who wants maximum flexibility, it is in their interest to demonstrate that they can work as productively in a remote environment as they can in the office. If the work culture that results in these situations continues to support the company’s goals and objectives, then flexibility has been earned.

For me, this is an important concept. Otherwise, employees might start to take remote work for granted rather than viewing it as an earned benefit. This kind of thinking can then lead to the “fake work” that Elon Musk has talked about recently. Employees must also recognize that more flexibility potentially means accepting new policies and procedures aimed at tracking and ensuring accountability, such as managers asking employees to keep their cameras on during meetings. There must be give and take on both sides.

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

Fully remote or hybrid work has meant that both employers and employees can look for work, or search for talent, in different regions. However, this also comes with its challenges. For example, firms in highly regulated industries such as finance will be required to take on newer technologies to demonstrate their compliance processes, and adhere to regulatory requirements. As a result, employees will need to be taught how to use those technologies to understand these requirements and report their activities.

It is important that these flexible arrangements do not negatively impact collaboration, the pace of innovation, and transparent communication. With less face-to-face interaction, it may also be more challenging to maintain a strong corporate culture if the team is partly or fully away from the office. This is where technology plays a huge role, with platforms and tools that can enable connectivity, collaboration, and communications between employees, wherever they may be.

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?

The pandemic has shed light on people’s work-life balance and heightened the importance of mental health. This has created much-needed conversations about workplace practices. I think it will be interesting to see how businesses will address these challenges to ensure employees are getting the most out of their work, while making sure that work stresses do not become overwhelming.

I think it is likely that we will see increased focus on the division of time between work and personal lives. This might well lead to well-defined guidelines or even mandatory requirements in the workplace, to ensure that blurring of lines doesn’t become problematic.

Last year we introduced our Star Summer of Wellness, which included our Head Office To Head Office Walking Challenge — the goal being for teams to walk the equivalent of the distance between our US and UK head offices. That’s 3,572 miles! And we’ll be doing that walking challenge again this year. Also, for the second summer in a row, we’re giving our StarCompliance colleagues half-day Fridays for the months of July and August. This was very popular last year, as you can imagine. It’s the kind of perk every employee can immediately identify with and enjoy, including the CEO!

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

The push towards greater accountability for both organizations and their employees is a real opportunity. Accountability can be a scary word as individuals may not understand what is expected of them and how they’ll measure up to the standards set by the organization. But on the flipside, being held accountable allows employees to stand on their own two feet and demonstrate where they have performed well and how they’ve carried out the duties which have landed them in the roles they are in. Ultimately, I believe this is empowering, as it will help drive us to create better leaders in the future as well as drive real change in the workplace and beyond. The career opportunities that accountability can create by shining a light on the workplace should benefit the top performers. In my mind, that makes sense for everyone — the company, its employees and its customers.

What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employees’ mental health and wellbeing?

The stigma around mental health isn’t what it used to be. Fortunately people are much more willing to talk about the challenges and struggles they are facing on a daily basis. Even so, not everyone has the confidence to come forward and communicate their health and wellness concerns to their employer.

It’s crucial for firms to have the necessary HR frameworks in place to give employees the reassurance they need to know that their mental and physical wellbeing is of the utmost importance. These guard rails could be in the form of regular feedback surveys, one-on-one meetings and internal communications of where and how employees can get the support they need.

In a remote or hybrid work environment, some more creative approaches might include designing social activities that can engage employees so that they experience greater connection to the firm and to one another. Training is also important, so that employees feel fully knowledgeable and equipped to perform. This way they can be completely satisfied with the output and contributions they produce. This helps to contribute to their overall mental and physical well-being.

At StarCompliance, as we increase the number of onsite meetings and events, we always ensure that there’s a social component involved. It could be dinners out or catered lunches. It could be games that help break the ice and get people used to interacting with one another again. Most recently, we have incorporated charity work where our employees spend their mornings volunteering at a non-profit organization where they feel they can make an impact. The reality is that many of us spend as much or more time interacting with work colleagues than we do with our family or friends. Being able to connect with work colleagues on more than just work related projects have created deeper bonds. Personal connections need to be part of that dynamic.

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 common theme of such headlines is change. We have to be ready to evolve and think differently. Sometimes issues will be disruptive, but these situations should be looked at as opportunities. The trick is to stay focused on the company’s vision, objectives and customer needs while being nimble enough to adapt and do things differently to achieve them. Anything else and you could be steering your business off course.

Change is not limited to workplace routine. It’s also been a hugely challenging time for businesses to attract and retain talent. I think this has come down to two things: (1) organizations having a more traditional view on their working arrangements; and (2) the lack of infrastructure to allow employees to grow. For these reasons, companies should consider a reevaluation of their culture and ensure that their behaviors align and fit in with the values of employees. One way of doing this is by ensuring that business functions, like HR and compliance, become part of a firm’s cultural identity. This makes these roles more proactive and important and gives employees the confidence that their unique needs and challenges will be taken seriously. It also creates positive behaviors and attitudes that are filtered down and can be emulated across the organization.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. The role of leadership for creating a positive corporate culture.

As hybrid, flexible work environments become the norm, senior management will be instrumental in making sure that the organization’s values are filtered down through the ranks.

The role of line managers is changing dramatically in the new world of work. Previously responsible for the delivery of outcomes, now they also have to pay more attention to driving company culture, values, and mission down to each team member and creating a way to incorporate that into everything the firm does. The continuation of remote work makes this difficult to sustain and develop with new hires/recruits/employees, especially those who have joined since the pandemic.

2. Breaking down of business silos.

With less face-to-face interaction, silos may start becoming more apparent within an organization. As a result, I expect to see firms placing a greater emphasis on removing divisions between teams of different business functions so they can collaborate on the new ideas, innovations and products that best serve their customers. This will be invaluable in ensuring there’s transparency across departments on what is required by them to do on a daily basis. Empathy is crucial to the new workplace, especially between departments that don’t work together every day. But without frequent interaction, that all-important empathy is lost.

3. Promotion of personnel diversity.

As a woman from an ethnic minority working in a male-dominated industry, I can’t stress enough the importance of businesses creating cultures that recognize and develop the talent of women and minority groups. That’s why our evaluation and hiring process for all employees is color and gender blind, so that everyone is afforded an equal opportunity. We also understand that everyone has their own experiences, so we work with our employees to directly address any perceived or actual biases — making it a top priority to adapt our company culture based on any feedback we receive. This approach has resulted in a 150% increase in female leadership roles across the firm over the last two years.

4. More flexible approaches.

Employees need to be more open-minded and adaptable than ever before as they enter a new normal that neither they nor their employers have ever experienced before. Both employers and employees need the other’s help and feedback to “get it right.” This means that sometimes you need to experiment to see if something works. If it works, you keep doing it; if it doesn’t, pivot quickly and be honest as to why.

5. Emphasis on trust and transparency.

Since you might not have a multitude of personal interactions that allow you to build trust with colleagues or your managers/peers every day, you have to create it through more effective communications within the company and to all employees. This will help to deepen mutual trust and strengthen organizational loyalty.

What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“I can, and I will.” I have shared this quote with my kids since they were very young. I’ve now adapted this to “We can, and we will” at StarCompliance. It’s about confidence, resilience, and fortitude. When I first came to our company almost four years ago, we were a much smaller business but I felt we had what it took to be a highly successful, high-growth brand.

Sometimes I hear colleagues say: “Jenn doesn’t always understand what it takes to get things done.” This usually means they think I set unrealistic goals or underestimate the time it takes to build something. I always smile to myself when I hear this because it’s actually the exact opposite. Having worked my way up through software companies for the last 24 years, I know what it takes to get things done. I set ambitious goals for StarCompliance because I believe those goals can be reached!

I have confidence in our colleagues, in our teams, in our culture and in our values. I believe that these will enable us to do things we haven’t done before. Each time we have set goals over the last four years, we have not only reached them but often exceeded them. This is how we build organizational resilience. Every time we do something we didn’t think we could do, our confidence in ourselves grows, and we become stronger and stronger. Star has certainly lived up to the slogan: “We can, and we will!”

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.

I would love to meet Bill Gates or, if he were alive today, Steve Jobs. Both are visionary, courageous, fearless entrepreneurs who built something from nothing and built it to last. A lot of people have ideas, start companies, build products, and have early success, but then flame out. I would love to know how they made decisions, how they overcame doubt, and what their secret to longevity is. They created products and companies that will be part of our daily lives forever.

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?

Readers can connect and follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-sun-917a496/.

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