The Benefits of Flexibility. One thing the pandemic taught us is that many types of work can be done anywhere and at any time. We see so many companies choosing not to reopen their offices, as being remote hasn’t affected the success and productivity of their teams. The savings on facilities is great for companies, but it’s unwise for them to count it all as such. Businesses must continue to invest in the employee work environment — making it motivating, engaging, and productive — wherever it is.

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 Jess Legge.

Jess Legge is the CEO and Co-Founder of Sifted, a woman and LGBTQ+ owned company that offers resources for organizations looking to engage their employees in the new era of the workplace. Founded in 2015, Sifted is the employee engagement partner to Fortune 500s and the nation’s fastest-growing companies. Jess is also an advisor and co-founder of Street Sense, the only fully integrated curb management technology that utilizes citywide camera networks to gather curb utilization data for both drivers and municipalities.

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 took a charcoal drawing intensive in college that started at 7:30 am and was a 3 hour long lab each week. Going into the course I was nervous — I have always liked art and enjoyed painting and drawing in my free time but I’d never done it for a grade. I walked into the first day of class and they handed me a pinecone and told me to start drawing. This was our first project. I meticulously worked on the sketch for the week, hell bent on getting an A. I turned in the sketch that Friday and when I got my grade back, I had flunked it. I went into the professor’s office dumbfounded and asked for feedback. He looked at me and said he failed me because he could see in my strokes that I was trying too hard to do what I thought he wanted to see versus what was natural. I asked for a redo and submitted a new drawing (that I did in half the time with my intuition guiding me) and got an A. That lesson always stuck with me — if I try to mold myself into what I think someone’s expecting, I can hamper my abilities and the inauthenticity will be obvious. It’s been a valuable lesson in all aspects of life — including entrepreneurship.

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?

Collaboration will always be a part of work. Ways to engage, communicate with one another, building trust. Sifted is all about team engagement, no matter where we’re working from, our teams will always rely on communication. It can be difficult to predict what can happen 10–15 years from now, given what has happened in the last 2 years. If anything will be different, the idea of human connection is going to be important to foster work relationships and creativity.

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

Be open to new technology and ways of doing business, try new things, and be decisive about what to keep and what isn’t for your organization. Also, take care of employees. Pay them more than the competition, provide flexible work environments, create opportunities for meaningful engagements and relationship building during the workday, provide opportunities for advancement beyond the stereotypical management path.

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?

Employees post-pandemic want meaningful perks, more than just donuts and beer carts. I think that will continue to be an expectation for employees, and something that employers will need to think ahead on. What actually makes them happier, better nourished, feel more like a team with their coworkers? That’s where Sifted provides such value. We allow companies to perk employees in a way that is truly meaningful. Not only are there the real benefits of having a free, healthful lunch, but the secondary benefits of nourishment, team building, and breaking from the day to experience something new and different have long term value for the employer and the employee.

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

There’s no doubt about it. Employees now demand the ability to work remotely. However, having done so for so long, employees will also demand workplaces that give them a quiet, focused, inspiring place to work away from the distractions of home. Companies will be forced to offer models that accommodate those who love work from home as well as those who don’t. It’s going to be vital for them to be flexible in providing the perks and benefits for both in-office and remote employees.

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?

First and most importantly, organizations have to get better at listening to their employees’ needs and work to anticipate ways in which their environments might be exacerbating existing disparities within the workplace. Create a culture that supports and rewards honest conversation around the changes that have occurred as a result of the pandemic. For some employees, work from home might be a welcome relief while other employees fear getting left behind if their contributions are not seen within the traditional office setting. Employers must be aware of disproportionate child-care burdens that some of their team face, concerns around opening up their private lives via Zoom to their teams, and so on while working from home — all while acknowledging that WFH and hybrid models have been a welcome reprieve for some historically marginalized staff, offering more freedom to show up as their authentic selves. Each and every individual on your team is unique and deserves the space to ask for an environment that supports their needs and we as a society and as business leaders have to give them the opportunity to do so. We must challenge our implicit biases and examine the systems we have in place to ensure they are supporting an inclusive future of work.

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

Working isn’t a bad thing. In fact, work gives us purpose, a chance to create, a place (among others) to make an impact. The way the outlook on career and the workplace has changed in the last several years is going to change what people will expect out of their careers and from their future jobs. I believe we’ll continue to grow and evolve and that we can find positive ways to bring the joy back to work.

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?

We’re already seeing many companies provide coverage for mental health under their insurance plans, which is an important first step. But we know that’s just one way to address mental health and that a healthy mental state comes from being nourished in many ways. Food is one literal form of nourishment — our clients are supporting employee wellness and combining it with their own collaboration. Another piece of that is full office closures. Coinbase just announced shutting the office down for four weeks spread throughout the year. Sifted shuts the whole office down from 24th of December to January 2nd to provide more intentional opportunities to recharge. I would also consider child care stipends to be a way for employers to optimize their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. It takes the mental load off of working parents to know they can work and provide for their families while knowing their children are being taken care of.

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 names are new, but the concept isn’t. We need to listen to our employees as we always have. We need to listen, enact changes, get feedback, and keep tweaking and improving. We also need to understand that work is a two-way street. Employers can no longer get away with assuming an imbalanced power dynamic; workers are reclaiming their power, as they should.

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

  1. Empathy is Key
    Empathy is key in retaining employees. Companies must listen to their employees and put themselves in their shoes to fully understand and connect with them. Moreover, if we say we believe this but don’t build that belief into our plans, we can’t deliver. Our business plans need to be designed with empathy in mind. We must leave room — time, resources, space — for the business to accommodate employee needs for time away for illnesses, family priorities, and time off.
  2. Connection in the Workplace
    Connecting with employees on a level beyond work creates a more collaborative environment and shows that the employer values them. Showing your employees you care about them as people and providing them with an inclusive space can directly impact the growth of your company. It’s hard not to like people when you know them on a personal level, so helping your teams know one another makes room for them to like, support, and help each other.
  3. Meaningful Perks
    As I’ve said, employees nowadays are looking for meaningful perks above everything else. As the workplace continues to evolve, so will the kinds of perks that employers are offering. Whether it’s catered lunches, or even offering sabbaticals, certain perks are deemed more valuable to employees than a pay raise. These perks will become more creative and elaborate over time, which we’re starting to see with many organizations.
  4. The Benefits of Flexibility
    One thing the pandemic taught us is that many types of work can be done anywhere and at any time. We see so many companies choosing not to reopen their offices, as being remote hasn’t affected the success and productivity of their teams. The savings on facilities is great for companies, but it’s unwise for them to count it all as such. Businesses must continue to invest in the employee work environment — making it motivating, engaging, and productive — wherever it is.
  5. Technology Evolution
    As technology continues to evolve, the more managerial tasks will become automated. This may be viewed as a negative to some, but I see it as a positive because it will allow employers to focus more on the manager-employee relationships and fostering the core components of their organizations. Businesses need to be thoughtful about where they automate and intentional about where they choose not to leverage technology. When it comes to relationships, technology should serve to deepen the personal connection, not to replace it.

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?

Work hard and treat people well. This is how Sifted operates. We’re completely bootstrapped, and at our core we are about treating people — our clients, their employees, and our employees — well. Whether that’s treating them to lunch or treating them with respect, we treat others well. These simple words keep me grounded and focused on what matters. As Brene Brown is known for saying, “what we know matters, but who we are matters more.”

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.

Ava Duvernay. I’m such a big fan of her films; I value the messages they convey and admire the way she conveys them. She’s immensely talented, a pioneer in her field, and a force for inclusion, and I could learn so much from her.

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?

@jlegge on twitter

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