New learners, new workforce: students have spent 2–3 years in remote/hybrid learning environments. Rather than them preparing for the workforce, the workforce needs to be prepared for them, their novel learning styles, and the high demands for flexibility they’ll have for their employers.
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 Johnny Warstöm.
Johnny Warstöm is CEO and co-founder of the audience engagement platform Mentimeter. Through real-time interactivity, Mentimeter makes meetings, lectures, presentations and workshops more engaging, inclusive, and productive — whether physical, hybrid, or remote. With Mentimeter, Johnny is working to fundamentally change the culture of presentations from talking to listening. By harnessing this power of together, Mentimeter helps presenters to transform passive audiences into active contributors. Johnny co-founded the company in 2014. Today Mentimeter has 240+ employees, the platform has reached over 200 million people in 220 countries and regions, with customers including Accenture, Apple, Princeton, and AstraZeneca.
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?
An experience that has shaped me into the CEO I am today was realizing that relying on external financial backing and being a very “outward-facing” CEO that was rarely at the office did not work for me. Going from investor meeting to investor meeting took too much away from the time I was able to spend with my team, working hands on to build a product that survived and thrived based on user love rather than venture capital hype.
In those early days, when we were trying to secure funding and failing because people didn’t get what we were trying to do, it felt like things maybe weren’t going to pan out. In hindsight, I think it was a blessing.
Instead of going from funding round to funding round, we turned our attention to building a product that our users love. We are a profitable, healthy company that is funded by its own revenue. That has been an experience that has taught me a valuable lesson and certainly shaped me into the leader I am today — a CEO that is more concerned with the opinions and feelings of my employees and users than I am investors.
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?
In the next 10–15 years, we will continue to become more comfortable with working from home. Already, companies are implementing innovative tools to promote engagement and participation in virtual and hybrid meetings. In the long-run, I believe the hybrid work model will stick, and the remote work we have adapted to during the pandemic is here to stay.
What might change is how companies react to this trend. There might be an immediate sense that the social bonds between employees, the sense of individual and collective ownership in the workplace, and the feeling of meaningful engagement at work is on the decline. The bonds between colleagues may be weak, considering changing jobs is as simple as joining a different Slack channel and meeting links. In that sense, we lose something. In the short-term, the remote/hybrid model is great for individual freedom; but in the long-term, we will miss the sense of comradery.
I anticipate companies will likely respond to this in two different ways. Some will invest much more in company culture (as we have through a month-long relocation effort, moving employees to a new country for a month to work, explore and enhance teamwork) trying to forge those bonds at work. Others will notice the diminished role work plays in the lives of employees and experiment with a four-day workweek, allowing employees to find meaning and belonging beyond the workplace.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, as the best way for employers to future-proof their organizations will vary depending on the specific industry and company. However, some tips that we have found helpful include staying up to date on industry trends, investing in employee development, and having a clear vision for the future. Additionally, it is important to be flexible and adaptable as the business landscape continues to change.
“The only constant is change” is a mantra that is repeated frequently in my own company, Mentimeter. Embracing that change and going with it always leads to better outcomes. Pretending change isn’t happening will only mean that by the time you have to respond, it might be too late.
Planning as clearly and thoroughly as possible is still extremely important, but often leaders are too attached to plans and not willing to challenge, change, and iterate on them. Be open to experimenting and working with minimum viable products — that means often getting it wrong but learning a lot from it.
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’m not sure if this a question of what employers are “willing to offer,” but maybe instead what they “can provide.” The biggest gaps between what employers can provide and what employees expect are often in the areas of company culture and work-life balance.
Having a strong company culture requires the buy-in of employees and for them to invest their time and energy in developing it. Sometimes this even means compromising on work-life balance and spending extra time with colleagues outside of work. For some people, one is more important than the other. Some people look for belonging and ownership in their work, while others like to keep their professional and personal lives distinct and separate.
On the employee side, finding the right company is the first step in ensuring the happiest work-life balance possible. For employers, hiring candidates who are a match for the company culture as well as the specific role is key to minimizing turnover and building a great team.
Employers will need to put inclusion, engagement, and productivity at the forefront, listening to employees and working to understand the full picture of their experience. Mentimeter recently conducted a survey indicating that 71% of respondents want anonymous ways to engage during remote and in-person meetings. Beyond that, women and diverse groups felt more worried about being interrupted or not being listened to when leading or participating in meetings both in-person and remotely.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
The “Work From Home” experiment was great in a lot of ways. It gave people flexibility in their schedules that empowered their ability to strike their own work-life balance. It also gave people a certain type of focus time that was difficult to find in offices, which helped different types of workers to become more productive.
But there are drawbacks. People are working more hours than they should and our ability to engage and collaborate meaningfully with our colleagues in an inclusive way are among the consequences to watch.
Finding the right tools to make remote or hybrid meetings more efficient is paramount when it comes to decisive decision making and allowing employees to engage with a greater degree of inclusivity as we navigate the future of work.
Collaboration tools that allow for transparent, meaningful, and anonymous input from colleagues in meetings will help leaders to reach decisions quicker, reducing work time and helping to restore work-life balance.
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?
Companies will invest more in their employees’ professional development. When anyone can work from anywhere, the competition for the role becomes much more fierce. But it also means that you can lose an employee very easily, and recruitment and replacement are still costly. While it can be tempting to always go for the best of the best candidate on paper, it can be associated with a high cost. Hiring for attitude and training for skills in certain roles demonstrates to an employee that their employer is invested in them, and they often feel invested back in the company.
We’ll also see a continued rise in the use of technology to facilitate collaboration and communication within remote teams. Again, this helps to create bonds between colleagues and makes the product of our labor a shared endeavor rather than an individual act. How — and how effectively — we create this sense of collective experience will shape a future of work that works for everyone.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The empowerment of employees that we’ve seen since the pandemic and the Great Resignation is key — those phenomena have given people the power to demand transparency and inclusion in their organizations more than ever before. In the short term, this can challenge some companies to make uncomfortable changes. But these are not movements which only benefit employees. Organizations that make transparency and inclusion a central part of their methods thrive in the long-term. A lack of transparency and inclusion only serves to alienate the people who you should be working closest to. Low employee engagement and poor talent retention are bound to follow when organizations don’t prioritize transparency and inclusion, so it gives me great optimism to see that employees are demanding it from their leaders more and more.
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?
Recently, we are seeing a shift toward viewing mental health in the same way we view physical health. This has been happening for a long time, but the pandemic accelerated this concept.
The most innovative work I have seen is from organizations and teams that have placed the mental state of their employees on the same level as results and strategies. Constantly tracking what we at Mentimeter call the “What” (business outcomes), the “How” (the team’s ways of working), and the “How we feel” (the wellbeing of the team) is what we consider the secret to building high-performing teams.
And we didn’t stumble across this by accident. This is the result of a long-standing strategy of investing in people and culture-building professionals. Optimizing for employee mental health and wellbeing isn’t as simple as putting together a document or company policy. It requires consistent work from experts and the organization. Every day at Mentimeter, we provide lunch and eat away from our computers together. This allows employees to take a break from the screen, hit the refresh button and connect with colleagues on a personal level, a simple act that can immensely help employees’ wellness.
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?
These headlines make two things pretty clear: 1. A lot of people have been unhappy with their working conditions for a while, and 2. Whether it has been because of stimulus checks or some other freeing/empowering factor born out of the pandemic, people feel emboldened to pursue work they find more meaningful. It is clear that, during the pandemic, jobs that involve giving in-person service (but are not considered essential) were the hardest hit in terms of lay-offs. And many of those people simply didn’t go back. Most probably found work they could do from home to make ends meet.
The lesson leaders should take from this is that employees are always our most important asset. A human-first approach is essential. Taking the mental health of employees seriously, giving them ample opportunities to grow professionally, and providing work that is meaningful and fun should be among the top goals of all leaders.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
Trend 1. The continued rise of the gig economy: more and more people are choosing to work as independent contractors, often through online platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. In addition to the gig economy, the freelance economy is also growing. These trends will continue as more people value the flexibility and freedom that comes with this type of work.
Trend 2. New learners, new workforce: students have spent 2–3 years in remote/hybrid learning environments. Rather than them preparing for the workforce, the workforce needs to be prepared for them, their novel learning styles, and the high demands for flexibility they’ll have for their employers.
Trend 3. The continued growth of the remote workforce: with advances in technology, more and more people are able to work from home or other remote locations. This trend is likely to continue as more companies prolong their hybrid and remote protocol indefinitely. This will lead to an increase in the hybrid model which heavily relies on creative technology to engage employees in meetings and conversations.
Trend 4. The emergence of the “Listening Leader”: presenters will soon break down barriers between the speaker and audience. Emerging platforms that provide a method for participants to actively engage on their terms and turn passive participants into real-time contributors are going to continue to grow. This allows leaders to actively listen to the creative ideas employees bring to the table and pursue new ideas and opportunities.
Trend 5. Increasing diverse voices and engagement in meetings: rather than canceling meetings, leaders will leverage platforms and tools to make them more engaging and productive. Voting, questionnaires, and polls allow all participants to be heard and elevate diverse voices and not just the loudest person in the room.
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?
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” — Ernest Hemingway
This is a good quote for life and a great quote for leaders. Trust your team. I’ve previously written about the importance of trust and autonomy in high performing teams and organizations. A lack of trust only has negative effects on a company culture, and the tone has to be set from the top.
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’d love to sit down with Simon Sinek because I found Start with Why so insightful. I’d love to pick his brains and talk about the why of Mentimeter.
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?
Connect with me on LinkedIn here.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.