Every organization can be global. There are no barriers constraining organizations from becoming global players. The world is now much smaller and with technology, the pool of available talent is vast. Increasingly companies that realize their addressable market is unlimited will reap the rewards of this outlook. Companies that were once local can now hire remote employees from other states or even other countries, resulting in rapid expansion and a global presence.
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 Karim Zuhri.
Karim Zuhri serves as General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of Cascade, a strategy execution platform helping organizations across the globe turn visions into reality, from building the world’s fastest formula 1 car, to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine. Karim is passionate about helping organizations scale up and grow into unicorns or dragons. He has over 15 years of experience in engineering, product strategy, and management consulting. Prior to joining Cascade, he served as Global Head of Product Marketing & Research for Safety Culture, helping to build the company to be valued at $2.1 billion. Karim also spent time as Global Senior Manager, Product Marketing for Expedia Group, where he led a number of global projects to both create a culture of customer obsession and to drive business growth. He is inspired by Elon Musk “I could either watch it happen, or be part of it” and Emerson “Every person I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn from them.”
Thank you for making time to visit us. 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 was raised in Lebanon and had two life-changing events resulting from living in a country where war was a tradition. The first happened on a family vacation in 2006, during the Israeli-Lebanese war. After seeing war up close — I began to realize that there’s so much to life that you need to enjoy and work on rather than choosing to focus on the negatives. I learned to live life through a positive lens because nothing is worse than death. This mindset shift taught me to be resilient and patient in tough times and hope for better days.
Practicing resilience and patience showed me that I could achieve any goal I set my mind to, as long as I worked at it consistently. That helped me with how I looked at my career, which led to my second life-changing event.
I’ve lived in 7 different countries to date and when I moved to the US, I noticed how different the work culture is to Europe. I also started seeing the cultural differences between companies and employees. That’s when I realized that culture isn’t something rigid, bound exclusively to a physical location but rather something that, with guidance, can evolve into a huge multiplying factor not only for the organization but for the happiness of the people within. Seeing this gave me a very different perspective on managing global teams and companies that span several regions but still maintain a core company culture. As a result of that line of thinking and what I experienced growing up, I wanted to build a culture of transparency and vulnerability to help teams thrive at work. I firmly believe that everyone should show up to work feeling happy and fulfilled, not simply getting by every day feeling “ok” — because “ok” is not enough, no is and hiding core parts of yourself to blend in. The question I always ask myself is, “How can we leverage our work to be happier in life overall?”
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace, 15 years, 10 to 15 years from now. And what do you predict will be different?
No matter the industry, human connection and presence will always be essential. Even though we’re in a tech bubble right now and often think that the world can survive remotely, essential industries like healthcare, consumer goods, manufacturing, logistics, shipping, retail, and construction can only be remote to a certain extent. For office workers, remote working will prevail; however, it won’t be a reality for a significant number of people across many industries.
Automation will accelerate, bringing significant changes to how we work. But we must never confuse automation and remote working with a lower need for human connection. Even though office workers have been working remotely for the past two years and love the flexibility, we need human connection more than ever. It’s becoming more and more evident that even though people don’t need to work in the same office, they still feel an urge to interact with others. The face-to-face meetings of the past were as much about human connection as they were effective collaboration. The reality is that Zoom meetings which are just replicas of the face-to-face ones they replaced, will achieve neither of those things.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future proof their organizations?
This one is interesting. From so many different perspectives, companies often stress the importance of professional development. They try to help their teams grow through training, but they’re missing the mark with their end goals for that development. The training employees receive only helps them get better at their current jobs. Employers should be investing in upskilling so employees can advance in their roles and become future leaders. This hasn’t happened because companies think they can always bring in external talent with more experience to fill leadership roles rather than seek to promote from within.
If organizations prioritize upskilling at every job level, employees will be more incentivized to grow in their roles and move up within the company instead of seeking advancement elsewhere. Providing that clear path will help companies seeking to source and retain top talent, especially in the face of the Great Resignation.
Remote working has made it almost impossible for organizations to use micromanagement or autocracy to drive results. This is a great thing, but many organizations still seem to be resisting this new reality by enforcing ‘mandatory office days’ or similar. This is the opposite of true empowerment or trust, and will create huge polarization between the best places to work and everywhere else. Some people make the argument that mandatory office days are important for human connection — but that’s the same as saying “if you work somewhere close to a physical office, we’ve got you covered for human connection — if you don’t, then sorry you’ll just have to make do without”!
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer? And what do employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
I predict that employees, especially younger ones, will continue to accelerate their careers at a much faster pace than employers are used to. Having enough money to pay the bills and create financial stability is no longer sufficient. Employees now expect to work for companies that align with their values and aren’t afraid to switch gears if they feel like the partnership with their current employer isn’t working out. The employer and employee must benefit in deeper ways than simply exchanging time and knowledge for a paycheck.
Currently, many larger organizations are struggling with remote work, even though they think they are doing a good job. We see productivity levels going up but effectiveness levels going down. We also see an interesting paradox between levels of happiness reported by those in leadership roles compared to individual contributors. If you ask leaders how things are going, they are much more likely to say they’re happy, while team members say they’re merely surviving. This dynamic of thriving leaders versus surviving team members is an interesting yet concerning dynamic that companies must dig deeper into and reconcile.
One solution to this expectation gap is for employers to understand what motivates each generation of employees and tailor their offerings accordingly. For example, if younger employees value mobility, remote work should be part of the package. Organizations need to keep up with what employees value now rather than focusing on how they’ve always done things.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Remote work has opened our eyes to the need for human connection and interaction. Employees can enjoy all the benefits of working from home while staying connected to colleagues via messaging and video conferencing. But they also feel increasingly disconnected from the company at the same time. Remote work has also magnified existing problems in our personal lives — juggling careers with childcare and feelings of loneliness.
If we’re calling remote work an experiment, then I think we can call the outcome of that experiment a ‘qualified success’. It’s a success in that it’s here to stay. But there are many things that many organizations need to do if we’re going to make this truly work for both organizations and people in the long term. Physical offices used to be places of control where employers kept tabs on employees to ensure they were doing their work. But now they are places to foster real-life connections which must complement and enhance the virtual work environments that many of us also live in. Another point to note is that despite many desk jobs going remote, roles in essential sectors such as healthcare won’t be moving to a remote model anytime soon.
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?
75% of people now want and expect flexibility, so we should create a model for optimum collaboration while encouraging flexibility. Employers need to let go of their need to control employees by forcing everyone back into an office for surveillance purposes. At the same time, people should feel safe to bring their whole selves to work — not just the polished, professional version! If we’re going to rethink the employer-employee relationship as a partnership rather than a transactional one. In that case, both parties should work together to achieve set goals while also creating a safe space for voicing concerns and prioritizing mental health.
There’s also a mindset shift from technology being just a function to being the business because we can’t function without it, from Zoom meetings to communicating using channels like Teams, Slack, GChat. If we have a quick question for someone, we can’t just walk over to them and ask in real time like we used to. Technology has become the medium through which we do business. So, developers and company leaders will have to work together to adapt future technology to complement the lives and needs of remote workers to streamline workflow while allowing people more flexibility in how they choose to complete their work.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Now that we’re all working remotely, I get to meet and work with people from all over the world. I think this is great for the future of work because we get exposure to many different people every day.
Meeting more people allows us to learn and exchange ideas across borders and cultures. We open our minds to different ways of thinking and learn to embrace diversity rather than only consider concepts we’re already familiar with. Befriending colleagues from different countries also makes us feel as if the world is smaller and we’re not so far away from each other as we think.
If we only hired and worked with people in our region, we’re limiting ourselves to the views and ideas of those who are more similar to us than not. Sometimes, it really helps to hear a fresh perspective that you hadn’t considered before.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now a key consideration as we evaluate the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
I see employers offering virtual events all the time to help teams bond and create a sense of belonging to ease loneliness. These events range from breakfasts to company trivia nights and they’re a fun way for employees to get to know each other better despite not sharing an office, thus fostering camaraderie among colleagues. However, simply hosting various events isn’t a sustainable solution for addressing overall mental health because we’re brought up with a mindset to leave our personal baggage out of the workplace.
Allowing employees to express that they’re not ok at work is vital. Even though companies are a place to get work done, people should be able to bring their entire selves to work, including their personal lives. It has been drilled into us to hide our emotions and always appear put-together and professional in front of bosses and colleagues, but like it or not, what goes on in our personal lives will ultimately impact how we function at work.
Employers should lead by example and encourage employees to speak up when they’re not in the best place. This will improve effectiveness and reduce anxiety because people know they’re in a safe space and can be themselves. The goal of employees and employers is to have both parties thrive in the partnership, so having empathy for others coupled with open and honest communication helps people be their best selves.
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 all mean employees are not connecting enough with their teams, so they feel ok leaving. Leaders need to try harder to understand their employees and their needs to have a higher chance of retaining them.
I believe that letting employees relax on weekends and on their own time, on their terms, boosts morale tremendously. Everyone needs time that’s just for them and they should not feel an obligation to check in on work when they’re off-hours. Well-rested employees are much happier and more engaged at work than stressed, overworked individuals. Organizations should prioritize work-life balance because it’s a sustainable system for the long term by preventing burnout and high turnover.
Trust is also a huge component of a healthy company culture. When leaders trust team members to get their work done, they don’t waste time micromanaging every detail of every project. In turn, employees feel empowered to exercise creativity and produce their best work without being subject to strict instructions at a moment’s whim. Employees who feel trusted and feel that their work makes a difference are the happiest in their roles, giving them an incentive to stay.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- The traditional hierarchy has been flattened.
Leaders are younger and have a very different perspective on leadership. They want and expect to ask team members for their opinions rather than an autocratic approach. And in turn, employees want to be involved in decision making and feel like they are contributing to the organization’s growth. For example, when senior management wants to incorporate new company benefits, they might send out a company-wide survey to gather feedback from employees and implement the benefits that appease the general majority rather than making the decisions on their own. Collaboration and transparency are critical for successful leadership today.
2. Coaches will replace managers.
With so many roles now remote or hybrid, the established best practices no longer suffice, and organizations need to rethink how to engage and retain employees. Organizations need to replace the traditional line manager structure with coaches. A coach provides support and guidance that helps individuals realize their potential. And with the lack of human connection in the workplace, this is vital. For example, a manager tells you exactly how you need to do something and arranges all your projects. A coach will explain the benefits of taking on certain projects and suggest some best practices as guidance. With the coaching method, you gain wisdom for the long term rather than only focusing on completing tasks and gain empowerment to make decisions fostering a culture of accountability. With clear direction and transparency, you can align teams and their focus to what matters most and give them insight into how they make an impact — removing the need to micromanage people.
3. Adaptability is the foundation for success.
With the constant change and pace of work, the ability of employees and organizations to rapidly respond to change is a vital component of success. Teams need to learn, unlearn, and relearn faster than ever before. For example, everyone had to learn how to use Zoom when the pandemic hit. We had to unlearn our old habit of firing off quick questions to colleagues in person since that option was no longer available, and instead learn to plan out questions via email or waiting for a response on instant messaging platforms. We also had to relearn how to connect with each other and build virtual company cultures despite the geographical obstacles. Adaptability will increasingly become a strategic advantage and organizations will look for ways to create an environment that fosters it.
4. Every organization can be global.
There are no barriers constraining organizations from becoming global players. The world is now much smaller and with technology, the pool of available talent is vast. Increasingly companies that realize their addressable market is unlimited will reap the rewards of this outlook. Companies that were once local can now hire remote employees from other states or even other countries, resulting in rapid expansion and a global presence.
5. Diversity will be everywhere.
It’s not enough to just think about diversity in terms of race and gender, it must infuse every aspect of your organization. Companies need to take a hard look at the demographics of both their C-Suite and their team members. Allowing employees to show their whole selves and creating a culture where they feel they can express themselves freely — hair, religious garments, allowing flexibility in schedules — is a step forward in the right direction.
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?
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” — Nelson Mandela
This quote shaped my perspective on how I view life and my career. I like to always look on the bright side of life and make the best of every situation because you never know what the future may bring. When it comes to work, thinking positively motivates me to venture out of my comfort zone and try everything. It’s better to try, fail, and learn rather than let fear hold me back from starting.
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 Stewart Butterfield because he is an incredible leader committed to building a future where workplaces put people first.
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?
Absolutely! Here is my LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karim-zuhri/
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.