True diversity and inclusion. Progress, in tangible terms, towards what has too often been a theoretical concept. When the debates around this start to slow because D&I is being lived, not just discussed, we’ll know we’re arriving where we need to be.

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 Kristel Kruustük, the Founder of Testlio.

A skilled software tester, Kristel and her co-founder Marko started Testlio in 2013. She focuses on company culture, improving its testing network and testers, and forwarding social impact initiatives, D&I commitments, and angel investing to other female-founded companies. LinkedIn | Instagram | TikTok.

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 grew up in a small village in Estonia. After graduating, I lived in London for a time, and it was there that I began to learn software testing. I completed additional tech schooling in Estonia, and Testlio began not long thereafter. Exploring and moving led me to where I am. If I had stayed put, Testlio and many other things in my life may not have happened.

My family, especially my grandmother, are very important to me. My grandmother lived through the war, and many challenging situations after as our country was occupied post-war. But she always kept this amazing, positive attitude. People like that are impactful — I want to emulate her example.

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 terms of things that will be the same, I think we will still be grappling with the intersection of human-powered work and automation. It will be more refined, but I think automation will always require a human hand. Likewise, human work will benefit from some automation. It will be interesting to see what new technologies emerge that push and pull on this dynamic.

In terms of what will be different, I think we will have settled the debate on working from the office versus working remotely. At Testlio, we have spent a lot of time discussing this, even before the pandemic. People want flexibility and self-determination around working and their careers. Companies need to focus on retaining employees, spending wisely, and tapping into the entire global marketplace of talent. Being distributed by design makes sense for us, and I expect it will make sense for many others in time.

Finally, I believe we’re going to see some companies emerge as leaders in terms of values-based work cultures. It isn’t enough to host the occasional roundtable about diversity — companies need to really start living up to these commitments and it will be clear who is just giving these ideas lip service.

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

Define clear values and live up to them. Look at values (ours can be found here) and mission with as much intentionality as you do revenue and other business metrics. They drive culture and purpose, and those drive success and profit in the long-term.

Focus on building individuals and providing flexibility to them, both in terms of career path and daily life. People are prone to job hopping, often because they feel it’s the only way to advance their career or because they feel locked in or under supported. Try to break that cycle. It is harder, but that style of team is the future.

Make clear commitments to diversity and inclusion, then follow-through, especially if you want to retain and learn from young employees. Be deliberate and thoughtful about these commitments. At Teslio, for example, we have programs that help us support second chances, specifically for people who are moving past incarceration. We’ve built a company where there is balance between gender, nationality, and many other factors. It makes us better as a team.

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?

Communication and transparency. As a founder, I know it can be simpler to hold things closely, but people will astonish you with their generosity and effort if you are honest with them. Many business leaders believe they and their firms are transparent enough, but leave employees asking ‘why’ all too often.

Many companies, especially larger ones, will be challenged to provide workplace flexibility. Much of the debate around remote work centers on large employers steeped in traditional office culture, and those organizations will have to be especially thoughtful about how to manage a return to offices.

The tension between managerial talent and younger talent will always present gaps in understanding. For about a decade, Millennials were under the microscope, now it’s Gen Z. Business leaders should seek to leverage these differences to better understand emerging mindsets, markets and opportunities. Take a positive view on the whole generational differences piece.

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

Well, we were a bit ahead of the experiment. For a time we had several physical offices, but the nature of our work at Testlio led us to adopt a distributed by design approach — and it works. Really well in fact. That’s not to say it’s perfect; but we’re learning.

There is no going back from the great WFH experiment, not for knowledge workers in any case. People have options, and an outsized portion have decided it’s important to determine when and where they’ll get work done. It won’t be every talented professional out there, but it will be a lot of them. Do you really want to limit your talent pool or risk retention of key people? That’s what it comes down to. I think most companies will say ‘no’ to both questions in the future.

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?

It’s clear that to make work work for everyone, individual business leaders need to step up and lead through action. Be deliberate about providing more opportunity to communities and people who don’t come by it as often. Be intentional about not just talking about diversity, but being diverse. If enough of us can do this from our niche in society, things can change. It will take time. But they will.

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

Honestly, the culture we’ve built at Testlio fills me with hope. Marko and I have a nearly a decade of time invested in building this company with a diverse team, distributed worldwide employee base, and a lot of options ahead of it. It’s humbling to be a part of something like this.

The number of new parents at Testlio is something we love to reflect on. We grew our family and the company at the same time. It’s not easy to balance family and work — but we must be doing something right for so many other people to be doing the same.

I love that our people like to work with us and for us, but that they also can devote themselves to kids and passions outside of work. The future of work is respectful of that time and those priorities.

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’ve followed the example of providing space and candor about this. We have to lead from the front — for example, I try to be honest about things being hard. We are in South Africa right now, because it’s winter back home and we needed a break from the cold and regular flow. That sets an example.

I’m not put together 100 percent of the time. I have hard days, months, even years. People need to know that’s normal, that’s okay. And often they need someone in a position of authority to show them that it’s okay. It’s not groundbreakingly innovative, but I think it’s where we have to start, more so than employee assistance programs and mental health perks.

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?

Post-industrialization and through the 1980s, business became very transactional in terms of the relationship with employees. We still live in that world, a world where shareholder value is the North Star of many corporations. But newer companies may not want to follow that example.

We can’t gripe about ‘loyalty’ if we aren’t loyal to our people first. At Testlio, we call our team a ‘pride,’ like a pride of lions. Prides rise and fall based on their success in working together long term. We want to revisit that earned-loyalty mindset that was once a larger part of the relationship between businesses and employees.

In our Series B round, for example, we let certain tenured employees activate some of their equity. I’m a founder, sure, but can I grow without those key people? No, absolutely not. They deserve recognition and reward also. Love — affinity — creates more love. If our employees love looking out for our interests, our customers will love working with us, as Simon Sinek put it.

How do company cultures need to evolve?

Empower people to bring their entire self, and the best of human nature, to work with them. We do need diversity and inclusion, and it needs to genuinely include everyone. People drive culture — we channel individuals through values and vision, but people determine culture.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

The rise of distributed-by-design. I’ve already detailed Testlio’s journey here. There are many examples of larger firms such as Adobe, SAP and Twitter that are following suit. It will be interesting to watch when and where this works, and where it might not.

The melding of automation and human-driven activity. We’re thinking deeply about automation’s pivot to supporting human work versus threatening our usefulness in work. Find me a B2B tech firm anywhere who isn’t grappling with automation in some way. Embracing this shift will play a big role in the future of work.

A pivot away from profit to purpose. Purposeful companies (Apple, Sama, 23andMe, Spanx, perhaps Testlio) are winning in their markets in part due to their vision for something beyond sheer profit. While the exact chemistry is different between firms, purpose is an interesting topic to keep an eye on.

Culture grounded in how we treat each other. It’s not about parties, perks or exclusivity; people want support, care and decency. I think this is especially critical when it comes to parental leave and genuinely supporting that for all employees. Netflix, Google, IBM and others have all made big commitments to parental leave that go beyond requirements to truly support their employees. And their employees respond to that support.

True diversity and inclusion. Progress, in tangible terms, towards what has too often been a theoretical concept. When the debates around this start to slow because D&I is being lived, not just discussed, we’ll know we’re arriving where we need to be.

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?

“Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.” — Leila Janah

This is a core concept behind how we’ve built Testlio. There is talent everywhere in testing, but not necessarily opportunity everywhere. It’s on us to go find the talent, wherever it is, and extend the opportunity.

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.

This is a tough one, because there are so many who have inspired me over the past decade. I need to name three — Sara Blakely, Arlan Hamilton and Whitney Wolfe Herd.

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?

I am active on LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok.

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