Expansion of workplace flexibility, distributed work, and rethinking the purpose of the office.

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 Lauren Pasquarella Daley.

Lauren Pasquarella Daley, PhD, is a Vice President at Catalyst, where she leads the organization-wide Women and the Future of Work strategic initiative. In this role, she leads all aspects of strategy, research studies, product development, and program management for the Future of Work learning solutions. Lauren serves as Catalyst’s subject matter expert on women and the future of work, developing the key priority areas which position women at the forefront of changes and where organizations can leverage inclusive workplaces to build a more equitable future of work.

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.

Sure thing, thank you for having me.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I suddenly and unexpectedly ended up on long-term modified bed rest. It was one of the busiest times of the year for us at work, and I was three weeks away from defending my dissertation. Luckily, I had very supportive and caring managers who immediately took action to figure out a solution. My leaders at work — both men — advocated to their senior leader to allow a temporary work-from-home arrangement for me. Working offsite was extremely rare at my workplace, and they both had to take a risk and use their political capital for my benefit. They even had to manage open hostility and pregnancy discrimination from some of my coworkers who were not supportive of the accommodations I received. With the ability to work-from-home, I was able to complete my special work projects, complete my dissertation, and keep myself and my baby healthy — all because of their advocacy and empathy for my situation in figuring out a solution that worked for all of us.

That experience personally showed me the benefits of leaders who are skilled at demonstrating empathy and can build a supportive, caring workplace. It also showed me that flexibility and remote work were critical for women — and for everyone — to best manage their life and work needs. And, I probably stayed at that job much longer than I should have because of the care, concern, and understanding my leaders gave me when I needed it most.

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?

It’s incredibly hard to accurately predict that far out because technology, work, and people are dynamic, complex, and rapidly changing. That being said, I expect that emerging technologies and other disruptive events will continue to drive change at work, increasing digital transformation strategies and improving how we can connect, collaborate, and work over distance. I do think hybrid work and remote work are here to stay and will continue getting better and easier over time with intention and better tech. I also think we will further develop ways to use technology and physical workplaces as tools to free up time for us to grow and better use those truly human skills like empathy and creativity, which are hard to automate.

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

Look for the signals on the horizon and be open to change. For example, organizations who were already implementing and investing in remote work practices and technologies were able to more quickly and effectively pivot when the pandemic moved those who could work from home, home.

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?

Employee expectations have shifted. The shifting paradigm around life and work has many people re-evaluating what they want out of their careers and jobs. Catalyst research from late 2021 indicated that about half of people were looking for new job opportunities, and some of the top reasons given were 1) a lack of flexibility and 2) a lack of empathy for their life circumstances from their employers.

The Great Reimagining of Work (AKA the Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle) has also shifted power to the workers in a way that we’ve not seen before in many of our lifetimes. People have options, and they want to work for companies and leaders who are building inclusive, flexible workplaces and demonstrating high levels of empathy through their policies and practices and in their interactions. Companies and leaders who provide expanded flexibility and remote work access, show care and concern for their workers during the pandemic, take positive action in response to social issues and events, and understand/show respect for their workers’ life circumstances will be talent magnets.

To reconcile these gaps in empathy and RTO/hybrid work expectations, I recommend leaders also re-evaluate their company cultures to see where and how they can be more flexible and empathic by doing three things:

  1. Invest in empathy upskilling for your senior leaders and managers.
  2. Intentionally expand access to workplace flexibility and remote work access.
  3. Role model and encourage your teams to take advantage of wellbeing programs, flexible work, and taking leave so your people feel safe to do so as well.

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

At Catalyst, we identified flexible and remote work as a trend shaping opportunities for a more inclusive future of work back in 2019. We did not know that it would rapidly accelerate with a global pandemic or how quickly companies would adopt and accept remote working.

To manage disruption from the pandemic, employers moved all roles and people that they could to more flexible, work-from-home arrangements, expanding the number of people remotely from about 20% (before the pandemic) to 71% in December 2020. These percentages align with other global statistics reported during the same time period. This means that most people who experienced remote work during the pandemic did not experience normal remote work. They experienced emergency remote work in the midst of a crisis.

As companies, leaders, and employees look to the future with the shift toward more long-term flexible and remote work/hybrid work options, it is critical that plans are intentionally built on a foundation of empathy and inclusion to ensure that we are creating equity.

I also know that many industries and roles may not have been able to participate in this WFH experiment. As we move into the future, with disruption expected to continue and be more of a norm, companies will need to continue expanding access to flexible work options for everyone, reimagining work and the workplace, making flexibility more equitable for people who are not office workers.

I also expect that work-from-home will shift more toward work-from-anywhere — with companies recognizing the benefits to managing disruption, giving employees choices on when, where, and how they best work, a rise in digital nomads, and people seeking out coworking spaces. Work-from-anywhere policies and practices allow companies with both hybrid and fully remote workplaces to go where their talent is and intentionally build inclusive cultures of belonging regardless of schedule or location. This is necessary for companies to manage disruption and win in a highly competitive talent market.

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 workforce has changed. People have changed. People are re-evaluating their jobs by examining where, when, what, how, and why work occurs.

The pandemic has reshaped the workforce, and everyone experienced it differently based on their overlapping identities and where they were positioned. Some groups experienced disproportionate impacts to their lives and work who did not have access to that same kind of flexibility. People were managing caregiving responsibilities — whether self-care, childcare, elder care, community care, or some combination of any and all — while navigating uncertainty about the world and worries about COVID. Some people lost loved ones, others lost autonomy, others lost social connection.

The reported spikes in mental health concerns during the pandemic have become something workplaces must proactively address, and I think we will continue to see more work benefits to support mental and physical wellness now and into the future.

The pandemic and the racial justice movement highlighted inequities that were already there but in ways that made people more aware than ever before. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) programs — and action instead of paying lip service — will be critical for companies to recruit, attract, and retain both talent and their customers.

Finally, disruption is going to continue coming. Workplaces must expand flexible work options and start preparing now. It is critical for equity, for attracting and retaining talent, and for maintaining business continuity during disruptive events.

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

My greatest source of optimism about the future of work is that the future is not a fixed point. It is something we are constantly moving toward and can create. We can reimagine, reset, and rebuild each day.

The pandemic accelerated the changes I expected for women and the future of work, and these rapid workplace changes with more disruption will likely continue. The pandemic and racial justice movement put a spotlight on issues of inequity in society and at work. Moving forward, we can use this moment to reset and rebuild for a more empathic and equitable future for everyone. Workers and consumers are demanding it, and forward-thinking companies have started making long-lasting changes to create more human-centric and inclusive workplaces. But, there is still more work to be done.

I believe there are great opportunities for women — and everyone — now and into the future of work if we intentionally keep empathy, inclusion, and equity front and center as we move forward along the path of change.

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 been through a collective trauma — even those of us who fared pretty well during the pandemic. People are burned out. They are tired and overwhelmed. They are stressed. And they are worried. Many people felt more isolated. Many people had to also manage experiencing discrimination and fears about their safety.

The pandemic showed us how interdependent we are. We cannot separate our work and life experiences. Work and life became integrated, not separate spheres, during the pandemic. We also cannot separate creating inclusive and human workplace cultures that support wellbeing from business strategy.

I think that employee mental health and wellbeing will become a bigger focus for leaders. Forward-thinking companies will create C-suite level positions that merge wellbeing with other key priority areas like DEI, ESG, or HR. We’ve seen some companies start to move in this direction already with new initiatives and senior leaders bringing these traditionally different areas together to build a more holistic, inclusive, and empathic employee experiences and corporate responsibility broadly in their organizations.

What’s most important is that companies and leaders recognize the opportunity we have at this moment to reset, reimagine, and humanize the workplace. As a result, Catalyst research finds that empathy — the act of showing care, concern, and understanding — is a critical business solution and skill for leaders to learn and better develop for successful organizations and teams in this new era of work.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation.’ 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?

This trend has been coming for some time as we’ve seen workers and consumers shift their expectations about life and work. People expect different things from companies and leaders: They expect better attention and action responding to social issues and the pandemic; they expect more DEI programs and actions; they want more flexibility, better leave policies, and a workplace that supports their wellbeing.

At Catalyst, we refer to this shifting paradigm as the Great Reimagining of Work. This frame encourages companies and leaders to reimagine the workplace around building a more empathic, flexible, and inclusive workplace for women and for everyone. Yes, workers are driving the trend, but companies and leaders who more quickly recognize, respond, and reimagine their workplace cultures will gain a competitive edge.

There has been interesting research coming out on what people want from corporate cultures. Catalyst and CNBC research from late 2021 found that about half of workers in the US were thinking of making a career change. Two of the biggest reasons: 1) a lack of flexibility from their jobs (many wanted COVID remote work or flexible work policies to become more permanent) and 2) a lack of empathy (care, concern, and understanding) from their managers for their individual life circumstances.

LinkedIn released their 2022 Global Talent Trends report which echoes these findings: Workers want reimagined workplace cultures that support flexibility, wellbeing, and life-work effectiveness.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please explain each trend fully and share a story / provide illustrative examples for each.)

  1. The impact of emerging technology.
  • This area includes how bias in design and function impacts equity; how technology changes jobs, people, and work; and how we need to ensure equity in education and skilling programs around new emerging technology.
  • I expect to see a greater need for alternative routes to careers and more reskilling programs for technical skills. It will be important to stay qualified with emerging tech, especially in building new programs for increasing representation and increasing access to tech fields for more women and especially women of color.

2. The Great Reimagining of Work.

  • I expect this trend to continue into the near future, and it may have lasting impacts on how and why we work.
  • This may result in redefining company culture for better life-work integration, more flexibility, more empathy, and more support, while prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and DEIB initiatives.
  • Corporate culture shifts will be necessary for human capital strategies, supporting wellness, and good ESG for talent and consumers.
  • How corporations respond to social movements and current events will be increasingly important for attracting, retaining, and promoting highly talented workers and consumers.

3. Expansion of workplace flexibility, distributed work, and rethinking the purpose of the office.

  • Remote work has many benefits for employers and workers, and it’s become a norm for many workers and companies around the globe. I expect that hybrid work will become more common moving forward and that companies and leaders will allow for more choices for workers about where, when, and how they work. For office workers, some may want to work fully remotely; others may want to come to an office more frequently. The office won’t go away for many companies, although they may downsize, and some may eliminate their office spaces altogether. For those keeping a physical HQ or office space, companies will redesign their work practices and workspaces to encourage remote-first practices (including the importance of async communication and collaboration for reducing burnout and for efficiency), incorporating virtual collaboration tech and making their spaces purposeful for building connections when people do come onsite.
  • I also expect companies and office workers to move more from Work-from-Home toward Work-From-Anywhere when we fully emerge from COVID lockdowns and limitations set by the pandemic (including coworking spaces). Organizations will recognize the human capital management benefits in expanding their talent pool by hiring the best talent, allowing them to live and work where, when, and how it best suits them regardless of location or schedule.
  • As I expect hybrid work to be the new norm, it will eventually expand into new industries and roles. Companies will likely incorporate emerging tech and new ways of working flexibly for all of their workers, including their frontline and essential workers, to solve talent shortages and ensure business continuity during times of disruption.
  • These changes will be good for business and workers and will help attract, retain, and promote talent — especially women and people from historically marginalized backgrounds who may have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic or who research finds may prefer working flexibly.

5. Leaders will need upskilling on human-centric skills like empathy for success.

  • We know that reskilling on technical skills will be important to stay qualified with emerging tech (see trend 1).
  • The interpersonal, human skills that make us unique from machines and help foster innovation, collaboration, and human-centric work cultures of inclusion and belonging will become key leadership skills for success in this new era of work.
  • Empathy — the act of demonstrating care, concern, and understanding to others’ life circumstances — is a key business skill for the future of work that everyone can learn and improve with intentional practice.
  • Empathy is one way to create these human-centric cultures, and Catalyst research finds it is a force for boosting productivity, life-work integration, and positive work experiences.
  • It’s also a key part of other important areas like design thinking, EX, CX, and UX.

6. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) will be key focus areas now and into the future for companies to invest in and expand.

  • Moving into a hybrid world, we must ensure that we aren’t creating two-tiers of workers: Those who benefit from increased visibility from being more frequently onsite versus those who choose to work more remotely and flexibly; and those who can access flexible work and those who cannot.
  • DEIB programs will be key for success in building and refining successful, inclusive, and equitable workplaces now and into the future of work.
  • Hiring more women and people of color is important, but we must also work to create work cultures where everyone can belong, contribute, thrive, and advance. Building more inclusive and diverse workplaces is good for business, and DEIB departments are key players in supporting their companies on the journey to a more equitable future of work.

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?

I have many quotes to speak to me. One about work that is top of mind right now as we look to the future of work is from Thomas Edison:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”

This mindset speaks to the importance of failure and making mistakes when it comes to learning and innovating — we learn as much from prototypes that don’t work out as when they do. Without failure, we cannot grow. Reframing failure as an opportunity for learning and growth is critical to being a future-focused leader who is creative, resilient, adapts to change, and is comfortable in an increasingly uncertain world. These skills — and empathy — are going to be key differentiators now and into the future of work. Upskilling now can help us be successful with our own careers, our paths as leaders, and our workplace cultures and products we build.

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 like to name two.

The first is Tsedal Neeley, Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Research Strategy at the Harvard Business School and author of Remote Work Revolution. She is one of the leading experts on remote work, and her research (and book) on remote work was ahead of its time. I’d love to learn more about her career path as a scholar, discuss her research, and talk all things flexible and remote work.

My second is Dominic Price, Work Futurist for Atlassian. As more companies grapple with the long-term changes to work from the pandemic and continued disruption in the future, I expect more will begin building in-house teams focused on the future of work. I’d love to learn more about Dominic’s path as a futurist, discuss the trends we see impacting work 3–5 years down the road, and get to know his approach at Atlassian.

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’m most active on LinkedIn and Twitter @drlaurendaley. Readers can follow or connect with me on either platform. I’d also recommend following @CatalystInc across social platforms to learn about our latest publications and launches.

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