…Flexible work. We’ll see more truly flexible work where there is no question of where you are or what you’re working on. I think the four-day workweek is in sight.

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 Liana Ogden.

Liana Ogden is a strategist, storyteller and semiotician. As Senior Creative Strategist at Demonstrate, Liana authored The Gen Z Burnout Report and has partnered with innovative brands including: 19 Crimes, Spravato and f’real Shakes & Smoothies. Liana’s strategic practice combines birds’ eye insights and in-the-weeds rigor to deliver meaningful stories, build brand worlds and drive consumer journeys.

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.

Thank you for having me! I’m delighted to be here.

Before I worked in communications, I had the privilege of teaching Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. That experience of teaching undergraduates and turning them on to new narratives and new ways of seeing the world around them has forever informed my respect for symbols and stories.

I pivoted from teaching to marketing, and immediately became a community manager just when Instagram was first booming. It was a very humbling shift: from leading seminars to being right in the trenches, responding to customer comments and developing an understanding of high touch consumer journeys. Every brand marketer should have the experience of working in community management. There’s no better way to access the consumer pain points and POVs and, more importantly, the importance of empathy.

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?

Not to get too meta, but ten to fifteen years from now, we’ll be asking different questions. In ten to fifteen years, Gen Z will be fully in the workforce, and as a cohort they are pragmatic, action-oriented, and purposeful — they appreciate that we cannot afford to focus on the future when we can act in the present.

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

Embrace the power of storytelling. Young generations want to be part of the story. And it’s not just about the story of the brand that we tell to consumers, but of how employees fit into that story as well. Give employees a share of voice and shared purpose through equity.

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?

Gen Z employees expect flexibility. They’re applying to jobs irrelevant of physical location, and see for-the-sake-of-it 9–5 work hours as inefficient, unproductive and downright backwards. Employers need to provide clear expectations backed by transparent rationale, and they also need to adapt. The good news is that Gen Z is ready and hungry to help companies adapt. They’re already discovering and implementing the tools needed for flexible, global collaboration — they just need to be invited into the process.

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

It proves that it can be done. Now we’re at a crossroads where we truly look at whether we should be physically present at work — and how we should be present. Now that we’ve detached work from its conventions, we have the opportunity to redesign it to be more purposeful, meaningful, and human.

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?

We need to normalize radical transparency between employers and employees. Opening up conversations around mental health, setting up clear expectations and boundaries will be essential, as well as extending conversations into diversity and equity.

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

An emphasis on emotional intelligence is cropping up, and its value will only grow as the old models of siloed, regimented teams are replaced by hyper-connected, fluid partnerships.

Younger generations in particular are highly aware of the importance of soft skills, and I am excited to see this awareness take root in the workplace.

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?

I see more frequent implementation of quiet time and quiet days, such as setting 2 days a week that are devoid of meetings. I also see AI used more broadly and deeply for mental health purposes, whether as chat bots or simply providing analytics for lessening distractions and improving wellbeing. The trick for employers will be to remember that the new generation of workers craves face-to-face, human interactions (even if they are digital natives). We’ll need to balance the need for flexible connected-ness with the quality of connection.

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 most important message is that companies need to do better. Over 3 million women, most of them moms, left the workforce in 2020 during COVID, rolling back gender representation in the workforce by over 30 years. Our workforce hasn’t looked like this since 1988. It’s not that workers are uninterested in working, but that companies are not doing enough to respond to the times by creating environments where moms can choose to remain in the workforce. There is so much data about the benefits of hiring moms and providing benefits that allow moms to work (and these benefits are hugely attractive to Gen Z as well!). This is the kind of data that can bring companies into the future and, when deployed, future-proof them.

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.)

  1. Flexible work. We’ll see more truly flexible work where there is no question of where you are or what you’re working on. I think the four-day workweek is in sight.
  2. Emotional Intelligence. The ground is shifting under our feet too quickly to rely on hard skills. Taking the time to understand diverse perspectives, knowing how to work with a team, knowing how to listen — these EQ-based skills will give employees an edge in an environment where they must continually learn and unlearn ways of thinking and processes.
  3. On the job training. Employees will not be hired with the skills they need, but with the ability to gain skills. I think companies will realize that when they invest in employees through upskilling and invest in company culture through soft skills-based hiring, they create more productive, effective, and happier teams.
  4. Neurodiversity. We’re beginning to embrace the innovation and opportunity that neurodiverse individuals bring to the workplace. We’ll tailor workspaces to accommodate and retain neurodiverse teams.
  5. Employee Advocacy. Gen Z is telegraphing a broader trend that getting back to pre-COVID normal is no longer enough. They’re ready to generate new benchmarks. This means not simply updating workplace policies to match the inflation rate of expectation, but creating processes for exploring and developing new policies, such as independent employee advocates, or new tax legislature to reflect the realities of working from home.

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?

“Leaders eat last.” Whether or not you’re a fan of Simon Sinek, he coins a great turn of phrase. This quote has always stuck with me because it describes the leaders in my own career who have inspired me most, leaders who take the approach of mentorship, education and service.

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 can think of two — First, iconic therapist and podcaster Esther Perel. I love how Esther brings work relationships to the same pantheon as marriage or family.

And second, Temple Grandin, the animal behaviorist and autism activist. She’s an absolute legend — a neurodiverse woman in the sciences and a pioneer in her field.

Where could you find better repartee than at brunch with Esther Perel and Temple Grandin?

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?

Feel free to reach out and follow me on LinkedIn or check out Demonstrate’s work at www.WeAreDemonstrate.com or follow along on Instagram. Always happy to connect with co-conspirators!

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