Stand for something: Employees want to work for organizations that stand for something meaningful. Companies will need to figure this out, because people want to work for a place that is aligned with their values. If the company is brave enough to state the values that are important to them outwardly, your team will be stronger for it.

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 Matt Toback.

Matt Toback is the VP of Culture at Grafana Labs. As the first employee hired by the co-founders of Grafana Labs, Matt has worn many hats serving in sales, customer service, UX design, and more. Today, Matt draws from his entrepreneurial experience and passion to help build authentic and effective leaders while working to maintain that special thing that makes Grafana Labs a great place to work. Prior to joining Grafana Labs, Matt was a part of building fast-growth companies including his own UX and design company which he sold and Voxel, which was acquired by Internap. Matt attended The Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. Matt is a practicing Leadership Coach and host of the Big Tent Grafana Labs podcast.

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’ve always been interested in how many small pieces come together to build something grander. Before joining Grafana Labs as employee number one, I was with a smaller company where I experienced the unrealized potential that a company could grow into a much bigger entity. It ultimately led me to Grafana and reinforced this idea that it’s not just job hunting and finding a job, it is about building a community and a culture. These early jobs also made me realize the importance of relationships and working with people with whom you want to do great work.

The second life experience is more of a personal story. My mother was an immigrant from Ireland, and she came to the United States without a high school degree when she was about 16 years old. Through work, hustle and building key relationships over time, my mother eventually bought and owned her own bookstore. When I was 11 years old, I started to work at her store. What I learned from her, and have taken with me, is that there isn’t a prescribed way of doing things — in life or in business. There are unconventional ways to get to the same place, which has informed a lot of my own career and how I think about achieving success.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace in 10 to 15 years from now? How do you think it’ll be different?

Let’s start with the differences; For so long, individuals and communities were tied to work. People went to work, and they were in the same physical space all day. At the end of the day, co-workers might go to a local bar, or attend a social event in the area. Communities have changed and are becoming more blended. A lot has changed for most in these last couple of years, today workers are not necessarily going to places near the office or solely surrounding themselves with colleagues from work. Plus, most are no longer commuting to work, so these “local” hangout spots have changed and morphed into a community surrounding where we live vs. our work. Now and even more in the future, we’ll have different communities, perhaps with deeper relationships because we’ve more intentionally created these communities.

I also think employees may start to cycle through more companies, because remote work will continue to be a meaningful part of how we work and geography no longer is a consideration to job changes. I believe we will see this continue to accelerate as time goes on.

What will remain the same about work is that there is no going back to this office as we once knew it. Many people talk about going back to things as they were “pre-pandemic,, but that world is gone. The pandemic-fueled changes of the last couple years have been one of the biggest tectonic shifts to work and it will now remain the way we will continue to work — it’s a new normal, and needs to be embraced.

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

Connect with people on a human level. It sounds easy, but we’ve seen organizations fall short, time and time again. The organizations that have figured out how to do that will be the ones that succeed. Employees also want their organizations to stand for something and for that to align with their own personal values.

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?

Employees expect there to be mutual trust, respect, and accountability. It is no longer about clocking in and clocking out (unless you have a shift job). In our global workplace where employees work in a wide array of timezones, asynchronous work is more acceptable. We have to acknowledge that people are productive at different times of the day or night. Companies need to trust employees and provide them with the flexibility to get their job done when they are at their best — whether that means working after the kids go to bed at night, or early in the morning. The 9–5 culture is dying, and I believe that there is still a gap there that companies are struggling with. Employees want to work when, where, and how they want, and that is a shift in how companies approach work and employees. Companies need to learn to support people when they’re at their best.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together. When we all had to go work from home. How will this experience influence the future of work?

This great global remote work experiment was a Black Swan event that appeared out of nowhere and now everything is completely different on the other side. Everyone, at the same time, shifted to remote work and together we were all trying to figure it out. This has allowed worker expectations to drastically change. Employees are no longer tethered to their desk or their computer or even one location. Employees prioritize other things besides work, including their health and their families. Where they might have been reluctant to go to a doctor’s appointment, go to the gym, go for a walk or pick up their kids from school during work hours, these activities have become a part of their normal routines and they are no longer reluctant to do them. There’s an understanding about flexibility. This shared experience during the pandemic has changed all of us where flexibility is no longer seen as a benefit, but as an expectation.

I believe the pandemic didn’t really create the great resignation, but rather a “great reevaluation.” Today’s job market is not about employees quitting their jobs — everyone needs to work, but what’s different today is that the pool of where we can work just grew substantially larger than the places we can commute to five days a week while still maintaining a quality of life. So more jobs and opportunities have been made accessible to us. The great experiment wasn’t just for companies to push forward their digital transformation and it wasn’t just about getting all employees to conduct meetings on a Zoom call. Rather, this moment was a great experiment about whether or not employees wanted to take the leap to embrace (and sometimes demand) the flexibility and responsibility they didn’t have before the pandemic. It was a great reevaluation of life. And, we all had to sit at home and really be with ourselves to figure that out.

We’ve all read the headlines about the pandemic about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you first see, as necessary to support the future of work that works for everyone? Think Big here. Like, societal changes?

One of the big issues during the pandemic became access to high speed Internet, and this wasn’t just in the workforce, it was an issue for parents who had kids doing online learning and small businesses that needed to quickly adjust to online sales There was a clear dividing line between people who had access and connectivity to wifi and those who didn’t. Clearly we have work to do.

For a while there has been great interest in being able to work in smaller towns and rural areas and not just in large cities, but the jobs weren’t available in those smaller towns to support the shift. Smaller municipalities now have a huge opportunity to attract people and also to transform their cities with smart city innovations to create more desirable places to live. We might start to see smaller towns and cities become “hubs” for work and more people moving into these communities. This has the potential to change the political landscape of the country and the political ideologies that we often associate with certain parts of the country. Historically we have seen densely populated urban areas remain blue states, while lesser populated areas are red. It will be interesting to see as people move around for work if the political landscape gets redistributed.

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

With this dramatic shift in where and how we work, we are now able to give opportunities to people regardless of where they live. With remote work, workers now might have more opportunity to connect to a bigger job, a more interesting company, or an increased salary. This creates diverse global perspectives at companies who hire from a broad selection of global employees, ultimately, we believe creating a better product. And it also benefits those smaller communities where these people live and invest back into their own community. This lowered barrier to entry, can create dramatic impact to the employee, their family, the company, the community and maybe even the world.

Our collective mental health and well being 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 employees mental health and well being?

The first step is acknowledging that mental health and general well being is a fundamental human need. We all have mental health — we are humans, not just resources. Then second, is knowing that there isn’t a single approach for everyone’s mental health. There are programs that companies can put in place that folks can opt into, but executives in organizations need to be leaders and create environments where people are comfortable discussing mental health and wellness. Many companies have programs for meditation, and provide access to apps such as Headspace, or they have scheduled time for 15 minute breathing breaks. Those are great, but they don’t work for everyone, and they are not always getting to the heart of what is useful. We just need to acknowledge that mental health and wellness is a part of who we are, and not hide mental weaknesses or struggles — especially at work. It is an acceptable part of who we are, and we need to stop pretending it doesn’t exist

Seems like there’s a new headline every day about 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?

Employees are speaking and people leaders need to listen because they are telling us exactly how they want to work and how companies can evolve. We need to have an open and continuous dialogue with our employees. And this isn’t a passive dialogue, leaders need to take the time to connect with their people about what’s working, what’s not, and then put into action the things that best serve their employees.

Company culture isn’t something that you get to dictate, it’s created organically by our actions, decisions and values, day in, day out. That said, you do get to nurture it, pay attention to it, and embrace it when it needs to evolve. For some companies, their old pre-pandemic culture doesn’t exist anymore, and the culture is evolving in its new environment and trying to figure out what it is now. Many cultures were based on office dynamics, and now with remote workers all over the country (or the world) the old way doesn’t translate. Organizations need to take a step back, and assess the important values of the organization, and then start there to redefine the company culture. Figure out how to uphold those values in whatever the new working environment is; a good place to start is by going back to the basics.

What are your top five trends to track in the future of work?

Everyone knows that the future of work is the ability to work in a hybrid fashion– either at the office or home, or another remote location. We all did it, we saw it work. But there are some trends beyond just working remotely that we will continue to see in the future. My top five include the following:

1.) Compartmentalization (home life vs. work life) is a thing of the past: The pandemic forced us all to work from home, and every day we all came into each other’s living rooms and home offices. Separating work from home was not an option. Kids ran in and out of offices, dogs barked and delivery people came to the door during work hours and while we were on conference calls. We all realized that we were not one dimensional people and our lives became blended. There is no going back to compartmentalizing work and home.

2.) Offsites are now onsites: We used to leave the office to attend “off site” meetings. Now we are leaving our homes to head “on site” to an office or meeting space and to meet in person. Because we don’t spend time together we are now planning on sites to build relationships. There’s a strong, innate desire to connect with the people that we work with and so these types of meetings will now become planned events.

3.) The old playbooks are dead: The way you were running the company is no longer the same. Take the best parts of what your organization was, the culture, the experience, the mission and the vision, and then figure out how to blend it with what kind of company you are today post-pandemic.

4.) Flexibility is not a benefit, but a requirement: Employees expect to have a flexible work environment and to be able to work when they want, how they want and where they want. A relationship of trust between employer and employee is going to be critical for the future of work and flexibility will be a key component. A high trust environment will make employees want to stay with an employer and do great work. This will also create a labor pool of people who have “self accountability.”

5.) Stand for something: Employees want to work for organizations that stand for something meaningful. Companies will need to figure this out, because people want to work for a place that is aligned with their values. If the company is brave enough to state the values that are important to them outwardly, your team will be stronger for it.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in business VC funding sports entertainment 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 might just see this? If we tag them.

I’d like to have breakfast with Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi is an Indian American author, activist, model, and host of Top Chef on Bravo. I feel like she balances success, craft, fun and support of social causes effortlessly. The world is a better place for her being in it.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interview. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

LinkedIn? Yep, for sure:

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