Focus on listening and learning — Employees need to feel seen and heard both in their professional goals and their personal interests that bleed into the workplace. Leaders need to proactively request feedback to ensure employee ideas and opinions are being addressed. For example, if an employee expresses a desire to learn more about app development or low code, they should be given resources to develop those skills.

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 Melanie Lougee.

Melanie Lougee is the Head of Employee Workflow Strategy at ServiceNow. She has more than 20 years of experience working in HR technology and HR service management, including four years as a Research Vice President at Gartner, where she provided advisory services to C-level and leadership teams on technology, transformation, change management and HR communications strategies. Prior to Gartner, Melanie held various strategy positions at Oracle (and, formerly PeopleSoft) and in her early career.

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. One of my most impactful life experiences was spending extended time abroad early in my career. Travel was impactful to me professionally, but even more personally. I lived for a time in Switzerland, spent a year in Montreal, and also considerable time in Suzhou, China among other places. I think everyone should experience being a stranger in a strange land. Being a tourist isn’t enough. It is deeply humbling to navigate daily life in a different language, with different social norms, and different perceptions of women or Americans. It opened my mind to many ways of thinking and made me far more empathetic. It also made me more resilient and independent. As a professional, travel fostered my enduring fascination with the intersection of society, culture, and work that still informs my work today.

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?

The world of work — virtual, physical, and everything in between — has changed drastically in the past two years and we can expect it to continue to evolve. One of the trends we anticipate is the transition of the office into an event space, where people come to intentionally gather for specific purposes such as team meetings, working sessions, brainstorms, or customer engagements, instead of the office solely being a place people go to by default every day. Companies are rethinking how they design their workplaces to be reconfigurable and flexible with technology to help book space and request other workplace services. They’re also thinking about how technology can support the hybrid experience by connecting employees from wherever, to keep them productive, happy, and engaged.

We will also see more of a focus on personalization. A great workplace or a perfect role is really in the eye of the beholder, which means leaders and managers need to work with each employee to understand their career goals and passions, to properly tailor learning and development opportunities. AI will play an increasing role in customizing and improving the employee experience — delivering relevant training materials in real-time at the exact moment they need support and enabling organizations to identify trends for continuous improvement.

It’s also impossible to think about the workplace and workforce in 10–15 years without considering the impact Gen Z will have. This is a generation that witnessed pandemic hardships and spent years taking remote classes. They’re able to quickly form strong connections in a digital world but will crave a balance of in-person experiences. They prioritize wellbeing and take ESG initiatives seriously and will gravitate towards organizations that align with their beliefs. Employers that don’t prepare for this new generation of workers will fall behind.

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

As mentioned, we’ve learned that the future is unpredictable, and we need to be prepared for any number of possible scenarios to retain employee trust and ensure we are giving them the right personalized tools to be productive from anywhere. To make sure they are ready for whatever comes next, leaders need to implement technology that is adaptable, flexible, customizable, and integrates across departments to help employees access pertinent information, tools, and materials. To integrate these technologies, IT, HR, workplace services and facilities, and other relevant departments — from procurement to legal — must collaborate to address all the employee needs.

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’re experiencing several simultaneous seismic shifts within the talent landscape: remote work, the great resignation, civil and social unrest. The meaning of work has changed. The pandemic has taken an especially heavy toll on women, including working mothers, women of color, and late career workers. Fostering an inclusive culture is the future of work, and it will be the key for growth at any company in the coming years. This comes down to how we treat each other, especially during “moments that matter” — things like leaves, performance reviews, and career transitions.

When the pandemic hit the U.S. last year, 3.5 million mothers with school-age children either lost their jobs, took leaves of absence or left the labor market altogether. Organizations need to be thinking about how they can bring them back into the fold and ultimately, build more diverse workforces. Equality in the workplace also means normalizing parenting roles, implementing policies to support them, and taking steps to bring back those who were forced to take a career break over the last two years.

Many late career workers chose to retire rather than work in undesirable conditions or were furloughed. Rising interest rates and a volatile stock market are causing recent retirees to reconsider retirement. However, it is challenging to return to the workforce after a late-career employment break. Employers may be less eager to invest in reskilling older workers. Biases may be at play. It is important to implement policies and programs that welcome late-career workers back, value their considerable experience, and give them work-life flexibility and healthcare security.

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

Without a doubt, our youth gives me hope. I view the next generation as “Generation Interrupted”. They were knocked off course by COVID. Their plans for college or work were often disrupted, or they attended grade school or high school remotely. They’re resilient and they’re demanding a much better world.

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?

Employee burnout remains a very real concern and unfortunately many leaders saw their employees normalize high levels of stress. Leaders must think people-first and adopt the systems and solutions that empower employees to do their best work rather than more work.

Companies must also prioritize giving managers the support they need. Managers are on the frontlines, having to address many of the changes and challenges associated with the new workplace and have had to find creative ways to inspire and connect with their teams. They have evolved from simply driving deadlines and productivity, to focusing on the end-to-end employee experience, including mental health and wellbeing. At the same time, they are also dealing with increased workloads, impacts of the “The Great Resignation,” and their own work-life balance. As the role of the manager evolves and becomes more complex, companies should focus on giving them the right tools and trainings to successfully lead their teams. We have to support the wellbeing of managers so they can properly support their teams.

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?

Between “The Great Resignation,” women and older workers leaving the workforce, and the competitive talent landscape, leaders are under immense pressure to retain employees.

Although these factors have created significant challenges, they have also initiated a time of change and an opportunity to redefine work with people at the center. The balance of power between workers and employers has shifted, and employers realize that the perks they offer and the cultures they build must also change. People are an organization’s biggest asset and to adapt to this new environment, leaders must listen to, develop, grow, and diversify their workforce. Before employees resign, they reassess. Companies can keep their best people by giving them opportunities to chart new paths internally before they hit the reset button.

Everyone has been forced to adapt and rewire their systems and processes in real time for an entirely new way of life. This is an invaluable opportunity to recreate the world of work to be one that works better for everyone. With people at the center, and flexibility, teamwork, and happiness as the new guiding metrics of success.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Keep people and places top of mind –In this new hybrid work model, leaders need to prioritize not only people, but also the places where their people are working, and be able to bridge the two together. The office is becoming more of an event space rather than a default location to go to everyday. It has become a place to ideate in person, gather or a big meeting, or collaborate on a specific project. Technology brings this idea to life by connecting people from anywhere and it will be essential for a positive and productive in-office experience — helping employees reserve desks, navigate floor plans, track health, and feel safe. HR leaders need a seat at the table when it comes to designing the new workplace for a holistic employee experience, where employees have equal opportunities to advance, regardless of where work happens.
  2. Focus on listening and learning — Employees need to feel seen and heard both in their professional goals and their personal interests that bleed into the workplace. Leaders need to proactively request feedback to ensure employee ideas and opinions are being addressed. For example, if an employee expresses a desire to learn more about app development or low code, they should be given resources to develop those skills.
  3. Support your managers — According to Gallup, 70% of a team’s engagement is influenced by managers, which demonstrates that organizations need to support them with effective training and technology solutions. They need a single platform to track performance, complete tasks, manage approvals, and easily stay informed about their employees’ development. For example, a manager with three to five direct reports would benefit from training that focuses on having difficult conversations to help them feel empowered to navigate those relationships.
  4. Address the employee journey as a whole — Leaders need to understand that employees are people and not just a number in an organization. They deserve customized career plans regardless of where they are in their professional journey. They should be given tailored trainings, experiences, and opportunities to strengthen their skills at all levels.
  5. Train and develop your people — In order to succeed, employees must have the right tools, learning opportunities, and resources readily available. For example, someone newer in their career could benefit from a training on email etiquette or someone who is new to managing could benefit from a training on delegation.

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?

“There are 3 kinds of people in the world; Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, “What just happened?”

Sometimes I make a conscious choice between #1 and #2. I try very hard never to be #3.

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 pick Trevor Noah. He is so insightful about people, and society, and politics. He delivers his insights in ways that are humorous, empathetic, and undeniable. I aspire to communicate like he can. I recently listened to the audible of his autobiography “Born a Crime”. He narrates it himself and it is such a powerful story. It’s a must listen.

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?

See me on LinkedIn to stay current on what I am most interested in!

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