Software Automation — Leveraging data to identify actions that are ‘always taken’ given set parameters and codifying work from knowledge workers. Employees will no longer have to spend time completing tedious, routine tasks. Instead, automation will allow employees to focus on projects that require critical thinking and a human touch.

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 Michael Combs.

Michael Combs is the President and Chief Executive Officer for CorVel. He has been with CorVel for 30 years — he joined the company as a software engineer in 1991 and rose through the ranks as Vice President of Information Systems, deputy chief and Chief Information Officer, and President in 2017 before assuming the additional role of CEO in 2019. He has a unique perspective on employment as a CEO in the insurance industry, as well as from CorVel’s partners who face changes in expectations from employees in industries spanning retail to hospitality to healthcare and beyond.

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.

Early in my career, I was the unwilling mentee of an exceptionally gifted individual. My reluctance to accept coaching stemmed from her lack of a background in engineering or even a college degree. However, I learned more from her than anyone else early in my career. Of course, it takes extraordinary finesse to coach an unwilling apprentice. It wasn’t until after my mentor retired and subsequently passed that I came to fully appreciate her guidance and gift. The lesson is that we all have the opportunity to impact the lives of others — if we choose.

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?

In 10–15 years, I believe that the repetitive and mundane tasks that occur today will be fully automated. Outdated processes will be replaced or reinvented. Automation will help employees get more out of their work and spend time on the most impactful.

I also believe that the concept of working 9 to 5 will be largely obsolete, and many professions will support working remotely — work when you want from where you want. Productivity will be measured in results achieved rather than hours worked.

As for what will stay the same, I believe that people will still desire to work collectively regardless of remote work and automation. The rewards of cooperative work toward a common goal have historically brought us together, and I don’t imagine that will change.

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

I would tell employers to listen, learn, and adapt. By listening to what employees are saying, you can learn what they need to improve performance and/or increase job satisfaction and then adapt to meet their needs and expectations.

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?

I don’t see significant gaps developing between employers and employees. There is a tight correlation between the labor market and the unemployment rate in our free market system. Employers and employees need to embrace the changes upon us; clinging to old paradigms is not viable to thrive.

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

We’ve transitioned from debating the merits of “Open Space” offices to discussing if there is a need to have an office at all. This past year, the shift to remote work proved that employees could be productive and engaged while working from home, and businesses could succeed and profit with a remote workforce. As a result, Work-from-home will, increasingly, be an essential part of the new normal from now on.

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 pandemic has been a catalyst for people to assess every aspect of their lives; it has been a great reset. As a result, people will demand more of the employer/employee relationship. Employees’ will want their companies to invest more in what they have to say, and forward-thinking employers will implement those ideas into their culture.

Meaningful work, the opportunity to learn, grow and advance, dignity and respect in the workplace, and inclusive culture will, increasingly, be table stakes for employees.

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

My most significant source of optimism is the passion and commitment of the people that I have the opportunity to with which to work. They have helped implement a diverse, engaged, supportive, and communicative culture at CorVel. They give me hope and optimism for the next generation of employees and business leaders.

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?

While I wouldn’t categorize it as particularly innovative, listening to your employees is essential and was not always common practice. Being intentional about hearing from your team members is critically important. Another critical strategy is being aware and responsive to mental health needs. Providing mental health services is necessary to attract new employees and keep your current staff. They are more productive employees when people have an outlet for their stress via therapy, exercise, or just a needed break to laugh and take in the scenery.

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?

Leaders need to heed the call of the current climate and work with their teams to adapt and evolve. We will continue the work we’ve always done to invest in our people, reinforce our culture of value and respect, and be a place where our team members can learn and grow. When employees feel heard, respected, and mentored, they become vested and end up as your future leaders.

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.)

My Top 5 Trends are:

  1. Software Automation — Leveraging data to identify actions that are ‘always taken’ given set parameters and codifying work from knowledge workers. Employees will no longer have to spend time completing tedious, routine tasks. Instead, automation will allow employees to focus on projects that require critical thinking and a human touch.
  2. Augmentation — Facilitated by artificial intelligence, we assist knowledge workers with their tasks. AI and machine learning will be implemented to help anticipate challenges and recommend solutions, increasing quality, and consistency in many industries.
  3. Work from anywhere — Microsoft Teams and Zoom are technologies enabling work from almost anywhere during the pandemic. Remote work and more flexible schedules are a part of our new normal and will continue to evolve and expand.
  4. The Meta Verse — Perhaps the next step in virtual meetings that will allow us, or our avatars, to interact with team members virtually. If you look at Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, they offer a virtual space for people to come together and share ideas. It will be interesting to see how this will impact the future of business.
  5. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) — The key idea behind CSR is for corporations to pursue other pro-social objectives, in addition to maximizing profits. While CSR has been around for years, we see an increasing trend toward companies aligning with organizations or nonprofits that help change or make our society better. Likewise, employees want to be part of a company that cares about their communities and the greater good.

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?

My favorite quote is from Dr. Martin Lurther King, Jr. “Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant, and to face the challenge of change.”

While change has always been a constant, it has proven more so during the past two years. Therefore, Dr. King reminds us to remain attentive to what is going on around us, evaluate those happenings, and evolve as needed.

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.

Ray Dalio. His tremendous business acumen is well documented and reason enough to want to share a meal, but I particularly appreciate his dedication to his principles. Implementing his principles in his professional and personal life has resulted in tremendous success, which I find inspiring.

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?

Readers can connect with me and follow CorVel on LinkedIn.

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