… I think that company culture also needs to evolve by employers re-evaluating and revisiting what their organizational goals are. Too many companies are trying to either reassert their outdated view or are trying to let the ‘not return to office’ wave take over based on uncertainty of how to move forward. I don’t think either will work if these employers haven’t truly thought about what makes the most sense for their company going forward.

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 Michele Penaranda.

Michele Penaranda is responsible for the strategic growth and management of Preferred Office Network, Carr Companies’ brokerage arm and brand that comprises over 700 affiliated coworking locations that aim to provide flexible workspace solutions to corporate clients. Michele started her career with the company at Carr Workplaces in 2012 and has since held multiple roles in operations and program management — as well as having a focus in technology. Michele incorporated her love of problem solving into her day-to-day routine — finding new ways and different approaches for PON to innovate in the continually evolving coworking and flexible workspace industry, and in 2019, she took on her current leadership role as VP of Strategy.

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.

The two experiences that shaped who I am today are based around both life and death. I lost my dad in my late 20’s right as I was moving to Washington, DC to take the next big step in my career. DC also happened to be where he grew up along with where he spent much of his professional career so naturally, I was excited to share that with him. Although it was heartbreaking losing him, it helped to define me more as a person and to narrow in on what mattered the most to me.

The second life experience that shaped who I am today was the birth of my daughter. She’s almost two now but it’s hard to imagine life before her. In addition to navigating those new waters of motherhood, it also pushed me in my own career to want to see the things I work towards create tangible, positive change. With more and more people starting to utilize flexible workspaces, I especially feel like my work is making a positive impact on people’s day-to-day lives. We are moving in the right direction, but it just needs to continue to take shape and I plan on helping it do just that.

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?

I think the only thing that will be the same as right now, which is a direct result of the pandemic, is that our work will continue to take place from a hybrid capacity — both in person and virtually.

I predict a major difference will be that employees will have so many more options on where that work environment takes place, and the concept of a long commute will be foreign because of more workspace options.

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

I would say mainly that the future of work needs to equal the future of living for the employees of an organization. I believe that one size doesn’t fit all from company to company nor does it within the same company from team to team. There will be trade-offs but when I think about the “future of living”, I think employers will shift their organizations toward a concept of a fluid workplace and work process. Thus, supporting a ‘work from anywhere’ approach where employees get their work done based on their own schedules. With this in mind, employers will need to reevaluate what goals and cultures need to change to support this.

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 believe that the gap will be the extent of flexibility that employers are willing to offer. We are seeing that employees want all the flexibility in the world while their employers are not always going to be willing to go that far. Employers will have their reasons and they will be different across the board to be more or less flexible.

However, the key word is flexibility here — using that in the workspace, employees will have this new benefit and although a benefit to employers as well, it offers up the agility of the workforce for them.

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

I love thinking about the emergence of working from home as “a global experiment”.

The work from home phenomena is the catalyst to the future of work, period. We all joined this experiment together at the same time and there’s clearly no looking back now. By experiencing this simultaneously, it allowed for everyone to have a louder and stronger voice in the matter which has now created this movement for diversity in workstyle.

It gave everyone a taste of the true work-life balance that we always talk about but struggle to achieve. It helped flip this sentiment and rather look at it as life-work balance. As we like to say at Preferred, life needs to come first.

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?

I think that we must accept that everyone has different roles in the workforce and understanding how these roles will impact the future of work is important. Some positions truly make a larger impact from an in-person capacity. It’s significant to recognize the difference between positions that benefit more from in-person versus jobs that can be done remotely, because this differentiation will impact how we shape these changes and our understanding to future generations.

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

I’m thrilled that we are continually recognizing the importance of a more balanced lifestyle that makes a true impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing. I also believe we are becoming more efficient as a society in removing a lot of the “wasted time” in our day by cutting down on long commutes.

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 can see employers offering a breadth of choice in where their employees can work and how they choose to “clock” the hours of where they work. This shift allows for employers to think through how they support where the employees are working. By doing so, I think employers will be more in tune to what their employees’ needs are and therefore can provide beyond the scope of just a workspace infrastructure.

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?

I don’t think these “new headlines” are just a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic. There are true movements happening and it’s exciting to be a part of. For the first time in decades, we are truly looking under the hood in how we approach our lives when it comes to work and where our work fits in rather than having to constantly question where we fit our personal needs around our busy work schedule.

I think that company culture also needs to evolve by employers re-evaluating and revisiting what their organizational goals are. Too many companies are trying to either reassert their outdated view or are trying to let the ‘not return to office’ wave take over based on uncertainty of how to move forward. I don’t think either will work if these employers haven’t truly thought about what makes the most sense for their company going forward.

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

  1. Employers to offer access to flexible office space as a tangible employee benefit.
  2. Continued growth in flexible space offerings as landlords want to ensure their building offers this as a featured amenity.
  3. Companies continuing to reduce their long-term real estate footprint by moving all or partial footprint to shorter lease terms with more flexibility to create more of an “insurance” in their three-to-five-year game plan when it comes to overhead. Most recently, we saw Yelp close over 450,000 square feet of office space in New York City, Chicago, and DC after they found that 86% of their employees preferred to work remotely. After the pandemic, Spotify made the move to adapt to a “Work from Anywhere” model which allows employees to choose to be in the office full time, work from home full time, or with a hybrid combination of the two. Additionally, Spotify will provide its employees with coworking memberships for those who still want a dedicated workspace but want to work remotely.
  4. An increased focus on hospitality and customer service, especially in a time where these areas suffer across different industries and where staffing needs are challenged.
  5. Technology to power how teams gather today. This will certainly be an evolution, but it will be interesting to see how technology can and will power collaboration within companies and teams. We wonder what the next version or innovation of Teams/Zoom will be. Will virtual meetings become more interactive? What technologies could be implemented within these platforms to revolutionize and reenergize virtual meetings? We also wonder from a hybrid perspective, how will technology within physical conference rooms evolve to foster greater connection between in-person participants and virtual participants. We already saw the answers to some of these questions in the legal industry in the form of post-COVID managed document reviews. As many document reviewers were forced to work remotely, firms found ways to equip their reviewers with new software that allowed them to view documents from a remote capacity, safely and securely. This software even had the capability to tap into a reviewer’s webcam and detect any individuals who may walk behind a reviewer, causing the screen to immediately dim or completely darken.

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?

A life lesson quote that has been on my mind for over the last year and I’m always thinking back to is: “Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak”. — Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavti

Thinking about this quote and practicing the concept of it has allowed my perspective to be more thought out and come with a wider understanding and greater personal connection with other points of views.

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 love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Sarah Blakely, founder of Spanx. While we are both Florida State University alum — Go Noles! — I love the way that she built her concept from the ground up. She not only had the grit and grind to make it happen but also had the belief system in herself to get the brand where it is today. Now, all these years later, she’s one of my favorite people to follow on social media. She shares inspiring posts and strives to give back to her employees to collectively demonstrate the success of the entire team is crucial to the whole organization.

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 always available by email @ [email protected] and love a good coffee meeting — whether it’s in person or virtually. I’ll be honest, I’ve been quiet in the background trying to push the Future of Work agenda but I’m now taking a larger voice to it because I think as companies navigate this and landlords or coworking companies figure out their next move, we can all truly win from talking about this in more of an open discussion. With this in mind, we can make real change instead of just trying to decide what works in the moment or what’s the next trend to experiment with. Part of taking that larger voice means being more active on platforms like LinkedIn so you can also find me @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/penarandamichele/.

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