New ways of connecting. While working remotely allows people to have more time with friends and family, it is no less important to interact with your peers and co-workers. This connection is critical to culture and happiness within your team. As businesses learn how to balance their fully- and semi-remote staffs, we will see more creative ways of connecting emerge. This is already taking shape with collaboration days in the office, the rise in offsite events, virtual happy hours, and firesides with leaders.

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 Michelle Burrows.

Michelle Burrows is the chief marketing officer at Splashtop. She oversees all aspects of Splashtop’s marketing strategy and execution worldwide. When she’s not working on strategic marketing, brand development, demand generation, and product marketing, she is mountain biking, skiing, and hiking. Michelle holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, public relations, and advertising from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and an MBA from the University of Denver.

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?

A few things really shaped who I am today. First, I grew up in a blue-collar town just north of Boston. As a child, I watched my dad go to school nights and weekends in order to get a Bachelor’s and then an MBA. He started working at Gillette on their factory floor and worked his way up to the corporate HQ, but he always made my mom and sisters and I his priority. I can count on one hand how many family dinners he missed, and he attended every single big moment in my life — whether that was watching me in a musical or cheering for me as a cheerleader. That made me be not only super intentional about being present for my family, but it also carries over to my style as a leader, in the way I support my team in being able to be there for their family’s big (and small moments).

Second, I originally moved to Colorado for a promising job. I arrived and discovered that many of the job details were “left out.” As an example, the CEO wasn’t hitting payroll and was holding checks of those who were newer — like me. After working for 5 weeks without a paycheck, I walked out — knowing no one in Denver, in deep school debt and without another job. This caused me to take an abrupt turn from Marketing to Sales as I couldn’t find a Marketing role. That experience taught me that I could rely on myself and that no matter what I had to do, I would figure it out.

Finally, the experience of moving to Colorado and knowing no one served me well when I was asked to relocate from Denver to London. I was originally supposed to be in the UK for 1–3 months and ended up staying for 5 years, eventually getting hired as the head of marketing for a telecom company in London and then as the head of web marketing in Montpellier, France when the company I was working for was acquired. That experience made me see that the only constant is change, as I shifted roles, countries, was part of acquisitions and building out global teams. As a result of that experience, I’m a lot more flexible about change and agile in my approach.

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 firmly believe that people who choose a particular role or particular company want to do fantastic work and be surrounded by like-minded people. That will stay the same.

What has changed and will continue to change is that employees have seen the light — many don’t want to return to commuting to an office five days a week.

I believe that team members will continue to demand and be granted flexibility in where, how, and the way they work.

The passion for doing work will remain, but I see a permanent shift in employees prioritizing mental and physical health, families, partners, and friends — and putting them ahead of “doing whatever it takes” for the job.

The great resignation happened because we had a life-altering experience — with the fear of living with a deadly disease. Pretty much everyone knows someone or has been close to someone who was affected or has died from it. (I myself lost my aunt from COVID-19 just prior to vaccines being widely available).

Going forward, I believe that regardless of heading back into the office, maintaining remote work or a hybrid workplace, employees and employers will find balance and prioritize what matters most in their own lives.

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

  • Make flexibility an inherent part of your culture.
  • Treat your team members like grown-ups (do they need to be physically in front of you to prove they are working?).
  • Give them tools to make it as if they are there (in your office) so that they can indeed work from anywhere.
  • Reward and incentivize your people, not just financially — but through other means that matter to them (i.e. reexamine your PTO, free training, flexible workdays, etc.)
  • Be kind! No one really leaves for money. They leave because they work for someone or a company who they don’t feel cares about them as an individual.
  • End micromanagement. If you need to micromanage someone, reexamine why you hired that person in the first place and what is it about you that makes you feel like you need to control not just the work, but the way the work is done.
  • Paint the vision. Your team members always need to understand the bigger picture.

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?

On the hiring front, many companies have had open roles for months. Employers need to get innovative with their offerings and address existing and future employees’ needs. Employers who say “our workforce must come back to an office” or “we will only hire someone who lives near our office”” may need to reassess their positions.

According to recent studies, the mindset of employees has shifted. Many potential new hires are seeking better work-life balance, flexibility, and are prioritizing mental health. I also think many are seeking an environment that promotes kindness and respect.

To quote Brené Brown: “I am not here to be right, I am here to get it right.” You can be right (and dig in your heels about what you are and aren’t willing to do for your workforce) or you can get it right.

For reconciling these gaps, employers must come together collectively as leadership teams and executives and take a hard look at themselves. Is this an environment where people are empowered to do their best work? Are the hard conversations happening in the board rooms or outside of them?

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

Through this experiment, we met kids, dogs, cats, and partners. We saw into our colleagues’ kitchens, bedrooms, and offices. None of us should or will ever look at a potential or current team member as a “collection of skills” but as a fully formed individual with funny quotes on their walls, stunning artwork, and an occasional furry friend.

I think we have developed compassion and empathy for people and what else they might have on their plates. Maybe we have created a collective compassion.

I also believe this experiment proved wrong any naysayer who said, “people can’t work from home because…” (they will spend their time caring for kids, they can’t be trusted, they won’t do their work…). Productivity has never been higher. Research indicates that six out of 10 workers reported being more productive than in the office.

No one is going to go back to the way things were before.

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?

Where we work matters less than ever. Work is work, wherever it’s done. This radical change isn’t just a different approach to remote — it’s a foundational rethinking of how we do business, how we do our jobs, and how we learn. It’s a global movement that is being felt in every industry and influencing organizations, and part of bigger ideas and innovations about the future of work.

Flexibility dominates with employees calling the shots. Employers will be offering salary bumps, sign-on bonuses, better benefits, and other, non-financial benefits to retain employees and keep them happy.

While employees may have more work-life balance when working remotely, the work-life lines are blurred, with little separation.

Will there also be a shift in acceptance of working more flexible schedules. I see a change: it’s becoming less about what hours you put in and more about output and results.

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

I’m optimistic that kindness in the workplace and leading with kindness goes a long way in attracting fantastic people and getting fantastic results. I have held the belief for years that I don’t want to work for jerks. (I think the jerks who trample everyone along the way will eventually get weeded out, they won’t get the stellar talent, a cyclical process.)

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?

This is such an important topic. At the basic level, communication and creating a sense of community go a long way in helping employees be heard and happy. Good leaders must evaluate their culture — how does it embrace mental health? From benefits to support groups to PTO. I know a company that has weekly time set aside for a (virtual) yoga class during lunch. This is just one example of thinking of ways to enhance mental health, but there are many other ways you can make employees feel cared for and nurtured.

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?

Investing in your employees is so important. The culture of work is part of the future-of-work discussion and needs to be reevaluated. As a leader and manager, do you make time for your employees? Do you schedule 1:1s once a week? Are you available as a leader when a team member needs your advice or coaching? Do you create an environment where team members can ask hard questions?

If companies don’t invest in their team members, they may not stay for the long term.

Connections are more important than ever. I personally get tremendous joy from connecting good people and feel strongly that it is my responsibility as a woman in an executive role to reach out and pull up other women to stand beside me. I have found that this creates a pay it forward. If you’re known as a giver — of your time, energy, connections — others will happily refer others to you.

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

  1. Emphasis on intangible benefits. People want to feel like they are building something incredible and that they are empowered to do so. From a leadership perspective, we’re talking trust and respect; mentorship not micromanagement. I expect that companies will take a closer look at what they are offering their employees beyond medical care and PTO, such as career and professional development. Companies such as Hubspot offer mentorship programs to help remote employees with career pathing and community. The workplace is seeing and setting new requirements for happiness.
  2. Rise of the flexperience. The discomfort some companies had about “allowing” employees to work from home is diminishing. During the pandemic, we proved everyone wrong. Remote work will thrive and organizations will continue to improve the flexperience — that is, the cultural experience of flexible work. The most desirable businesses will give employees the choice in how and when they conduct business. As Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments puts it, “If you get your work done, that’s all that matters.” This sort of attitude will gain credence among companies that seek to retain top remote talent and create productive teams regardless of location.
  3. Democratization of everything. People are getting work done, no matter if they are in the executive corner suite or sitting at their kitchen table. The nature of collaboration has evolved out of necessity as geographical barriers have lifted. This is creating a rare opportunity to harness the diversity and strengths of individuals within the organization for deeper insights, broader points of view, and more voices in the (metaphorical) room. We will see a shift away from top-down management styles and a move toward more inclusive, transparent knowledge sharing practices. Take Adobe, for example, which places an emphasis on co-creation between its leaders and employees at all levels.
  4. New ways of connecting. While working remotely allows people to have more time with friends and family, it is no less important to interact with your peers and co-workers. This connection is critical to culture and happiness within your team. As businesses learn how to balance their fully- and semi-remote staffs, we will see more creative ways of connecting emerge. This is already taking shape with collaboration days in the office, the rise in offsite events, virtual happy hours, and firesides with leaders.
  5. Optimization and access to tools. The technology exists today to provide a fully remote, seamless work experience that feels virtually identical to what employees would experience from a cubical or office, in terms of speed, performance and ease-of-use. What many businesses are still challenged with is how to remotely support those tools when they go down. This requires the right technology in the hands of IT and help desk support teams who are responsible for troubleshooting all this tech remotely, including a wide variety of mobile and personal devices. Reliable technology and IT support is essential. Organizations that understand the benefits of remote are poised for success. They’ll not only embrace remote’s obvious advantages, they’ll also double down on making remote a cornerstone of the work experience, employee engagement, and the future of work.

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?

Empowered women empower women. I always think about how I can make the right connections for my team and how I can empower the next generation of leaders — through advocacy, networking and mentoring.

I had to work very, very hard to get to where I am. I feel very strongly that it is my personal responsibility to lift women up who are the next generation of leaders. I am always seeking and looking for women who just need a bit of encouragement or a key connection to their next level.

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.

Oh wow, my list is long! Brené Brown, because her work speaks to me and she inspires me to go deep in my personal journey — in making workplaces full of passion and full of real-ness.

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?

Twitter: @BurrowsMichelle


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