Mobilisation is a trend I’d be watching closely. With the rise of digital nomads, the proliferation of coworking spaces and the increasing use of technology to enable remote working, more and more people are ditching the traditional 9–5 in favour of a more mobile, flexible way of working. This trend is only going to continue as organisations adapt to meet changing workforce expectations. Being able to cater for a mobilised workforce and do it well will become a key differentiator for employers.

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 T Holland.

Michelle T Holland is an international best-selling author and speaker, and a complex change, culture and leadership expert. She’s also the Executive Director of leading organisational change consultancy SynergyIQ.

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 would say that two of the most formative experiences in my life have been becoming a business owner and a major health burnout I experienced in 2019. In 2013, I was working across the not-for-profit, government and private sectors and saw how the traditional approach to organisational change and complex change confronted the c-suite and crushed internal cultures. I also saw organisations paying hand over fist for more of the same consulting services, often with minimal success. And I knew change was needed. This might not surprise you, but as a change expert, I actually like change so I took the plunge into consulting and haven’t looked back. Being able to contribute globally to how organisations create lasting change and enable change adaption in their organisations — rather than what we most commonly see which is organisational change as a process to be followed, another box to be ticked or an acceptance that change resistance is ‘normal’ — is extremely gratifying.

The second experience that has shaped me was a major health burnout in 2019. I was driving transformation across multiple industries and also expanding our business rapidly. For about a decade, I’d fallen into the trap of working really hard, then falling into a heap, and so on. I wasn’t looking after myself and as a result, at the end of 2019, my body and brain just said enough is enough. I was coming back from Sydney after running a workshop — ironically on leadership and wellbeing resilience — and I was walking through Adelaide Airport convinced I was having a heart attack. In the end, it was a stress-induced panic attack, but it was a massive wake-up call. I experienced brain fog and thought I was suffering from Altzheimer’s. I realised that if I wanted to continue to lead and make a change in the world, I had to start with myself and I had to do it properly this time. I put steadfast boundaries in place. It sounds so simple now, but that experience was a real game-changer for me. One thing individuals and organisations need to get their heads around is that one sized work-life balance doesn’t fit all. Finding what works for you — the individual — is crucial to sustaining a healthy, productive and enjoyable life.

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?

If past behaviour is the best predictor of the future, I don’t think we can expect much to change in the next 10–15 years because I don’t think our experience of work has changed much in the past 15 years. Broadly speaking, we’re still sitting at desks, in front of screens, in similar buildings. Of course, technology and automation have changed and will continue to do so, but the way we work and interact with other humans — the way we’re managed, the hours we work together — hasn’t changed much. In 2008, I was working in aged care and I was having a lot of the same conversations I’m still having today: the ageing population in South Australia and the high workforce turnover, these were all conversations 15 years ago.

While the physical world of work hasn’t changed much, the way we’re thinking about it most certainly has. The next generation coming into the workforce is expecting a different experience of work. They’re more socially conscious, they want to work for purpose-driven organisations, they want more collaborative leadership, and they want to work flexibly and remotely. These heightened expectations are already causing growing pains for organisations that are more traditional in their leadership approach. I’m hearing people say, “these young people are saying we work too hard here” and in their next breath they justify it by saying “well, that’s just the way it is” or “you have to work hard”. To that I say, not anymore! We’ve worked too hard for too long and we’ve burned out. This way of thinking is outdated, and no longer sustainable. We need to find a new way of working that meets the needs of both individuals and organisations. We can choose to create workplaces that are more sustainable and ultimately more productive. It’s up to us.

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

Most organisations don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about the capabilities needed in their workforce to deliver on their strategy. Building capabilities should be a key priority for employers who want to future-proof their organisations. Without the capabilities, you won’t be able to deliver the kind of culture, outcomes and customer experience that will enable you to compete in the future- let alone navigate complex change. The days of sending staff off to general training programs are over. Employers need to be much more intentional about developing the capabilities required to do the job now and into the future, and this needs to be done in a way that’s customised to the individual and the organisation, with greater emphasis on experiential learning.

Organisations need to become leaders in enabling change within their organisations. Change management has traditionally been seen as the purview of HR, organisational development or project management teams, but it’s time for organisations to take change much more seriously. For too long, organisations have followed conventional wisdom on change management — which isn’t so wise anymore — and failed to invest in the right expertise to drive lasting change. And we see it everywhere. Headlines about ‘change fatigue’. Quiet eye rolls from your team every time you go to introduce a new initiative. Budget overruns. High turnover rates. Culture issues. Change enablement is about creating the conditions and capabilities that allow your people to thrive in change. And it requires a different set of skills and capabilities than most organisations have today.

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?

The biggest gap I see is a lack of leadership consciousness i.e. how we make meaning. We’re in a state of flux because we have ‘old-school’ leaders and businesses fighting to maintain the status quo. They have been successful in the past through dominance and aggressive management and growth techniques, but the next generations are looking for more maturity and a high level of consciousness from their leaders– they want purpose over profit. Therefore, things like inclusion, environment and social responsibility are no longer just a pipe dream of the HR Director; they are becoming hygiene factors for people entering the workplace.

In terms of reconciling these gaps, business leaders need to start embedding time for critical and strategic thinking, as well as personal reflection, into their daily practice before making business decisions. This is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity, in order to move forward with the times. We need to act with more intention and be thoughtful about what the real impact of our actions will be– not just on the company’s bottom line, but on our people and planet too. We need more leadership development focused on challenging personal beliefs and ‘status quo’. We need to create change capable organisations, including developing leadership capabilities and a culture that can navigate complexity and deliver on the promise they will need to make to the new generations.

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

Many of us have been working from home for 20 years, so it’s not a new concept. But the scale at which the work from home ‘change’ was adopted, was new. And the speed at which it happened and brought resistant organisations along with it was new. It showed organisations that still value presenteeism or are resistant to other workforce changes, that change is not only possible, but it can happen quickly. It can happen at scale. And it can be successful. Things didn’t implode! In terms of the future, I’d caution any organisation calling their people back to the office to rethink. Forcing people back will create more resistance and more problems than it solves. Instead, take this moment to reset and rethink your strategy. Invite your people back. Create an environment where they want to be at work. Recently, I heard someone from Atlassian say, ‘we need to earn the commute’. It’s a great way of thinking about it. If we can learn anything from the past few years, it’s that people can actually change really quickly, they can accept change really quickly as long as it’s meaningful for them.

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?

To create a future of work that works for everyone we have to think about people’s individual experience of work. We need to see greater acceptance of and respect for the change in thinking that Gen Z are bringing to work. For example, they don’t want to work for the company that employed their grandparents– they want to work for a company that lives by its values and supports its people’s lives. As parents, generation Xers have taught their kids to respect themselves and the environment, treat people with dignity, and not accept disrespectful behaviour–is it any wonder that they are bringing that into the workplace?

Eventually the political landscape will have to change to suit the new ways of working and thinking. The short term and finite thinking of our political systems (ie: our 3–4 year cycles and the bipartisan approach) doesn’t allow for real innovation and therefore can stall business innovation.

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

The next generation coming through. It fills my heart to see the kind of future leaders we have coming up. Some say ‘young people have no loyalty’. I don’t see that at all. I see a generation of young people who are much more thoughtful about what they want from their experience of work and their leaders. They are purpose-driven, adaptable and loyal — if you give them a reason to be. They are socially and environmentally aware and they want to make a difference in the world. They’re unafraid of change and willing to experiment. We need to give them the space to show us what’s possible. I’m a huge TikTok fan and love following young creators. They are allies for social justice, feminism, the environment and activists for inclusion. Imagine what they will do when they are running the show. They are the future and I have big hopes for the world they will create.

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?

Most workplace innovations in this space, like flexible working, aren’t that innovative. In fact, they’ve been around for decades and organisations are finally starting to catch up. One change I find heartening is the increased focus on the whole person — their physical, emotional and mental health and how we can support them in all aspects of their life, not just at work. We are not a body, not just emotions, we are whole humans. We aren’t just cogs in a machine and we need to be treated as such. Seeing organisations take a more genuine approach to health and wellbeing shouldn’t be innovative but it is. We need to think less about the individual strategies and programs and think more about how we structurally create environments where everyone can be accepted for who they are, without having to leave themselves at the door on the way in. The days of lip service, tokenism and quick fixes are over. There is a much deeper understanding now of how important it is to get this right and how interconnected our physical, emotional and mental health actually is. Another welcome development is the increased intention placed on psychosocial wellbeing and risk and the damage that can be done by poor leadership, toxic cultures and other societal issues. This is a huge issue that has been neglected for too long and I’m glad to see it finally getting the attention it deserves.

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?

Forget the Great Resignation, I call it the Great Reality Check. Now is the moment for leaders to consider the unvarnished, uncomfortable truth about why people are leaving their organisations and what needs to change. It’s not just about offering more flexible working or better perks, it’s about creating an environment where people want to be. Where they feel valued, seen and heard. Where they can bring their whole selves to work and know that they will be supported. Your people can mobilise and globalise like never before so make sure your company culture can keep up. And in case you were thinking of introducing pizza on Fridays as a way to ‘fix’ your culture and entice people to stay — don’t bother and think again. Those things are nice to have but they won’t make up for a lack of psychological safety, purpose, meaning and connection at work.

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

  • Increased focus on building change capability- If you’re finding organisational change or complex change hard to implement or navigate now, it’s only going to get harder. The speed of change is only going to increase and the organisations that can embrace it, embed change capabilities and enable their people to thrive in it will be the ones who succeed. If your organisation can’t successfully navigate change now, how will you get anything done in the future? If you’re not thinking about this now, you will be soon.
  • Increased data and understanding of how change is experienced and achieved. Increasingly, organisations will need to start measuring and tracking how change is enabled in their workplace, what’s working and what’s not and then use that data to inform what capabilities are needed in their workforce. Instead of accepting the oft-repeated phrase that ‘people are resistant to change’ or that ‘70% of change initiatives fail’, we need to have real data on this. I believe it will become increasingly important in the years to come.
  • Psychosocial wellbeing will be an important, dare I call it, trend. We are only just beginning to understand the impact of poor leadership, toxic cultures and other societal issues on our mental health. The days of ‘toughing it out’ or ‘sucking it up’ are over. Leaders need to take responsibility for the culture they create and ensure that their organisation is a place where people can thrive. We are only just starting to scratch the surface. We also need to start talking about the things that really matter, like purpose, meaning and connection, and how they impact our wellbeing.
  • Mobilisation is a trend I’d be watching closely. With the rise of digital nomads, the proliferation of coworking spaces and the increasing use of technology to enable remote working, more and more people are ditching the traditional 9–5 in favour of a more mobile, flexible way of working. This trend is only going to continue as organisations adapt to meet changing workforce expectations. Being able to cater for a mobilised workforce and do it well will become a key differentiator for employers.
  • Changing expectations from the next generation entering the workforce. We are seeing a shift in what people want from their careers. The traditional linear career path is no longer the only option and people are increasingly looking for more flexibility, autonomy and purpose in their work. This is being driven by a new generation of workers who have grown up with technology and are used to having instant access to information and global connectivity. Don’t fight it, embrace it.

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?

It would have to be a blend of two quotes. Brene Brown says, ‘people are doing the best they can’. And it was Maya Anjelou who said, ‘when you know better, you do better’. These quotes have become critical to how I run my life and work and provide an important reflection practise. When I’m getting frustrated with a job that is not going well, or perhaps a change not being implemented as well as it should be, I remember, “people are doing the best they can” and “my role is to help them know better so they can do better”.

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.

Can I have two? I’d love to have a quiet and private lunch with JK Rowling. Not to talk about her hugely successful books which I love, but to try and understand some of her challenging social opinions. Tell me more, help me understand. I’m an inclusion evangelical so vehemently disagree with what she believes, but I’m also interested in where people are coming from with their opinions. I want to learn, not to judge.

And then for my second, a very public figure that I’d love to have lunch with is Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas. Questions on the tip of my tongue would be: How do you survive as a CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world? How does he confront challenges? How has he kept himself sane? How did he keep the business afloat when international travel all but stopped? How is he navigating the challenges faced by the world traveling again?

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?

Follow me on LinkedIn for thoughts, stories and advice on all things culture, complex change and leadership. You can buy my book Culture Inc here.

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