Working remotely. I experienced working remotely for 20 years, and I can tell you that after someone’s had the privilege and the freedom to work from home, it’s going to be incredibly hard to get them back to the office. I had to go back to the office in one job and I absolutely hated it. I literally transferred jobs within three months so I wouldn’t have to go back into the office again.

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 Mike Gibbs, the CEO of Go Cloud Careers. Gibbs is a technology professional with over 25 years of experience in cloud computing, networking, and IT security. Mike has spent a lifetime making complex technologies easy to understand to help engineers, architects, and customers succeed in their technology goals. Mike holds an MS and MBA from Widener University.

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.

About 20 years ago, I had a manager that really pulled me aside and asked me if I knew the difference between a 150,000 dollars engineer and a 300,000 dollars architect. I said I wanted to know, and he said, “Mike, as an engineer, you’re technically as good as you can ever get. Studying any more tech won’t make a difference in the world to you, but if you develop your business and soft skills you will be a world-class architect.” He told me that by increasing my emotional intelligence, my leadership skills, presentation skills, soft skills, and business acumen — my career would change literally overnight. After he told me that, I went from being an engineer to being a business leader consulting with organizations all across the world helping them build their business with technology. That was one of those critical pieces of advice.

Another critical life lesson for me was being told “no.” I don’t believe in “no.” When I tried to tell people that I was leaving medicine for tech, they laughed at me, but six months later I was in a leadership position in tech. I was involved in a martial arts training incident and was told I would never walk again. While I don’t walk far now, and it took me eight years of physical therapy for six hours a day, I’m now able to help run a company and train people all across the world to become cloud architects. We now have students that are building some of the best careers for themselves in the field, so when someone tells you “no,” instead of saying, “okay,” work harder, fight for your dreams, and go conquer them.

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 still think we’re going to have the same challenges related to people leadership; making sure people have the right attitude, fit into the right culture, etcetera. Emotionally intelligent people bring out the best in others, and emotionally intelligent leaders will continue making sure people want to work rather than hate their jobs. So, I think it’s going to be about the same thing: creating a bigger team environment that fosters communication, collaboration, and interactivity. With that said, I still think we’re still going to deal with the same people issues. No matter what happens in the world of people, processes, or technology, we’re still people.

I wholly believe in the future. I think we can say the workforce will be much more automated, much more technology-enabled, and much more distributed. In the future, I see a tremendous amount of automation. As people are leaving their jobs throughout The Great Resignation, employers are going to look for new means of automation. They’re going to look at a more global market. Current technology has already changed, making it almost irrelevant whether an employee is in India, Africa, or New York City. With this technological advancement and an extreme push for education in the developing world, I see a tremendous amount of jobs that can be offshored are being offshored. I believe certain human-oriented jobs, such as being a physician, a lawyer, or an architect, for example, need to be here and will always be local, but from any of those other positions — specifically technology positions, such as programming or certain types of engineering — I can see those becoming much more global. Organizations will use what we like to call arbitrage: getting something in one area and selling it in another area at a higher volume, or buying something cheaper from someone else and shipping from one location to resell it elsewhere for a higher cost. I see substantial arbitrage moving forward.

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

Regarding employers, I would offer the following: it all comes down to people, process, and technology. The first part is making sure that the people you have are the right people; the right energetic, enthusiastic, passionate people with a great level of emotional intelligence that are pleasant, honest, have good integrity, are team players, and are willing to go beyond.

On the technology side, I would recommend that employers use strong infrastructure services, making sure they’ve designed their systems to have a solid foundation, whether it be their network, their data center, or their cloud environment. That way, as technology changes, we can easily add or layer on these new technological improvements that can transform things, such as automation. For example, enabling customers to replace people on a self-checkout line, or a store that doesn’t have cashiers, and then technology can augment or even offload some of the more simple jobs that people do because their systems are completely automated. The technology is coming. It’s always improving, It’s a matter of making sure the organizations are trained to have the right people, educating the right staff, and have the right technology systems. Organizations should not just buy any technology systems, they should always consider the work of the people — the optimal workflow — first, and then figure out what technology systems support their workflow, rather than just purchase technology and figure out how to make it work.

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?

We’re in a world where we have two sets of expectations, one from employers and one from employees. Employers care about one thing, and they have to in a publicly-traded company. The CEO’s primary job is to increase shareholder value. If the CEO does not do that, they can get fired for not doing their job. Now, employees also have an initiative. They have their own personal corporation with their own goals. That’s how they take care of themselves and their families. We have to find a way to align the employee’s goals and the employer’s goals into a mutually beneficial outcome, so it’s important to really look at your people to see if they’re in the right role. Sometimes, we’ll have a great employee, but they’re in the wrong role, so we put them in the right role where they and the company will be successful. Sometimes, we have the wrong employee, and we have to do what we need to, but the key is making sure that our people and their goals are in line with the company’s to foster a culture of “one company, one people, one family.”

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

This is an interesting thing because working from home is not new. In fact, I’ve been working from home for over 20 years. The rest of the world is now doing what we technology professionals have been doing for 20 years. People have found out that driving three hours a day commuting back and forth to work is not fun, because it’s three hours a day they could spend doing other things. People have found out that paying 30 dollars a day to go park in New York City or 20 dollars a day on public transport gets expensive quickly for no good reason. What we’ve found is that employees are just as productive, if not more, when they’re not forced to work in an office, and that companies can save a fortune by paying for less each month in rent on expensive real estate. People can work from home, giving them the flexibility they need, but we do need to be really careful — working from home has no boundaries. When we worked in the office, we might be there from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, but when we work from home, we might start working at 7:00 am until 10:00 pm or later. We need to make sure that we control our destiny so we don’t burn out.

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 have to ensure that our educational system fosters value in being a self-starter who is intrinsically motivated. We have to make sure that our people, when they come out of high school, college, and graduate school, have the skills to do the job and be remote. We have to foster a culture of open-mindedness where people are willing to talk to anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. We have to foster environments that are non-judgmental and open to different perspectives, because the best solutions will be done from people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. If we have 10 people in the room who are all the same, they wouldn’t formulate any meaningful solutions because they all have the same beliefs and values. So, we need people from a wide variety of environments, different countries, different industries, and different experiences to continue driving innovation. For that, we can’t be in an environment where we don’t like people if they’re from a different religion, have a different philosophy, or favor a different political party. We have to be open, honest, and able to work with everyone because we need collective brainpower to form collective solutions. We need to bring out the best in others, not cause conflict for no reason. In fact, genetically speaking, we as humans have 99.9% the same DNA between one another, and the best results come when we celebrate our similarities and do not become divided over minor differences.

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

The greatest source of optimism for me is the phone calls I receive every day. I get hundreds of messages and phone calls from people saying, “Mike, I came to America from this country. I’m here, it’s the land of opportunity, and I’m willing to do anything necessary to go out there and improve my life.” I take in these students and teach them skills, and within months, they all have jobs paying six figures or more. My greatest source of optimism is the people out there who come to me with a goal to train and build careers. When I take in these students, they often actually communicate, collaborate, and work together across the globe. When they show me the things they’ve designed, it shows me that anything possible can occur. I see my students creating families and doing things together, even when they’re thousands of miles apart. Seeing that, I know that no matter what, whether it’s a pandemic, a war, or anything else, they’re still going to be successful. I love being able to watch people go from a position of poverty to one of wealth in mere months, and see how their job is really transforming them.

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’m a martial artist. I’ve had the opportunity to train with people from Special Operations forces and people who have achieved incredible things. There’s a saying in this community: “Stress is not the enemy, it’s how we manage our stress that creates the problem.” So, I feel that employers should obviously look to create a better open-minded work environment that fosters teamwork and collaboration. Employers should make time for their people to have health and wellness initiatives, such as giving them time to meditate, practice yoga, or even volunteer for something that’s important to them, because it’s about teaching those people healthy ways to cope with stress. Teaching skills like meditation, Tai Chi, or yoga are far more important than just trying to alleviate stress. Stress is inevitable. If there’s a critical crisis with the customer, it’ll be stressful. Natural disasters occur which are stressful. Pandemics occur which are stressful. It’s far better to give your people the tools to manage that stress so that no matter what happens, they won’t have those mental health challenges, as opposed to trying and hoping that we can control the environment and prevent loss.

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?

When we start thinking about what’s going on with “The Great Resignation,” we have to consider several factors. We have to consider that we took people used to working in an office from 9–5, and now that they’re home, they could be working much longer hours. We have to consider that people who had children used to being in school all day now have their children at home, so now people working longer hours are modeling and managing their children at the same time. We also have to consider that people have been scared by the pandemic. A lot of them are still really afraid, so now we’re piling on anxiety and fear and longer hours which has created an environment that’s scary for a lot of people. It’s caused them to question their lives and/or quit on what they’d planned for their future and their family’s future.

Employers can do a few things about this. First, they can reward their best and brightest, give them retention bonuses and raises to really take care of those outstanding employees. For the rest of the good employees that are there, find out what they want; offer them new training, new roles, new cross-training, and maybe help move them into a different role inside the company. If there are vacancies from people who have already left, that gives those who remain an opening to move up. Employers should sit and look at this incredible opportunity they have in front of them. Many truly incredible employees have quit their jobs because they wanted to do something different, and employers can now hire some of those incredible people because of the vacancies they have in their organizations, so the organization should make sure they can keep their people, train them, and develop them. Organizations can now find some of the best people that felt marginalized by their last bad manager. After all, in many cases, people don’t leave a company — they leave a manager. It’s all about making sure those good employees have a good manager.

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.)

  1. Let’s start with the trend of working remotely. I experienced working remotely for 20 years, and I can tell you that after someone’s had the privilege and the freedom to work from home, it’s going to be incredibly hard to get them back to the office. I had to go back to the office in one job and I absolutely hated it. I literally transferred jobs within three months so I wouldn’t have to go back into the office again.
  2. Another trend that I see is an extreme push towards improving soft skills like communication and collaboration for the following reasons. We’re moving into environments where we’re doing tons of remote collaboration and managing diverse teams all across the globe. We can’t be in meetings 24 hours each day or the teams won’t be able to complete anything, so we need to become much better and more charismatic leaders that can get people to want to do the job on their own, as opposed to rolling with an iron fist.
  3. We are also seeing a much more digitally enabled workforce. I remember decades ago when people were given pagers. Then, it became cell phones, then laptops, tablets, and now green screens, video cameras, and professional audio devices. As that occurs, the workforce is being sent new applications and new ways to assess things, so we’ll keep seeing much, much more technology being offered to the workforce to better enable their digital capabilities.
  4. I also think we’re seeing a move towards higher regulations and certain things like sustainability. These are things that we collectively think are good, but we know that increased regulations cause increased expenses. As expenses go up, one of two things can occur; we can either have inflation, or we’ll be using more technology to lay off people and automate processes because you can’t create profits from nothing. So, I believe we’ll continue to see this increased regulation as something that will improve automation in order to reduce the number of needs on behalf of businesses which will take more people out of the traditional workforce as we know it.
  5. We’re also witnessing more trends toward the virtual world and “the Web 3.0.” We see it starting with Facebook and Meta with all this talk about companies operating in the virtual world. We see all these new cryptocurrencies and NFTs emerging by the day. We’re seeing so many things becoming more virtual and people living somewhat virtual life, with some businesses even having virtual sales offerings. We’re likely only a few years out from seeing a virtual Metaverse counterpart for not only general users, but also organizations and businesses, and their employees.

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?

I’d say my favorite quote is: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t try.” It’s actually a quote from the martial arts community, but it’s a quote that I know well as a martial artist. The key to winning in martial arts is to train harder and strive to be better, faster, and stronger than your opponent. That only occurs by training harder. I’ve learned that, in order to build the best career, you have to train yourself to succeed in the things that are the most challenging and gain specialization in that niche. Few things come easy, so whatever you pick, you have to work and train in order to win at it. For me, the key to everything that I’ve ever been successful at has always been hard work, and the most successful people I know are the ones that truly work hard to win at what they do. They’re smart about their work, but they still work hard. It’s typically the person that gets in the office first and leaves last that’s working hardest. That’s the one that ultimately succeeds in the long run.

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.

You know, in all my years in technology, the person who has inspired me most is John Chambers. I worked for Cisco and was able to see him speak on several occasions. He was always my favorite futurist and he always treated all of us employees as family. I wish I had the time to have a longer conversation with him because I will say that my experience at Cisco, under his leadership and vision, was some of the best I’ve ever had. I and many other good people at Cisco have had the opportunity to talk to him for short periods of time, but if I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with John Chambers, he would be the person who I’d love to speak with the most.

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 talk to us in a few ways. We actually have the busiest cloud computing channel on YouTube in terms of views per month, and they can connect to us there. People can also connect with us on LinkedIn where we post every single day of the week, visit our website, or call our office if they’d like to speak to us.

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

Thank you very much, as well. This has been a fantastic opportunity and I wish you the very same.