Evolving hybrid workplace. Remote will stay, but in-office work will make a comeback, bringing with it lots of innovative ways to foster collaboration and team-building in a mixed working environment.

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 of interviewing Nabeil Alazzam.

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. Please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

Thank you for inviting me to this interview. It’s a pleasure to have this discussion with you and your audience.

One of my earliest memories is moving to Canada, which had a massive impact on my childhood. I was about seven years old when we made the move. As you might expect when starting a new life in a new country with a new language, both my parents had to hold down several jobs between them and spend most of their time working to support us. Despite that, there was not much money to go around, so I never felt comfortable asking for an allowance or money to see a movie. Their hard work and sacrifice to support and better our family drove me to entrepreneurship from a young age. I was always looking for ways to support myself and be as independent as possible. At ten years of age, I got my first job delivering newspapers. At twelve, I started my first business.

That entrepreneurial hunger stayed with me throughout my college years, but I was always driven to get real-world experience and learn from the smartest people I could find. That led me to a role as a sales strategy consultant for ZS. I advised many Fortune 500 companies on their sales strategy and often assisted with the execution and implementation. While working on a project for Stryker in 2014, I realized there was an opportunity to solve a massive problem in sales comp that nobody had yet to get right. That’s where Forma.ai was first conceived, and we’ve been working on the solution to that problem ever since.

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?

The last two years have shown us that we never know what is around the corner. That said, I believe the things that will stay the same are rooted in human nature. For example, it’s human nature to seek connection with those around us. No matter the technology we use in the future, people will always be people, and people are social animals who naturally look to form relationships with their environment.

What will change is how we work. We’re only at the beginning of leveraging AI and data tools in the workplace. It will take time before large enterprises adopt these tools, but when they do, I expect to see a fundamental change in the way people work. Most workers today — even in an office environment — still spend their days in a production-line model working on repetitive tasks that offer little sense of accomplishment or opportunity to be creative. AI will facilitate far more strategic and creative roles in the future, ultimately allowing us to do what humans do best: have ideas, be creative, and make decisions.

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

Business leaders should prioritize two areas over the next few years. The first is investing in agility. The business landscape is changing rapidly and will continue to change at an accelerating pace. Leaders need to invest in understanding their data in real-time — and executing changes based on those insights — to keep pace with the rate of change in the marketplace.

The second area closely relates to the first: Invest in data fluency. Understanding your data and maintaining its integrity will be key to enabling agility and taking advantage of new technology over the next decade. The organizations investing in understanding their customer and operational data have a significant competitive advantage going forward.

For success in the future, organizations need to become model-driven. That means leveraging the data around them and investing in technology that enables agility so they can make real-time decisions backed by science.

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?

People want to solve challenging and rewarding problems, and they want to be part of a growing business where they have the opportunity to grow personally. That isn’t news to anybody, but it is one of the main forces driving people to change jobs, aided by the increasing globalization of work. Enterprises have traditionally looked to standardize roles to make them more efficient and easier to replace, which naturally limits individual growth. It’s very challenging to grow in a position that has been designed to be repetitive. Businesses need to automate the tedious, repetitive work to allow more creative and strategic roles. The more we can unburden workers from repetitive tasks through automation, the smaller that gap will become.

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

Remote working lowered the barrier to switching roles or companies. Employees have more choices, and it’s easier than ever for individuals to change positions or locations. That puts pressure on employers to allow them to do so, whether that means a change in career path or physical location. That pressure will drive employers to provide employees with better opportunities to do creative and strategic work. I expect to see massive investment in the automation of many service and support functions to create roles that offer us the chance to do what humans do best: create.

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?

If the workforce is being reshaped, it is due to a huge demand for new skills. There are 10,000+ job openings at Google right now — and we’ve got a few at Forma.ai too. Companies are expanding into new fields, and there’s a real shortage of skills to accommodate that. The pandemic accelerated digitization and the adoption of technology, so the demand for workers who could build and use that technology increased rapidly. We’re experiencing pressures now because we haven’t been able to fast-forward the supply of workers with the skills to execute in that new tech-heavy, digital-first world. That’s why we’re seeing a huge demand for software engineers and a wave of new tech roles filled by people who weren’t working in tech before, particularly in support and service functions.

That migration to tech was happening already, but now we’ve increased demand significantly. The supply-side lags because people need to be educated and gain experience before they can fill those positions productively. Until the workforce’s skill set matches the demand, we will see massive strain across the service industry. I would expect this will accelerate new technology adoption further, as the business case for investments in automation starts to make more sense for larger enterprises.

What we’re seeing now is not so much a drastic change in the direction of society but rather an acceleration of society’s evolution. We were headed in this direction before; we just arrived sooner than expected.

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

As more tools to automate repetitive tasks in the workplace emerge, I’m optimistic it will help us be more human in our work. As we automate more and AI technology improves, I hope we see more positions evolve into creative and strategic roles. That will allow people to flex their mental muscles and develop meaningful ideas instead of spending their days on rote taskwork.

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?

As we discussed earlier, humans are social creatures. As we move to a hybrid model, employers need to find a way to make up for those lost opportunities for human connection. When we remove organic social contact, we risk losing the empathy that it fosters. When we lose empathy, that puts a huge strain on working relationships. Employers will need to think about ways to ensure we remain empathetic to each other or risk creating unhealthy working environments.

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?

This is clearly a time of transition, but I think we have to be careful not to read too much into the headlines. Good companies are not losing people. We talked earlier about how technology has globalized work and made it easier for people to change jobs, roles, and locations. That has empowered people — they don’t have to put up with the same bad management practices or working environments. If they don’t like a manager or a workplace, there are plenty of opportunities to find work elsewhere.

Creating a great company culture is not rocket science. People’s wants and desires have not changed as much as you might think; employees are now just better positioned to demand them. Business leaders know how to create good working cultures and environments, but many have failed to do so and are now seeing the consequences of underinvesting in their most valuable asset: their people. The businesses that facilitate more empowered, creative, and strategic work for their team (by automating as much as possible) will have the happiest and most productive workforces.

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. Evolving hybrid workplace 
    Remote will stay, but in-office work will make a comeback, bringing with it lots of innovative ways to foster collaboration and team-building in a mixed working environment.
  2. More and better in-person events
    Social events, particularly those involving luxury travel and unique experiences, should come back stronger than ever as we exit the pandemic. On the trade-events side, people will look for higher-quality, high-impact learning and networking experiences to make the most of their time spent traveling. They will be more than willing to pay for great events — but scathing of those that don’t deliver.
  3. Changing sales and support roles
    More and more tech companies are incorporating usage-based (pay-as-you-go) and product-led growth (self-serve) strategies into their business model. That means more roles will crossover into areas of the customer lifecycle that were previously handled by a single function. For example, customer operations will become more involved in the pre-sale growth stages; and sales teams will focus on account growth post-sale over traditional prospecting and closing deals.
  4. Rapid digital transformation and accelerating adoption of technology
    We’ve already discussed this trend and the impact it will have several times, but it’s important to note again. This accelerated innovation and adoption will drive many other trends that emerge over the next decade.
  5. More diverse and flexible total benefits packages
    Almost all enterprises have felt the impact of inflation and market scarcities on their payroll. We can expect this upward trend to continue as the marketplace readjusts. Employers and employees will continue to seek creative ways to diversify and enhance the total benefits package.

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’m not sure where it comes from, but one of my favorite quotes is, “Success comes when chance meets preparedness.”

That mindset has shaped how I work because it puts the focus on the things you can control. There’s not a lot you can do about your luck, but you can always be better prepared for the challenges and opportunities that do arise.

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 sit down with Peter Thiel. Very few business people would have undertaken the epic challenge he did with Palantir — and even fewer could have executed that vision as successfully. He’s had a huge impact on contemporary business and technology, and I think we would have a great conversation.

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?

You can learn more about the Forma.ai platform and our radically different approach to sales comp at www.forma.ai. I encourage you to follow our Linkedin page and subscribe to email updates.

You can also find me on Linkedin: Nabeil Alazzam

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. These were great questions to think about, and I hope your readers find my answers interesting and useful.