Meaningful commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). The pandemic amplified long-standing systemic inequities deeply rooted in our society and shed light on the importance of social determinants — the places where we live, work, learn, play and age — in our overall wellbeing, and how these determinants disproportionately affect low-income and BIPOC communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black and Latinx Americans are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 than White Americans and nearly twice as likely to die from it. While COVID has increased the urgency around these issues, they’re far from a new phenomenon.

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 Natalie Stute.

Natalie Stute is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Gainwell Technologies, a position that maximizes her 20+ years of HR experience. Her priorities include talent management, recruiting, total rewards, diversity equity and inclusion, and creating training and development programs that give employees opportunities to grow and develop their skills. Natalie was named in Savoy Magazine’s 2019 Most Influential Women in Corporate America listing, received the OnCon Icon HR Award in 2020 for her leadership and contributions to the HR professional community, and was recognized by DCA Live as a 2021 HR Leader of the Year.

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.

Both of my parents were educators, with a combined 80+ years of teaching experience, so education was deeply engrained in my upbringing and turned me into a lifelong learner. In tandem, sports played a significant role throughout my childhood and into my high school and college years. I learned valuable lessons from competing as an athlete, winning and losing as a team. Valuing education, working hard for what you want, and continuously improving are the pillars that laid the foundation for who I am today.

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 what will be the same is that people will continue to want to work with organizations that align with their values. Especially in today’s competitive hiring market, people have more choices than ever when it comes to where they want to work and they aren’t going to choose a company that doesn’t prioritize their employees and what is important to them. What I see changing over the next 10–15 years is there will be continued flexibility in where and how employees work. The pandemic has shown that people can work from anywhere, and organizations will continue to shift and think differently about how work gets done in the future.

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

There needs to be a continued focus on engaging employees and how the work gets done. From past experience, I’ve learned that organizations operating in a top-down type of model are not always successful, which is why rethinking the operational model can help retain the employees they already have while growing the organization at the same time. Over the last decade, and especially the past five years, we’ve seen this shift in how people are running their companies to align with both company and employees’ needs. For example, Gainwell has completely shifted the expectations and the way recruitment is done. We’ve seen first-hand how much companies, and their employees, stand to benefit by tailoring recruitment to hone in on candidates’ skill sets and their past experiences.

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 gaps will likely revolve around the employee experience and employers’ ability to deliver a supportive environment that fosters personal and professional growth. There are non-negotiables employees have come to expect as part of this experience, such as competitive pay and benefits. Beyond these, the pandemic has emphasized the importance of providing training and development programs that give employees opportunities to build upon their current skillset and learn new capabilities.

Companies will need to figure out how best to create an environment that optimizes the employee experience in a hybrid context — helping create a productive home workspace, dealing with the very real threat of potential loneliness, associated mental health problems, and helping with issues such as childcare. Additionally, companies will need to solve the challenges related to employee access to coaching, networking and development opportunities that are essential for engagement and career advancement. By meeting employees’ expectations, companies can provide their staff with a holistic experience that includes meaningful recognition, benefits, and an optimal experience.

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

I think it goes back to the aspect of flexibility that working from home has provided. At Gainwell, we haven’t rushed to move people back to the office and we’ve been thoughtful about looking at people’s roles and schedules to determine where they really need to be — whether that is in the office, completely remote, or a hybrid model. The transition to working from home has also brought a more personal aspect into the equation when it comes to addressing employee needs. With employees working from home day in and day out 24/7 you need to expand how you are thinking about their needs. For example, how are they working from home while also caring for their families? Taking this into consideration, health and wellness initiatives and offerings will continue to become more prominent as we navigate this new era of work.

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?

Over the last few years, we’ve seen employees increasingly rely on their organizations; specifically for accurate and timely information. I would say I think about it in terms of organizational hierarchy of needs and how we are supporting and fulfilling employees’ needs. For example, during the pandemic when much of the workforce went remote, companies needed to readjust their benefits in order to take care of their employees in new ways.

To support a future of work that meets the needs of a company and its employees, organizations must continue investing in employee engagement, understanding what they need, and provide them with the opportunities, perks and resources that help employees, and their families, and keep them satisfied with their employer. For example, working diligently to get employees the best insurance plans possible that strike the right balance between providing the coverage they need for their personal lifestyle and keeping costs reasonable. From benefits to insurance, employers taking more responsibility and initiative to better support their employees in the ways that they actually want and need is a change that we will continue to see and will require in order to recruit, nurture and retain a satisfied workforce.

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

The pandemic has challenged the status quo in nearly every aspect of work, so I’m most optimistic about the opportunity to truly reimagine how, where and why people work. For example, the sudden shift to remote work forced upon the corporate world has upended traditional thinking about the role of the office. For years, employees have wanted more flexibility in where and when they work, but managers have worried that workers will spend their days watching Netflix and running personal errands when working remotely. The pandemic has shown that’s not what happens, and with that knowledge, companies are rethinking how office space should be used in the future.

In the past it was generally assumed that we attend the office for eight-plus hours a day, five days a week, and that’s where the work happens. The pandemic has taught us that many jobs don’t require full-time office attendance. The office of the future will be more about collaboration, brainstorming sessions and multi-team projects that benefit from in-person work.

We’re collectively entering a whole new world, not just a “new normal.” It’s going to be exciting, interesting, challenging, and in the end, it’ll be better for both employees and employers.

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?

Mental health and wellbeing have been a huge consideration because employees are dealing with so much that employers may not be aware of and they may not share. What we have been doing at Gainwell, for example, is promoting different services we offer within our employee assistance program whether that is a telehealth appointment with a therapist or a yoga class. Educating and making sure your employees are aware of the different wellness services you offer should be a priority.

We have also been offering different employee engagement events to give people the space to come together. For example, we had an event where we sent garden kits to employees’ homes and everyone joined a Zoom call to interact with each other while building a small portable garden. In addition to self-care opportunities, I’m always trying to think about wellness more holistically. People are burnt out and stressed, and the last two years have created a variety of different challenges that none of us have faced before. Encouraging employees to take breaks and reinforcing the need for self-care is an ongoing priority as we work to support employees.

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?

Perhaps the most important message to take away from all of these headlines is that the future of work is already here, and leaders now have no choice but to respond to the demands of the workforce. Employees have collectively decided that they will no longer tolerate the way things have always been in the traditional workplace, and leadership must listen, gather and actionably implement their employees’ feedback. For company culture to evolve and improve, there should be methods of open communication between employees and leadership where this kind of dialogue can take place, and leaders must not only listen and be open to changing, but they have to show them that they care and that they value employees’ opinions and feelings. Companies are realizing that workplace flexibility means more than just letting their employees work from home every now and then — there needs to be new processes put in place that allow for a better balance and foster a culture of satisfaction and positivity. Additionally, when it comes to other company initiatives, creating programs that provide support around mental health or gathering employees for events that create opportunities for personal connection and fun among staff will also garner positive results and help boost morale.

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

  • Meaningful commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). The pandemic amplified long-standing systemic inequities deeply rooted in our society and shed light on the importance of social determinants — the places where we live, work, learn, play and age — in our overall wellbeing, and how these determinants disproportionately affect low-income and BIPOC communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black and Latinx Americans are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 than White Americans and nearly twice as likely to die from it. While COVID has increased the urgency around these issues, they’re far from a new phenomenon.

The story is similar in the workplace. Amid the pandemic, one in four women were thinking about slowing their career or leaving the workforce entirely, particularly mothers, Black women, and senior-level women. In fact, three in four Black women considered downshifting or exiting their careers. McKinsey research discovered that the most gender diverse companies — those in the top quartile — are 25 percent more likely to have above-average profits compared to the least diverse quartile. The most diverse companies will also be in the best position to get back on track post-COVID, with access to a broader talent base and greater mix of skillsets and viewpoints. Diversity in the workplace means more than just a diverse mix of ethnic backgrounds, however, it also means diversity of thought, and how companies are tying DE&I initiatives to their business strategy in a meaningful way. Furthermore, it also requires tying this to recruitment and talent management strategies in a meaningful way and developing effective measurement tools to ensure success.

  • To become an employer of choice, companies need to invest time and resources into upskilling, re-skilling and training employees. Amid the pandemic, companies across most — if not all — industries have had to rapidly evolve to meet new and changing customer needs, which will likely continue post-pandemic, albeit at a slower pace. Keeping up with this demand will require employers to provide employees with resources and opportunities to develop new skills. This is especially important against the backdrop of an increasing rate of retirement among adults 55 and up. According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, over half of US adults 55 and older said they were out of the labor force due to retirement. To account for this, companies should consider ramping up their efforts to hire recent college graduates and junior talent, even if those prospects may lack some of the skills pertaining to the specific position. Rather than leaving the position unfilled in hopes of finding the ‘perfect’ candidate, employers will be better served by hiring a candidate who may not possess every required skill, but is willing to learn in an accelerated on-the-job setting.
  • The gig economy is accelerating changes in the recruitment process, as companies are realizing how restrictive the traditional one-size-fits-all approach is. Typically, employers have limited their search for prospective employees based on certain parameters like geographical location and ability to work full-time. The pandemic-driven shift to virtual work led many companies to lift these parameters out of necessity. In turn, this created opportunities to recruit individuals across the country, rather than being confined to one local population, that have diverse backgrounds, experiences, work ethics and perspectives. This allows individuals in geographically diverse areas, outside of the typical tech talent hubs, to be matched with openings that align with their background but may not have been available prior to the pandemic.

Many companies should consider permanently adopting this practice. For example, here at Gainwell, we’ve implemented over two dozen initiatives to recruit talent that may have been overlooked by traditional recruitment methods. This includes mothers who have been out of the workforce for years, military spouses, and short-term contract workers who are fully remote. Partnerships are another effective tool to broaden recruitment efforts. At Gainwell, we’re currently partnering with, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other higher education institutions to create a pipeline of diverse talent.

  • More companies will hire Chief Purpose Officers. Employees are increasingly looking to align their personal values with their day-to-day work. In tandem, companies are becoming more thoughtful about tying their business strategy to outcomes that are both financially and socially beneficial. Creating a Chief Purpose Officer position will enable companies to help employees better understand their individual purpose and how it contributes to positive outcomes at a macrolevel. This creates a positive feedback loop that gives each employee a stronger sense of alignment between their values and the organization’s, and is equally beneficial to individual employees and the company.
  • Effectively retaining employees will require creative approaches. Companies invest a significant amount of time and resources into recruiting and hiring talent, but not enough in retaining current employees. Beyond offering competitive benefits, pay, and growth opportunities, employers will need to think outside of the box to retain employees in an increasingly competitive job market. For example, one tactic may be to develop a program where former employees who retired from the company come back to mentor younger employees for a set amount of time. This ensures the institutional knowledge and expertise isn’t lost on the younger generation, and the ‘secret sauce’ of a particular company’s success is maintained.

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?

My favorite quote is by Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou. It goes, “Champions never look behind them. They always, whatever they achieve, they forget it the second after and they look at the future: ‘What’s next? What’s my next goal?’” This resonates with me because it is a reminder to never stop moving and achieving — as soon as I accomplish a goal, I’m focused on the next big thing.

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.

This is a tough one! The first person that comes to mind is Mellody Hobson, President and co-CEO of Ariel Investments. Mellody is truly an inspiration to me and has achieved a great deal in her career. She is extremely motivational and has gained unbelievable insight as a leader in her industry. I cannot say enough good things about her, she is an incredible woman and someone I look up to.

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 encourage your readers to continue the conversation with me on LinkedIn.

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