Places give us meaning and play such a huge role in how we see ourselves. This is why many of us felt so detached during lockdowns — our favourite places make us who we are — our community, and our identity. We can’t always be in the same space physically, but what can we do to keep that spirit alive? We risk losing this if using the same generic platform for all our various identities — where we catch up with family online, versus conducting business at bustling conventions.

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 Nena Salobir.

Nena Salobir is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Orbits, an Aussie-born metaverse startup that creates wholesome virtual environments for more immersive, interactive and intimate virtual collaboration. Nena is an award-winning graphic designer and art director who has specialised in branding for over a decade. With a formal background in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, she has always been fascinated by the role of objects and visual culture in our search for identity. An accomplished artist in her own right, she has held two solo exhibitions for her long-standing portraiture work, Self Portrait in Society.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I spent my early childhood traipsing around the world with my parents, and then had my schooling in Perth, Australia. I’m a law school dropout who tried to redeem herself by doing an Honours degree in Marketing / Consumer Behaviour. In the midst of this sullen student experience, at 19, and frustrated by the latent creative talent I was surrounded by at uni, I started a glossy, borderline satirical lifestyle magazine called Wasted. It was the best education I could have had, and the first step in a career as a self-taught designer. I’ve since freelanced in branding and creative marketing for over a decade. I’d been involved in branding various startups and in the early days of the pandemic I co-founded one of my own: Orbits, a platform creating immersive virtual venues that bring a sense of place back to our fragmented digital lives.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

It feels like the whole world has caught on to my secret!

Of course, every industry and company is different, but I think the key trend we’re seeing is a quest for meaning, freedom and flexibility at work. There’s not much meaning in a soul-destroying commute or work-life imbalance. There’s meaning in an environment where you are able to learn, feel a sense of belonging, and feel valued for your contributions.

These aren’t just nice-to-haves, but things employees are increasingly expecting. There’s no reason to fear this — inclusive workplaces are simply better performing ones. Diversity isn’t about filling a quota, it’s about valuing and gaining insights you would otherwise miss out on.

Similarly, before the pandemic, we already had many decades of research pointing to the productivity gains of remote and tech-assisted work, but well-worn behavioural grooves made it hard to break down a new path.

The pandemic has given us a pattern-breaking shot of adrenaline straight to the heart — we’re implementing at great speed so many business lessons that have progressing at a snail’s pace. So rather than pivoting, I think employers should embrace the rapid pace of uptake of those big ideas in management, as they’re no longer forecasts anymore — they’re a matter of survival.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

There’s a real shift in hiring dynamics. Culture is King. Life is short. Anxiety is rife! Job seekers are now emboldened to interview their potential employers as much as they themselves are being interviewed. I’m really excited for all job seekers, as the world is truly now their oyster. With advances in virtual collaboration (like Orbits!) closing the gap for remote working, there are so many new things employees are offering to show support — such as warm, inviting spaces for remote workers to feel a sense of continuity and involvement. This has huge potential for democratising the job market. It also means that existing remote or distributed workforces are no longer lonely outposts. Loyalty and camaraderie can be built online too.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

Working from home will no longer be regarded as unusual. Our lives will become more seamless hybrids — the virtual and physical no longer divided but layered.I think there’s going to be a long period of experimentation, with people from various industries, teams, or even of different temperaments learning to find their ideal balance and rhythm in terms of how the work week is structured.

There are obvious benefits to team bonding in a physical setting, but on the flip side, there are enough interruptions in a workplace to make full-time face-to-face questionable in terms of productivity. So long as goals are clear and employees are kept accountable, there will be less scepticism around trust. This is no longer an era of micromanaging people or looking over their shoulder to see if they have a social media app open. For managers, there should be bigger fish to fry!

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

Openness and connectedness. The world is a scary place for many right now, and we need to shield these values if we’re going to harness the true power of tech.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

I think openness to change is going to be critical for employers, who have already experienced seismic shifts in how their day looks during the pandemic. While this may have been unsettling at the time, it took no time at all for solutions to be found and for people to be talking about a ‘new normal’. In my opinion, there is no ‘new normal’. Many more challenges will arise — energy crisis chief amongst them — but the businesses that survived and thrived in the pandemic were flexible and creative with their thinking. Covid was just the first of many challenges — a training camp for pivoting! In fact, that’s how Orbits came to be born: our first clients were event agencies that needed to rise out of the ashes of global lockdowns.

For employees, I think it’s going to be a case of balancing doing things on their own terms with some harsh economic realities. Despite improved awareness around mental health in the workplace, it’s inevitable that there will be high stress in certain industries at the moment. Employees need to safeguard their well being by being kind to themselves and clear to their employers. Many employers are doing a whole lot of promises at the moment as a way to attract quality talent, and this needs to equate with reality. We know that people who work from home work far longer hours. As someone who has worked from home for most of her career, this is a rookie mistake and a trap that is difficult not to fall back into. Putting in place guardrails so you can get enough rest will help make your work hours as fulfilling as possible (in both senses of the word).

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I’ve never been a fan of labels, so I’m excited that we’re entering an era of industry-hopping and transferability of skills. Will your career into being! The best ideas come from cross-pollination of knowledge and industries, and I truly believe that collaboration — supercharged by new hybrid networks and modes of communication — is going to skyrocket on a global scale.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

I think there’s a huge role for governments to play in boosting the jobs of the future, though governments are traditionally quite slow to do so and any grants and schemes are more accessible to bigger companies (who often have a slower rate of innovation!) Get some startups onto it — we need the growth factor hormone!

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?”

1: Defragmentation

Our digital lives are currently like a big messy toolbox. Marketers love to sell us on having a ‘digital ecosystem’ because it gives a sheen to the jumble of numerous tech features, extensions and other so-called advancements. But why would we even want to wield an ecosystem on a day to day basis? Without some overarching clarity around why we’re carting all these tools around, and how they work together, we end up spending more time rummaging and being anxious about finding the tools, than building and finding flow with those tools.

This utterly exhausting context- switching that comes from our multi-app, multi-password, notification-punctuated feed-refreshing existence is not just frustrating but inefficient.

We’ve strived to add context with Orbits. Our workspaces emulate physical workspaces, with the most essential documents and message channels pinned to the table in each office or department. Our creative department for example has the relevant Miro links, Pinterest boards and Slack channels accessible from that Orbits room. No need to keep logging in or searching. It’s as if the right tools are laid out side by side for the job at hand. When you’re done with that job, go into another room — virtual or physical. It also looks like a creative department, so visitors can get a sense of the kind of work that is going on there. You can visit each other in Orbits, shift mindsets, break up the pace.

2: Meaning

Places give us meaning and play such a huge role in how we see ourselves. This is why many of us felt so detached during lockdowns — our favourite places make us who we are — our community, and our identity. We can’t always be in the same space physically, but what can we do to keep that spirit alive? We risk losing this if using the same generic platform for all our various identities — where we catch up with family online, versus conducting business at bustling conventions.

Working remotely doesn’t mean we have to give up those identities. At Orbits we spend a lot of time crafting ambience for places, which include full blown digital twins of corporate HQs and cultural institutions. In the real world, the places we go to signal who we are: do we work in a corporate highrise, a coworking space, a yoga studio? When you walk through the doors it sets the tone for what is about to occur. And when you leave, grab a drink in the bar with colleagues, you are able to close the chapter on that part of the day. All of this can be done on Orbits.

3: Global workforce

A rising workplace trend will be more openness to international candidates, which is going to supercharge innovation! Hooray!

4: Personal professionals

The pandemic has shown us how reliant we are on each other. I think we’re all a bit more aware now of how important everyone is, from the lowest paid to the highest paid, we simply need each other.

The mask of professionalism may be moving a bit — people are less afraid to show their struggles and their inner lives at work. It’ll be really interesting to see the balance that is struck between the professional and personal.

5: Balancing act (going hybrid)

Our hybrid lives will be a really exciting era of change — how we better overlay the virtual aspects of our lives with our physical existences. How do we use technology to make our lives easier, not more complex?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

A very busy CEO once told me, “You have to knock off from work each evening. Push all the weight off your shoulders.” Even the biggest slave to hustle culture needs to hear this. You deserve to feel good at the end of a day, even if there are outstanding challenges. Outsource any problems to your subconscious, and you might wake up with a solution, and a bouncy brain to enact it.

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 or she might just see this if we tag them.

Melanie Perkins from Canva. I remember her from a couple of my marketing tutorials at uni, and someone telling me about her first business (printing school yearbooks) around the same time I was starting my magazine. What she’s done in the years since is remarkable, and the fact that she’s done it makes me feel like the world is not so huge, and you can make your dreams happen if you don’t give up and just keep going. She has an extremely forward thinking approach to leadership and valuing people — the fact that she’s been able to scale something with heart makes for such a nice mental detox from the archetypal startup CEO. There’s no veneer of overnight success — I love how candid she has been about how hard the journey can be behind the scenes.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

See what we’re building at, take a look at some of our virtual venues on our socials, and subscribe to our newsletter to see how we’ll be shaping the Future of Work!

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