Virtual Work Goes Fully Virtual. Transformative technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality will shake up the way we work, travel, entertain ourselves, connect, and live. Just as the internet transformed our access to information the virtual reality world is just beginning to be built with a central vision as a single place where everyone can meet, work, play, and connect. With the right accessories in place, working on virtual work terminals, participating in virtual meetings and conferences, and even exercising can be transformed into the virtual realm.
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 Omar L. Harris.
Omar is the founder of Intent Consulting and TYMPO.io — the world’s first and best SaaS application for employee inclusion. He is a former General Manager of GSK and Allergan, business and servant leadership thought leader, speaker and an award-winning bestselling author of five books. With more than 20 years of global pharmaceutical executive experience building teams, Harris has worked on four continents (Africa, Asia, North America, and South America) for Pfizer, Merck, Schering-Plough and more.
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 think moving around a lot as a child was formative for me. I was born in Pittsburgh, but moved to Charleston, WV and then to Lake Charles, LA before attending college in Tallahassee, FL. While in college I received the great opportunity to live and work outside the country in Sao Paulo, Brazil for 16 months. Through that, I developed the ability to connect and relate to pretty much anyone and adapt anywhere — two attributes that serve me to this day.
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 expect that collaborative and team-based problem solving and working will still be consistent and that leaders will have to still be skilled at forming high-performing teams and extracting the synergies from a group of diverse people via inclusion, belonging, and high-performance coaching. Issues like work/life balance, mental health, toxic cultures and leaders, and burnout will likely persist because the “always on/always available” nature of work is unlikely to cease.
There are emerging industries that will likely drastically shift how and where work is done. Today, artificial intelligence is mostly a silent partner in our work. Tomorrow we will be leveraging AI far more competently and purposefully. The rise of robotics is just beginning. It will transform who does what from driving, drone piloting and delivering — which will free more people up to do different types of functions in organizations.
If the creators of the metaverse have their way and are successful in their mission, then I can foresee a world where 15 years from now we all clock into our virtual workplace via a headset and working alongside everyone in the world in a single massive virtual space on virtual computers having virtual interactions throughout our days. Even blue-collar work will be transformed by the combination of connectivity, advanced robotics and a virtual interface.
Imagine a factory worker who picks and packs boxes not physically but via a pair of robot arms and eyes remotely from a room at home in front of their tv and wearing a visor, controlling the robot’s movements and actions. In this world, inequity will come from lack of access to network connectivity and training.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Pour money into new capability development around artificial-intelligence fluency and managing and leading diversity and enhancing inclusion. When the entire world is literally available to perform work from their homes, recruiting, onboarding, managing and leading will need to keep pace.
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?
I foresee a future of abundance in the workforce and as such it will likely remain a worker’s market in the coming years. That means the constructs around compensation and benefits will be in constant flux as well as how employers “kit out” their employees’ home work places in terms of connectivity, tech and wellbeing services.
Companies need to reorient themselves away from internal bureaucracy (top-down) and towards continuously adding value to the people serving the customer (bottom-up). To the degree that they can make this transformation, their connection to the issues and desires of the workforce will be keenly attuned, so they can be setting the employment trends versus always being reactive.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Finance departments screaming “cha-ching.” If centralized workspaces can be reduced in either footprint or size that generates significant year-over-year savings that can be used to innovate. I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg of the work-from-home trend. I think that most companies will be fully hybrid in a couple of years and by the end of this decade fully virtual.
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?
There are significant societal injustices and inequities that currently bar many people from participating in hybrid and virtual working. While the single parent who could not afford childcare might benefit from working from home from an expense standpoint, these people will still be disadvantaged versus more affluent, single or male counterparts less impacted by having to work in an environment with children having immediate access to their parent. HR departments and leaders need to investigate the potential implications of work shifts on the widest variety of current and potential employees in order to reengineer policies and procedures for a more inclusive work world for all.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I see technology as the great equalizer between haves and have nots. A future of work that more heavily leverages technology is one where more people can hope to participate in ways they could not fathom today. An Indian villager who has to trudge 4 miles to work in a putrid factory might be able to work from their home and for a modern employer and leverage a few pieces of tech to do a similar job at a higher wage with better quality of life, for example.
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?
We are seeing regulations come into play to force employers to require their employees to disconnect. As “screen time” morphs into “virtual world time” these types of policies will be even more crucial to enforce. And more employee friendly management and leadership practices will be critical to keep employees engaged and productive.
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?
The Great Resignation is an indictment of current leadership standards. How do company cultures need to evolve? The companies that do the hard work of eradicating injustice, eliminating inequities, expanding diversity and enhancing inclusion will be those that maintain their talent bases and workforces moving forward.
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.)
- The Normalization of Artificial Intelligence. Right now we interface with a passive form of AI. From Google search to Alexa and Siri we are becoming more accustomed to being supported by machine intelligence and learning. Coming very soon, we will be interfacing far more purposefully with our AI, from designing consumer messaging to conducting market research, and developing new products and services. The future of work is one that combines human ingenuity with machine learning. As mentioned in this paper, “AI will continue to drive massive innovation that will fuel many existing industries and could have the potential to create many new sectors for growth, ultimately leading to the creation of more jobs.”
- The Fully Connected World. In the 2000’s we saw the massive expansion of the web and in the 2010’s this became the IoT (Internet of Things), which includes connected devices from refrigerators to light switches. Currently around 62% of the global population has access to the internet. This gap will not last very long and, as it closes, the opportunities for work expansion, employment access, and upward mobility will be transformative.
- Transformation of Blue Collar Work. Throughout human society there has always been a working class scratching out their living performing repetitive labor-intensive tasks. The more connectivity and AI transform the work landscape. However, the more basic “hard labor” will transform — from robot production of houses and buildings to robotic home cleaning to robotic factories. Importantly, in this vision, the machines have not taken over human jobs, they have just moved the humans further away from the labor-intensive side of the work as the human workers use connected virtual tools to control the robots from afar. Rather than try to build fully capable robots who can clean a house on their own, the better application of technology is to have a robot controlled by a human who can clean multiple homes from a central location or even their own home.
- The Home as Headquarters. Increasingly, people will be able to perform a wider variety of work functions from the comfort of their own homes and as this trend accelerates, companies will start investing in ensuring that their employees home work spaces are built for maximum productivity by kitting their employees out with technology, health and wellness gear, and the best connectivity to ensure seamless virtual working. This may lead to the creation of functional work communities — similar to military bases — where they buy specific neighborhoods to house employees so the informal bonding can happen as neighbors and fellow employees.
- Virtual Work Goes Fully Virtual. Transformative technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality will shake up the way we work, travel, entertain ourselves, connect, and live. Just as the internet transformed our access to information the virtual reality world is just beginning to be built with a central vision as a single place where everyone can meet, work, play, and connect. With the right accessories in place, working on virtual work terminals, participating in virtual meetings and conferences, and even exercising can be transformed into the virtual realm.
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?
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
It helps to stay in the moment, remain grateful and maximize my most valuable asset: time.
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.
In previous articles I’ve said Will Smith. I’d also love to chop it up with Lebron James — he’s my favorite basketball player and someone who I admire as a human, father, leader and business person.
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?
My website: omarlharris.com, twitter: strengthsleader, and Linkedin: omarlharris.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.