Finding joy in the process. Solving any hard problem is both difficult and incredibly fun. While camping couple of years ago, I discovered that my Apple Watch didn’t have a barometer app. So I learned their latest programming language and wrote my own, with plenty of bugs to work out along the way. That’s a personal example, but I take the same approach when challenges arise at our organization.
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 Otto Berkes.
Otto Berkes, an Xbox co-founder, drove groundbreaking hardware and software innovation at Microsoft for 18 years before joining HBO, where he built the GO Streaming service. Additionally, he co-invented 13 patents, received Microsoft’s Xbox Founder’s Award, an Emmy Award, and an Edward R. Murrow Award. In 2019, Berkes accepted the role of CEO at HireRoad, a leading talent management software company.
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.
The first thing that comes to mind is the car accident I had when I was 18 that statistically I should never have made it through. I have tried to remind myself every day since escaping a submerged, upside-down vehicle in the dark that every day is a gift.
A second experience that taught me more about leadership and communication than anything else was learning to ride horses. You can’t make a 1,300-pound animal do anything it doesn’t want to do!
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 development of employees and making sure they feel valued and heard will never change. All employees want to feel as though they are contributing to the success of the entire organization. Empowering employees and involving them in a collaborative process yields better results and gives everyone a sense of ownership.
The pandemic was a catalyst to many changes in the workplace, and things will continue to evolve. Employers who are agile and give employees flexibility with defined expectations will be successful. The focus will be outcomes and the value that is created rather than tasks that we do. Bottom line results will continue to matter rather than where people are located.
Technology will also change and continue to advance, better assisting people to communicate effectively, engage with each other, and automate performance management so teams can perform more dynamically. Physical location will not be a discussion because we will continue to improve the tools to make the business process seamless.
Initial training when someone joins an organization is essential, but the investment in their continuous learning and growth is the future. There are tools that can assist in this process now, but technology will continue to evolve to improve employee development.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Organizations that focus on maximizing human potential will be successful. Investing in ongoing learning and development of employees will not only allow those individuals to flourish but additionally strengthen the organization. This focus can happen in both formal and informal ways. The tools for workforce assessment, education, and communication are accessible and affordable, which means it’s easier than ever for employers to discover and provide the training and resources that will help their team members excel and be the best versions of themselves.
Position and organizational tenure are part of the distant past. Organizations can future proof themselves by embracing people seeking new skills and experiences. Newcomers join the organization, bringing with them different perspectives, they get up to speed, become part of the organization, and then move on. That’s okay! It fosters continuous learning and improvement and is an opportunity to regularly infuse new ideas, which in turn accelerates success.
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?
Effective leadership will try to minimize the gaps and meet employees where they are. Understanding who your employees are, what motivates them, what they value, what type of environment they thrive in, and what their aspirations are for the company is an important first step. Once the results have been compiled and you have defined what matters most, this can be used to define your corporate culture — which can then be communicated to current and future employees. When what is important to you is also collectively important to your workforce, you can engage current employees and attract new job seekers. This will also allow you to be thoughtful when hiring new team members, finding the right “fit” so your new employees can thrive from job description to job success.
Also keep in the mind that this “fit” is truly bidirectional. Rigid roles and job frameworks from the past can hinder the flexibility, agility, and adaptability that employees expect moving forward. Employers and leadership need to approach employees beyond “fitting what the organization needs” to accommodating (even welcoming and embracing) unique skills and aspirations that they have. Employee/employer fit is a two-way conversation, not a one-way directive.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Prior to the pandemic, many companies allowed employees the flexibility to work remotely. However, many more organizations were forced into it by default in the spring of 2020 — and some of them are now trying to return to the pre-pandemic practices that made them successful. But those days are behind us. As labor markets continue to evolve, employers who embrace a purpose-driven philosophy and rethink their work processes to focus on outcomes will be positioned for more robust employee engagement — and more robust growth. Rigidity in these past practices drove a false equivalence between hours spent in the office and productivity. Nothing is further from the truth — and we’re all seeing that as the focus shifts to what really matters, which is what got done. So, I predict that a hybrid model will be a very strong component to the future of many organizations.
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?
How organizations view their people is one of the biggest shifts to come from the pandemic. Businesses have become a bit more “human” over the last two years, and leaders as well as employees are starting to think differently about what makes work meaningful, efficient, productive, and fun.
In the future, I expect to see a greater focus on achieving shared goals through effective collaboration. At our company, for example, we look at objectives and key results (OKRs) that help us correlate progress on objectives to key results and metrics. We also encourage employees to tie their personal job objectives to larger shared goals. And we track it all online in ways that help us measure tangible progress rather than focusing on perceived busyness.
Speaking of software, I expect it to continue to become more refined, operating seamlessly in the background to help teams get work done easily. Simply adding more tools does not make anyone more organized or efficient — but there is a definite benefit to adding well-designed software with a clear purpose and training employees to be adept at using it. Software will evolve beyond a means of automating paper process to doing that AND gaining insights and understanding as to how well an organization is working and operating.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
There are many important issues at hand in today’s business environment. Still, one that I think is essential is creating a corporate culture in which we maximize the “human potential” we have in our organizations. Looking at employees’ human potential rather than looking at them as “human capital” allows us to maximize organizational efficiency, adaptability, and performance.
Especially in hybrid and virtual work settings, this shift in the way leaders think about employees will increase the emphasis we place on soft skills, on clear communication, and on collaboration. As these values spread within organizations, they will spill over into customer interactions.
Not only will we become better at clearly articulating information about day-to-day work, we’ll also improve our ability to talk about our organization’s culture and mission and core values. And this is where we have a huge opportunity to align with what our employees are looking for. When there’s a fit on both sides, you have a tremendously engaged workforce.
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?
This directly relates to focusing on human potential — because if employees are unhappy in their roles or struggling to perform because of how their workplace is structured, it doesn’t matter how many resources an organization directs toward their mental health. I believe strongly that to maximize human potential, we need to prioritize ongoing learning and professional development, and we need to increase the ease with which employees can transition within a company to find a role they’re passionate about and grow.
As for specific strategies, Employee Resource Groups led by employees are a unique way to support individuals’ wellbeing. These groups offer a space where people feel safe and heard. The topics foster inclusivity and establish a strong commitment and loyalty to your organization.
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?
All of these terms are a call to leaders to align what their organizations value and what their employees value. Creating a fit starts during the hiring process, when organizations and recruits first start to determine whether they are a match. In the workplace of the future, people will be hired for their cultural fit in addition to the skills and knowledge they bring. And employees will be looking for differentiators that go beyond salary and benefits. They’ll be asking, “Why should I work for you?” Your answer needs to include mission and culture as well as things like location flexibility and perhaps some form of equity.
When you achieve a good fit, people will have a reason beyond a paycheck to stay engaged with your organization. This ultimately serves employees because they feel heard, and it also benefits the company as a whole because they have a committed, satisfied workforce.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Taking risks to solve problems. As a CEO, I’m responsible for creating an environment where employees learn by testing potential solutions — even if those solutions ultimately don’t work. I learned during my days as a software developer that negative repercussions for testing promising solutions are counterproductive when you’re developing cutting-edge ideas and products.
- Humanizing digital tools. Modern technology can make it easier for humans to engage with their work — or it can over-complicate things to the point where humans disengage from the organization and its mission. Finding the balance is a little like developing the perfect video game, all the way back to Asteroids on the Atari 2600. Your digital tools need to be easy enough so people can keep up yet challenging enough to hold their attention. This is especially true in eLearning, which is an ever-more-important tool for employee development.
- Finding joy in the process. Solving any hard problem is both difficult and incredibly fun. While camping couple of years ago, I discovered that my Apple Watch didn’t have a barometer app. So I learned their latest programming language and wrote my own, with plenty of bugs to work out along the way. That’s a personal example, but I take the same approach when challenges arise at our organization.
- Celebrating good outcomes together. I joke that when we developed our first Xbox prototype at Microsoft, it was held together by chewing gum and tape. The pressure was incredibly high. But it worked, and we celebrated — and here we are 20 years later, still feeling the impact of that revolutionary product.
- Forging unique paths. There’s an ongoing trend where work is becoming more self-directed and less top-down directed. This creates opportunities for people to take more risks and seek opportunities to challenge themselves while having real impact that’s meaningful to them. For many, this is replacing the traditional notion of ‘climbing the ladder’ to ‘achieve success.’ I believe the concept of a career formula will be left behind in favor of forging a truly unique and deeply rewarding path. Businesses will look for skills and strengths, not job requirement fit.
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?
There is a Bob Mankoff New Yorker cartoon framed on the wall just to the left of my desk. It features an executive standing at his desk in a New York City office commenting while on the phone, “No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?” It reminds me that not everything is important. Saying “no” is just as powerful, sometimes more so, than saying “yes.”
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 question! Honestly, I would want to have lunch with astrophysicist and author Katie Mack. I was a physics major and continue to be interested in astrophysics. Dr. Mack is brilliant, and her book The End of Everything provides a fantastic want to really give ourselves perspective on life.
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 connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @OttoBerkes, and I share thoughts on leadership as part of the Forbes Technology Council.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.