Technology enables seamless collaboration regardless of geological location. This opens the opportunity to hire the right talent from a wider pool of candidates and more flexibility for employees to choose where they want to work. Time differences can pose a challenge for collaboration within teams, however, they also enable teams to be responsive around the clock, as day for one team member is night for another. Learning to use asynchronous styles of working will enable teams to collaborate even if everyone is not online at once. This will require new ways of thinking and working that can ultimately create more flexibility and smarter use of virtual collaboration tools. Leaders will need to find new ways of building trust and a sense of community, as in-person interactions decrease.

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 Petra Rosvall.

Petra is Chief People Officer at M-Files, a global leader in information management, and leads a global team of People & Culture professionals, based in Helsinki, Finland. She has held a variety of senior-level HR positions in different industries and regions over the past 10 years. Before joining M-Files, she was the HR Director at a leading sporting goods company where she was responsible for people and culture development across the Americas region and based in Chicago, Illinois. Petra holds a Master’s degree in Economics and is a certified coach and facilitator. She is currently in the process of writing a book focusing on a practical approach to leading corporate culture.

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.

Passion for people and leadership: When I was 11, an economic recession hit Finland and my parents who were both entrepreneurs decided to pack our things and move from Helsinki, Finland to Berlin, Germany. We ended up living in Germany for four years. It was the early 90’s and the Berlin wall had just fallen; the general atmosphere was both creative and chaotic. During that time, I attended a bilingual school with classes in both German and English. It was a big school and I was surrounded by a mix of different cultures and interesting social dynamics. It was there that my elementary school teacher, Ruth Bakke, first gave me feedback about how she appreciated me helping my classmates succeed and shared that I was a sought-out leader among my peers. That feedback made me aware of my passion for enabling the success of others and gave me the confidence to think of myself as a leader.

The value of friends and family: Another important life experience for me was meeting my husband, Jani. I remember the first time I saw him. I was 22 years old and was drawn to him from across the room. We instantly became the best of friends and it wasn’t long before I realized that I was completely in love. Thankfully, he felt the same way. He is my rock and a constant source of support. In 2019, we were living in Chicago and were on a road trip in Oregon when his doctor called to say that they had found an aggressive cancer in his olfactory nerve. He has since fully recovered. However, the thought of going on without him was terrifying. I was reminded of how fragile life is and it inspired me to make the most of it. The most important thing that I learned from the experience was that I have amazing people in my life. Family members, friends, and colleagues rallied around us to offer support or just a shoulder to lean on. I am forever grateful for that and want to take even better care of my personal relationships going forward.

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?

10 to-15 years is a long time considering the current pace of change. That said, it’s an important exercise to try to envision where current trends will take us. As leaders, thinking about the future gives us perspective on what we should be focusing on today.

I believe that corporate culture will increasingly be a determining factor for success. It will influence hiring, retention, and the performance of teams. Companies that are able to align their purpose, vision, strategy, values, structure, ways of working, systems, and tools will have a competitive edge over traditional controls-oriented, top-down hierarchies.

The reasons for this are practical. As the world becomes more connected and technology enables greater speed of change, companies that have an empowered workforce and agility built into their culture will naturally be able to adapt more efficiently. Furthermore, motivational theory has proven that when people are connected to a common purpose, encouraged to make decisions that align with the shared direction, and supported in their pursuit to continuously learn and grow, their internal motivational drivers kick in. The traditional carrot and stick approach can create good results, however, an internally motivated organization is much more likely to exceed expectations and innovate. Workplaces that tap into human potential are already reaping benefits from less attrition, better customer experiences, and higher levels of output. The difference will be the polarization between the companies that do this well and those that are not able to make it work.

Different forms of employment are likely to continue to rise. We are already seeing how Uber, Grubhub, Airbnb, and others have created enormous scale using their platforms to match demand and supply, allowing for an unprecedented amount of flexibility. This trend is likely to become more common in knowledge work as well, and skilled professionals will be able to choose what they want to work on, with whom, where, and when. Scarcity of talent means that employers have less choice and are more likely to try creative solutions to fill the capability gaps. People will have more choice of their preferred form of employment, for example, do they want to be employed by a company or would they prefer to be self-employed, picking and choosing their next projects using an AI-enabled platform as the intermediary? This is a likely scenario in the near future and will have major implications on leadership, culture, and overall value creation.

With the rise of digitization and the fast pace of change, there also needs to be greater emphasis on wellbeing and social interactions between people. As humans, we are wired to crave being valued and cared about and want to feel a sense of belonging. That is unlikely to change going forward. With increasingly more people living alone, the importance of the work community will be emphasized.

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

Every company exists for a reason. There is a problem that the company is trying to solve and a value that is being created. My advice is to try to understand and focus on that core mission as much as possible. As a leader, your job is to ensure that the organization is set up for success.

As the pace of change accelerates, fueled by digitalization and globalization, some old ways of working will no longer be viable. Organizations that can quickly adapt to challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities will be better equipped to handle any unexpected events. Building resilience and agility in the organization is key. Leaders should build a culture where quick feedback loops are established through systematic data collection and analysis, as well as encourage open, honest, and direct dialogue.

We are moving from the age of lone heroes to the age of powerful teams and networks. Seeking to empower teams to work smarter and create value will go a long way. As technology advances, there will always be more opportunities to hand over work from people to systems and machines; paying attention to those changes is vitally important for staying relevant. Finally, make sure that if you have rules, controls, processes, and policies, they are in place for the right reasons. You should always be able to answer why something needs to be done.

One of the biggest obstacles is the necessary change of leadership style to create resilient and agile organizations. Increasing the autonomy of end-to-end teams can be daunting for leaders who have a traditional view of leadership. It will be difficult for some to transfer ownership and tempting to micromanage and keep too much decision-making power centralized. Work will happen across line organizations, functions, and even company boundaries. What is needed to build a thriving culture starts with a mindset. To truly empower people, you must believe that people are inherently good, that they want to do their best, that they can learn new skills and grow, and, that they want to help others and enjoy seeing others succeed. Not everyone is comfortable with this mindset. If a leader doesn’t trust their own ability to create enough transparency and accountability to mitigate potential risks, then it can feel safer to start from a mindset of authority and control.

Additionally, the new ways of working require an understanding of data-based decision-making and how lead indicators and quick feedback loops work. These are competencies that aren’t yet required of leaders and many do not have the level of understanding to make them happen. Any leader who wants to future-proof themselves should make sure they are staying up to date with what is going on in the world. Curiosity, authenticity, and determination will take you a long way. Taking a course in agile or lean methodologies, reading articles, or talking with peers in other companies are all beneficial ways of learning about how to lead a resilient organization. Ultimately, inviting the team to experiment with new ideas and ways of working on a small scale and then scaling up what works is usually a good idea. The culture and ways of working of any company or team need to be tailored to the specific context, they can not be copy-pasted from another company. Find your own best practices.

This might sound easy, but in practice, it’s not. We should practice compassion towards ourselves and others. We will make mistakes, the resilient approach is to fall seven times and to get up eight times and be better for it.

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 importance of being valued and treated as individuals and feeling accepted as one’s authentic self in the workplace is increasingly important. Additionally, skilled professionals value autonomy and flexibility as a counterbalance to challenging work. Furthermore, opportunities for growth and development and career progression are also expected from employers. At the same time, most employees also want to feel like they belong and have a sense of greater purpose at work. These factors have progressively become more of an expectation globally and have been widely recognized as contributing to attrition if they are not met.

In response to these expectations, companies can create policies and practices that allow for a large degree of freedom for employees to choose where and when to work, whilst also creating opportunities for people to connect with peers and contribute to the shared mission. It’s a question of balance between individual flexibility and a shared sense of community. Having a set of shared principles allow employees to make decisions that are in the best interest of their own wellbeing, their team, company, and customer.

Over the past two years, I have heard from several new M-Filers that they joined the company because of the culture that we intentionally foster. We emphasize transparency and trust and frequently share information with the whole company that in many other companies would be considered confidential. We believe this helps people to prioritize what is important and empowers them to make decisions that align with the greater good. We also offer unlimited PTO and provide training for managers on how to ensure that people feel encouraged to use it, as well as tuition reimbursement to sponsor M-Filers who want to further their education. Our global ‘Working From Anywhere’ policy allows M-Filers to choose the best places to work depending on what they are doing. Additionally, we have formal programs for leadership training and mentoring to build connections and provide more options for professional development.

Feeling that you can bring your authentic self to work is a cultural topic. Leadership can reinforce it by sharing about their own lives and being open about who they are. For example, our weekly M-Files leadership team meetings (executive leadership and functional leadership teams) always start with each of us sharing something positive from our personal life as well as our work life. This has enabled us to learn about each other and reminds us to share and connect beyond the operationally urgent topics.

My advice is to listen to people’s ideas and expectations with an open mind. It is worth trying to find new ways of balancing the needs of individuals, the goals of the company, and the happiness of customers.

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

At M-Files, we noticed that having everyone working remotely was in some ways an equalizer. It used to be that the people who were in a meeting room would set up a small speaker somewhere and the remote folks would have a hard time being seen and heard. With everyone online, this changed and the people at home were on equal footing with everyone else. I believe this experience will inspire us to do a better job with hybrid meetings going forward. We have learned several easy ways to do this, for example having a separate screen in the meeting room to show video of those who are online, as well as using virtual whiteboards and other digital tools to ensure that everyone has visibility and is able to contribute. We have also instituted new ways of communicating and have monthly global all-hands meetings to discuss a variety of topics with the full team present. Remote working also allows for more career opportunities within the company as physical location becomes less of a factor in recruitment.

Another important experience is related to travel. We used to fly or drive hours for short meetings, which mostly doesn’t feel sensible anymore. We have made attending virtually a default way of working and also provide links to recordings of most informational meetings so that it is possible to attain the information even if you miss the meeting.

A third topic that I hope we will take away is related to wellbeing. Working from anywhere has allowed for more flexibility, but it can still be difficult to prioritize self-care and social connections. Companies can support these perspectives by sharing good examples, providing training, and offering professional support in the form of coaching or therapy. As people are at the office less frequently, organizing events and encouraging gatherings becomes more important. At M-Files, we appointed a “site executive” for each location to ensure that there is someone looking out for the local team and bringing them together every now and then. This is important because it enables people to meet peers who work on other teams and who might not run into each other in a virtual setting.

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?

I would love to see more equal opportunities for people to get educated and find their place with employers that treat them well and support their career growth. As companies are becoming more purpose-driven, they will be able to close some of the gaps that are creating inequality today.

In knowledge work companies, the scarcity of talent and increased expectations towards employers is putting positive pressure on companies to think of ways to provide a more inclusive work life and offer ways to learn on the job. I hope that the pressure to cast wider nets will enable more people to have better opportunities. The main change that will be necessary is for leaders to be open to new approaches and adopt an inclusive mindset towards a greater amount of diversity.

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

Today, there is a growing awareness of issues such as inequality and climate change. Companies are becoming more interested in being good corporate citizens and taking the initiative to be on the right side of issues in general.

Additionally, the opportunities for working from anywhere can provide more opportunities for people to work from areas that traditionally didn’t have a lot of opportunities. This could make it easier to build roots and stay connected with family and friends. It will also provide an opportunity for those who are recharged by spending time in nature to work from remote areas where their next adventure starts in their backyard.

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?

Wellbeing should become integrated into the fabric of the culture of knowledge work companies. We should self-care and care for others every day. It’s not just about nutrition, sleep, and exercise, it’s also about how to recharge, take breaks and disconnect from work to do other things that bring life enjoyment or meaning. At best, work itself can be an important part of supporting our mental health, as it provides us with the ability to contribute and be part of something bigger than ourselves. It gives our lives structure and offers us a sense of accomplishment when we solve an issue or reach a goal. The work community is also often a source of support.

At M-Files, we send an M-Filer Experience Survey out every six months and one of the sections in the survey is dedicated to wellbeing. We ask if people have the flexibility they need to make changes in how they work to improve their wellbeing, if they feel that their manager genuinely cares about them, and if they feel that they are part of the M-Files community. We also ask if they have access to helpful resources for coping with stress. For each question, they are able to leave open-ended comments. This survey helps us identify if there are teams or countries that are lacking something that we could offer.

Employers can build awareness of wellbeing through training and open dialogue. There is a lot of information and support out there that can be accessed quite easily. In Europe, we have a service called Auntie, which provides virtual support by professional therapists and coaches. Anyone can sign up for sessions without approval from managers and it is completely anonymous to the employer. The service has received a lot of positive feedback from the team; this year alone it has been used by 60 different employees in Europe. The service isn’t available in the US yet, but hopefully, something similar becomes available soon.

No matter what we do, life can present surprising setbacks and at times employees go through difficult situations in their personal lives or they might have mental health issues for other reasons. I believe that compassion and openness go a long way. After that, it’s a question of asking yourself what the right thing to do is.

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?

Out of these terms, ‘The Great Reevaluation’ resonates most with me. People have the right to work wherever they want to, and it is healthy to sometimes reevaluate our choices in life. I encourage people to try to find a workplace where they feel they belong, can learn and grow, as well as contribute to the mission in meaningful ways. Our relationship with an employer is really like any other relationship. We can sometimes grow apart for different reasons, maybe the company has grown and changed, maybe you have outgrown your role and decided that you want to do something completely different, or maybe the job or the culture just isn’t a good fit for you. Leaders should adopt a mentality that whilst it is ok to leave, we should try to create conditions where most people would prefer to stay.

In my experience, there are three conditions that need to be true. Firstly, Connection. Team members should feel connected to the mission and values of the company, as well as with other team members on a personal level. Secondly, Empowerment. Ensure that people have the knowledge, skills, and support they need to be successful in their roles. Finally, Professional Growth. The ability to challenge oneself and build on competencies. Growth should also include the ability to support the growth of others, which becomes an increasingly meaningful part of professional development the more senior the person is.

At M-Files, we provide formal mentoring to anyone who applies for it. What’s interesting is that when I interview people who have mentored others previously, they consistently report having learned more than they expected from the experience and that giving forward feels meaningful. These types of dynamics should be understood by leaders — people who work for you are still people.

Team sports can provide a good analogy for a leader trying to understand how to build meaning, a sense of togetherness, and a willingness to stay on the team. Competitive sports teams always keep score and know how they are doing, they practice together to continuously improve, learn from past experiences, and use the strengths of each team member to benefit the whole team. High-performing teams encourage peer-to-peer feedback and holding teammates accountable.

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

In no particular order:

  1. Technology enabling leadership and teams.

New systems and tools are increasingly enabling People & Culture (P&C) teams to provide leadership with better actionable insights for improving employee experiences and enabling growth. Finance and People Operations teams are using the same systems to improve compensation, development, and hiring related decision making. Modern survey platforms use machine learning to create practical recommendations for teams to drive actions that improve engagement and wellbeing. Improved tools are reducing the amount of time spent by P&C on manual work and allowing for more time to coach, facilitate, and support the organization.

2. Purpose and values drive positive employee experiences and wellbeing.

Purpose will continue to be an important theme for attracting and retaining talent. We will become more aware of what that actually means for individuals and the company as a whole. Purpose not only refers to what the company does and the impact it has on the world, but for many employees, it’s more personal and refers to feeling passionate about their work and building meaningful connections with others. We need dialogue around both the mission and values of the company and individual motivations. For example, companies should be able to express what their intended impact on the world is beyond just business goals, and what actions they are taking to make that impact. This can also mean taking a stand on larger environmental, political, or social topics. On the other hand, companies should be able to provide opportunities for self-actualization, for example, how the work itself improves an employee’s personal life and provides them with meaning and supports their wellbeing.

3. Working from anywhere and asynchronous collaboration creates flexibility.

Technology enables seamless collaboration regardless of geological location. This opens the opportunity to hire the right talent from a wider pool of candidates and more flexibility for employees to choose where they want to work. Time differences can pose a challenge for collaboration within teams, however, they also enable teams to be responsive around the clock, as day for one team member is night for another. Learning to use asynchronous styles of working will enable teams to collaborate even if everyone is not online at once. This will require new ways of thinking and working that can ultimately create more flexibility and smarter use of virtual collaboration tools. Leaders will need to find new ways of building trust and a sense of community, as in-person interactions decrease.

4. Agile ways of working beyond software support value creation.

Software development has paved the way for agile ways of working. Many of the practices that have been effective in the software development context are applicable to all knowledge work. The mindset of testing what works and what doesn’t and gathering feedback quickly to adjust is still underused in most other areas of business today. With more opportunities to choose from and limited resources and time, agile methodologies provide tools for prioritization and focusing on output instead of effort. Furthermore, teams with cross-domain expertise and ownership of creating value for customers will become more commonplace even in more traditional organizations.

5. Continuous Learning becomes the new normal.

As the speed of change has accelerated, it has become a necessity to continuously learn new skills and competencies on the job. We are already seeing new ways of enabling growth and development that are more flexible and integrated into everyday work. Learning platforms provide on-demand skill-building and internal career movements provide opportunities to learn about new domains of the business. Additionally, internal mentorship programs, job shadowing, and other personalized ways of learning become part of ensuring the right capabilities for future growth and retaining professionals who want to continuously learn and grow alongside their day-to-day work.

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?

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” — Abraham Lincoln

This saying reminds me of the power of perspective. I challenge myself to face problems head-on and to even look for them, as that helps me get to a place where I can solve issues. However, I try to never lose sight of the larger perspective. I often remind myself of how lucky I am and count my blessings.

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 the opportunity to meet Shawn Achor and thank him for writing “The Happiness Advantage”. Reading it was an incredibly inspiring, empowering, and even exhilarating experience for me. I gained confidence when I needed it most and the positive approach throughout was so generous and helpful. I have since used it as part of leadership training programs and seen how powerful it is for others as well. Shawn has done the world a great service by writing that book.

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?

LinkedIn is the best channel to stay in touch with me. Feel free to connect with me and send your thoughts my way.

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