Relationship-first work cultures. Leaders who do not know how to build relationships are going to pay for it rather quickly. Leaders who put their people first and model a culture of care are going to succeed.

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 Rachel Lipton.

With a decade of consulting experience with organizations to significantly elevate their leadership development strategies and programs, Rachel Lipton supports executives, emerging leaders, and teams to thrive in today’s workplace. Drawn toward intersectional disciplines with broad applications, Rachel has a BA from UC Berkeley with dual degrees in Political Science and Mass Communications and a Masters in Public Policy from USC. She is a Co-Active Professional Certified Coach (CPCC) and credentialed through the International Coach Federation as an Associate Certified Coach (ACC).

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.

What a great question! It’s hard to narrow it down to just one or two experiences, but it does force me to choose what resonates most for who I am now. For me, leaving my full time consulting job after six years in the same organization during a pandemic and at a time when I became the sole income earner of my household shaped me (and is shaping me). I learned how to be my own leader and step into my power as a woman entrepreneur and woman in life. I feel like I’m taking charge of my life without feeling like I have to compromise for a partner. I’m protecting my energy and directing it to what is most meaningful and learning-rich, and I’ve never felt better.

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 amazing (and perhaps terrifying!) thing is that every single person on this planet went through massive change in these last two years. For those of us living in Western capitalist societies, we are now rethinking how we structure work and life. I think this questioning of how we have operated and how we need to operate to make work work will continue to happen 10 to 15 years from now. For better or for worse, artificial intelligence and other forms of technology will become more prominent in our lives. It will replace some jobs and may create others that we can’t fathom right now. But we do have to be careful about how we use technology and how we center humanity (or not). I think the tension between people over profit will continue to be a struggle in the future, but we have an opportunity now to be more human in the workplace.

For those of us who have jobs that don’t require direct service work, I think remote and hybrid work is here to stay. This is clearly a challenge for teams who need to develop relationships and collaborate with each other, and it offers opportunities for workers to live where they want with more flexibility. At the same time, the boundaries between work and home life have become more blurred (especially for parents and caregivers), and I think that will be a trend that sticks at least in the medium term.

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

I think the first thing is to listen to your employees. What are they challenged by right now and how can the organization support them? What’s possible for them at the organization? What is their ideal role and how can the organization make it happen? Nothing replaces strong relationships and genuine care for people on your team. Many leaders can easily provide lip service to this, but nothing speaks louder than actions and behaviors. No amount of perks will replace the human element at work. This means enabling a culture that allows people to set boundaries between home and work life, enabling fun and play with team members, and policies that protect the well being of workers (paid family leave, sick time, vacation time, health benefits, etc.). It also requires that people have the skills to give and receive meaningful feedback with compassion (emphasis on the “meaningful” and “compassion” parts of that sentence!)

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 two biggest gaps are 1) prioritizing people over profit and 2) the inability of leaders to genuinely focus on the growth of their employees. Again, the human element of work is irreplaceable. As soon as employees feel like they are treated as dispensable, things fall apart. This is why leadership and team development is so crucial for organizations right now. Organizations are generally ill-equipped to lead with a relationship-first approach because of the historical focus on competition, productivity, and performance. What constitutes strong “performance” now needs to be re-calibrated as many of us have experienced some type of trauma over the past couple of years. What organizations need is to learn how to support people to do and be their best at work, and know that change and turnover are inevitable at some point. Organizations have to take the long view, knowing that their investment in people creates meaning and purpose, even beyond the life of an employee’s tenure.

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

Some sectors never experienced the “Working from Home” experiment because they are considered “essential,” but I think the WFH experiment had ripple effects across sectors. We now have a supply chain shortage because people can’t or won’t work in frontline service jobs. Workers are less tolerant of mistreatment. For those who had the privilege of working from home, most organizations will never go back to the 40+ hours in an office. People realized that work can be done without the overhead of maintaining an office. And yet some also mourned the end of office life. Each one of us experienced the pandemic differently and have adapted differently, but remote and hybrid work is here to stay.

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?

We need lots of societal changes, including a more just and equitable economic system where every worker has a living wage, a home, and can pay for basic needs. We need an education system that values teachers and redefines what meaningful learning means. We need to focus on mental health and socio-emotional skills for both children and adults. We need universal health care where no one is stuck with a bill they can’t pay even if they are working.

I wish I could say I foresee these societal changes happening. They need to happen, but I am not sure they will because of growing wealth inequities and political fracture. However, that doesn’t mean we stop fighting or lose hope.

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

There has been a real shift towards the importance of and investment in people. There is greater awareness that we need more inclusive workplaces that foster belonging and well being. And there has been investment in moving in that direction. Coaching and consulting for organizations to become great places to work has grown and will continue to grow in the future. The next generation of leaders will have come of age during this pandemic and that will shape how they show up for people. I have a lot of optimism in that.

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?

Organizations are investing in one-to-one and team coaching to help employees explore their career visions, work through conflict, and find purpose at work. They are actively changing policies and practices to ensure that workplaces are more inclusive and value racial, gender, age, and neuro-diversity. And there is still much work to be done because this work is not easy.

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?

These headlines mirror the stages that organizations are going through: losing employees, reshuffling roles or organizational structure, and learning and reflecting on what’s next. It’s an employees’ market right now, and employers are scrambling to attract top talent and are also reevaluating their practices, structures, and purpose. A big shake up can be the best thing that’s ever happened to an organization, or it can be disastrous. Organizations that experiment, learn, reflect, and take action are going to do better than those that can’t adapt or innovate.

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

  1. Remote and hybrid work. I’m sorry to say, Zoom is not going away any time soon! Not at least until we can invent teleportation in a disease-safe bubble. 🙂 There are going to be a lot of empty office spaces, and organizations that do go back to office life will find redesigned offices that draw workers to work but also help them go home at the end of the day.
  2. Relationship-first work cultures. Leaders who do not know how to build relationships are going to pay for it rather quickly. Leaders who put their people first and model a culture of care are going to succeed.
  3. Technology-assisted workplaces. We are going to have to adapt to the technology that is being developed or is already developed and find the balance between letting the tech support our work but not take over our relationships. For example, the coaching and mental health industries have seen an influx in text-based, on-demand apps with AI to support clients when they need it. There is going to be a very fine line between making these services more “accessible” and watering them down with the result of us feeling more isolated from each other.
  4. Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial workplaces. More people will experiment with striking it out on their own and starting a small business. More organizations will experiment with new leadership structures and more autonomy for workers to define their roles at work.
  5. Frontline worker shortages. Burnout in these jobs are real. Medical staff, educators, delivery people, restaurant workers, factory employees, and more will continue to face hardships at work or quit (if they are able). They will continue to be the first affected by lack of sick time, living wages, and sustainable tenures.

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?

“Every action you take is a vote for the kind of person you want to be.”

-James Clear, Atomic Habits

This is so true. Life is so much about who we are and how we show up, not just what we do. Every interaction matters, and sometimes we don’t know just how much. A conversation can end a relationship. A smile can make a stranger’s day. A kind word can soothe the grieving. If we want to be intentional leaders at work and in life, we need to be aware of how we show up everyday.

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.

Brene Brown. I think she’s done so much for our understanding of how we operate as leaders and people in the world, and her insights, research, and interviews are invaluable in helping us understand HOW we get to create the workplaces we need for the future.

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’d love to connect with anyone who wants to continue the conversation. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or on my website.

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