…Virtual reality as the new normal. During the pandemic, we struggled to adapt to virtual meetings via Zoom, but we’re going to become much more comfortable with that. We’re going to see technologies that most of us haven’t even heard of yet. And again, our younger talent is going to lead the charge.

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 Rose Gailey.

Rose Gailey is a partner and global lead for organization acceleration and culture shaping for Heidrick Consulting at Heidrick & Struggles. She advises her clients on how breakthrough leadership and thriving workplace cultures can keep employees engaged and accelerate performance.

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?

Rose Gailey: I grew up in El Paso, Texas as the daughter of parents who immigrated from Mexico. My Latin roots and growing up in a border city have helped inform my values and the way I prioritize the critical role of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I also began my career as a marriage and family therapist, which allowed me to understand that while behavior change starts at the individual level, it requires shifts at the systemic level — family or organizational — to reinforce and sustain.

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?

RG: Inevitably, the transformation of our workplace will continue. A focus on purpose and organizational values will be the norm, and the changing value set of new generations will challenge and shape workplaces. The influence of Millennials and Gen Z will be heightened as they step into more leadership roles and influence ways of working. Before the pandemic we saw an increasing movement toward greater flexibility and remote work. 10–15 years from now, technology like Zoom may be fully replaced with virtual reality or technologies that are not even imagined today.

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

RG: This is something we cover extensively in the recently released book Future Focused: Shape Your Culture, Shape Your Future, which I co-authored. A future-focused culture requires leaders to be purposeful and intentional about shaping their culture in a way that takes into account the organization’s future needs and challenges to help them gain a strategic advantage. They must recognize that culture isn’t a program or initiative, but a drumbeat that streams throughout an entire organization and becomes its core, capturing employees’ hearts and minds. In companies with future-focused cultures, leaders are more trusted, and employees are more resilient and innovative. Their purpose-driven culture becomes the compass point that allows them to envision a clear future and thus work through unprecedented disruption.

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?

RG: The pandemic solidified a trend we’ve been monitoring for a few years: employees’ voices are center-stage, and top companies are understanding in new ways that they need to listen to their employees. Culture is going to be one of the biggest influences on team performance as working hybrid or remote becomes the new norm. Leaders need to understand why culture matters, link culture to their strategy, and take the necessary steps to invest in culture now and address any issues that are in the way of sustainable performance as we move forward. Workplace flexibility, higher pay, and stronger commitment to ESG are likely going to be important to both employees and employers looking ahead — and companies need a strong culture to understand how these moving pieces tie into their overall strategy.

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

RG: The future of work has been continually redefined throughout the pandemic. A hybrid model that gives employees flexibility is the future of work, although it is the most challenging of all possibilities for leaders to navigate. Getting hybrid right requires leaders to pause and think about building on the gains of the past 24 months rather than trying to replicate a past that is no longer viable. It requires agility and thoughtfulness in addressing inclusion, communication, career development, productivity, and innovation.

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

RG: We’re seeing leaders increasingly understand the importance of organizational culture, and shaping it to the future. There’s greater emphasis from leaders on purpose and values and the ability to pivot and adjust as they move forward. They’re empathizing with their employees’ myriad perspectives and focusing on their health and wellbeing, communicating with greater agility. The past two years have also taught us just how important diversity, equity, and inclusion are to a workplace, and more leaders are continuing to invest in these areas of their companies. Diversity and inclusion aren’t just the right thing to do — they’re critical for organizations’ success in the uncertainty of the future of work. And thriving, inclusive cultures are the means to enhance these commitments.

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 employees’ mental health and wellbeing?

RG: Leaders can break through uncertainty and optimize their employees’ wellbeing with authentic communication and immediate actions that stabilize the organization and reassure employees. Empathetic leadership is important and effective, and it allows leaders to listen with understanding in order to secure psychological safety for their employees. Additionally, leaders who communicate openly, honestly, vulnerably, and consistently are effective at enabling employees to weather uncertainty and move to action.

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 learn from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

RG: Leaders must understand that the key to retaining and attracting talent boils down to whether employees feel connected to their workplaces, are inspired by a sense of purpose, and feel a sense of belonging, a workplace where equity and inclusion are the norm. While enticing employees with increased pay may initially draw them to new opportunities, purpose, inclusion, and values-driven cultures are what will make the lasting difference in fostering retention. Thriving cultures are sustained when leaders understand that culture is a journey, not a destination, with four key principles for success:

  1. Build a purpose-driven, intentional commitment to culture, aligned with strategy, and measure human capital and business performance metrics.
  2. Commit to personal change to become an authentic leader who demonstrates a growth mindset and inspires others in the organization to do the same.
  3. Embrace agility and empathy. Both have emerged as crucial leadership traits, not only in times of uncertainty, but for the foreseeable future.
  4. Drive broad engagement where a deep sense of purpose and values permeates every corner of the organization and is embedded into the culture.

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.)

  1. Ways of working. Before the pandemic we were already seeing movement toward greater flexibility, such as hybrid workplaces. The stats were already telling us that more than 50% of the workforce was moving toward more remote work practices. Now that number has increased. It feels like every week, even today, another corporation announces that they’ve moved to full remote or full virtual. I think we will continue to see increasing movement toward innovative ways of working that adapt and adjust to people’s lifestyles.
  2. Gen Z priorities in the workplace. Each generation sets their mark in society in the workplace, and I think a unique story will unfold for our Gen Z population. They have faced unprecedented changes that have impacted their day to day lives. Already, their value set was telling us they were much more focused on purpose and balance, and they’re taking that to new heights. We’re going to see them take on leadership roles and shift the consciousness and the priority systems of organizations.
  3. Virtual reality as the new normal. During the pandemic, we struggled to adapt to virtual meetings via Zoom, but we’re going to become much more comfortable with that. We’re going to see technologies that most of us haven’t even heard of yet. And again, our younger talent is going to lead the charge.
  4. Retirement of the Boomer population. Our view of what thriving organizations look like is going to change. As Baby Boomers retire, Millennials and Gen Z are going to increasingly change the way we think, the way we work, and the way we approach and embrace purpose and values. Purpose and values will be more than just interesting ideas to discuss — they’ll be the norm for organizations to incorporate.
  5. Inclusive behavior and increasing diversity. We have seen the pendulum swing over the last 10 to 20 years from compliance to really looking at inclusive culture as a price of admission. It is my great hope that we’re going to see a whole other level of inclusivity in the workplace. The efforts of organizations today are going to change the face of the workplace tomorrow.

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?

RG: I love the Maya Angelo quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is not only a great life lesson quote; it is truly a quote about leadership. I am continually struck by the power of rapport, the impact of having someone feel their whole self is “seen,” the importance of taking the time to listen and care. I know there are times when I fail to remember this critical life lesson, but truly I strive to carry it with me as my life mantra.

We are 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.

RG: Some weeks I would probably just like to have dinner with my husband because we both travel for our jobs! This was a very difficult question because so many people came to mind. I deeply admire Malala. I would love to speak with Jane Goodall. I have followed her work for a long time. So much of the investment of her life has now hit the tipping point in organizations. I would love to hear firsthand how that feels to her — and no doubt it’s not far enough. I’m a huge fan of Lin Manuel Miranda. I love how he’s influencing the world with joy and celebration of culture — he’s doing so much to elevate the dialogue on inclusion. MacKenzie Scott, contributed wildly last year — my home community of El Paso benefited greatly from her generosity to the YWCA, which does a lot of work in women’s empowerment — it has a huge Transitional Living Center here. Another might be Amanda Gorman. I love her poetry and I just think her voice has spoken to so many of us at this time. But I’d almost want to say, let’s find an ordinary person who demonstrates kindness and who’s gone the extra mile. There are a lot of unsung heroes throughout the last year and we each have unique stories!

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?

RG: I love connecting with people and sharing insights on my LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosegailey/