Not Just Remote, But Asynchronous. While remote work offers greater flexibility, we are starting to see greater want from employees to break out of the 9–5 timeframe we have in the business world for fully asynchronous workforces. I predict we’ll start seeing several major companies in the next year or two starting to pilot an asynchronous business to gauge if we can provide even more flexibility to our workers.
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 Scott Brighton, CEO of Aurea.
As the leader of a fully remote workforce since Aurea’s founding in 2012, Scott Brighton has long been at the forefront of the future of work. Today, the self-described “rational optimist” drives Aurea’s vision of building a business metaverse, going beyond communication to bring presence and connection to virtual work environments.
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.
When I was younger, I briefly considered a career as a professional musician. During that time, I had the opportunity to meet and work with several extraordinary artists.
One of the things I was struck by at the time was their level of artistic conviction. With few exceptions, the great ones were all motivated by an innate sense of what they were trying to achieve, and they were not deterred by critics, record labels, or the market.
As a CEO, I have often thought back to those artists as I look to maintain our own unwavering conviction in our strategy in the face of setbacks or people telling us it will never work.
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 fundamentals of work will not change. We will still do individual work that involves a single person working with the tools of the trade, which for white-collar workers today is principally the laptop computer. We will also still do group work involving collaboration with multiple people both synchronously and asynchronously. And we will still have the deeply felt need for meaning and a common purpose in our work. To feel a part of something bigger than ourselves that is trying to accomplish something of value. No matter how we go to work each day — virtually or in person — our need for connection and collaboration won’t change.
However, how we do each of these things will change dramatically. Over the last ten years, we saw technology transform the nature of individual work — so much so that an individual can now be as productive at home as they are at the office. Over the next ten years, I expect the same transformation to happen with collaborative work. We will move from the fatiguing and flat experience of video conferencing to something much richer. A three-dimensional virtual business world — a business metaverse as it were — that will make everything from meetings to company all-hands as immersive an experience from home as it is today in person.
What I predict will go away: hybrid work. I see hybrid work as the worst of both worlds, retaining the negative sides of in-office work such as the dreaded commute, the forced employee relocations to live near the office, and the creation of work/life compromises. But you also miss out on the benefits of being in the office, such as the connections, relationships, and spontaneous interactions that occur when everyone is in the office together. Technology makes collaboration possible for remote workers — even more so in the next decade — but it’s not truly effective with half your workers in an office while everyone else is on a screen.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
The best way to “future proof” is to build the future. Look at long-term trends and historic patterns and begin building your organization for where you believe the world is going to be in ten years rather than where it is right now.
A good example of this is the approach organizations are taking to remote/hybrid/in-office work. If you believe, as I do, that remote work is the model of the future, then begin building your organizational capability around that model now. We’re already experiencing greater productivity with remote work, but instead, many companies are building “hybrid” models, mixing in some in-office work models (looking backward) with some remote work models (looking forward). The result is not only a confusing mashup that retains the worst of both worlds for today, but it also robs companies of the opportunity to build muscle and capability around a remote-first future. Should this future ultimately arrive, they won’t be ready.
We’re already experiencing greater productivity with remote work. Just imagine what you could do for your employees if you sold your offices and used that available budget to invest in technology to power the next iteration of a virtual office. It’s no longer a necessity; the office is now just a 10% liability on your balance sheet.
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?
Employees want individual flexibility — including where, when, and how they work. They are optimizing their individual needs. Employers, on the other hand, are focused on creating an organizational model that maximizes the collective impact of their employees. Sometimes these interests align, but often they do not.
The biggest gaps will occur when these things work against each other. For example, employees may want to live and work remotely anywhere on the globe. But time zone differences would make such a model extraordinarily difficult to manage, materially reducing the opportunities for synchronous collaboration and communication.
The best strategy is simply to be clear as an organization where your individual flexibility / collective impact line is and adhere to it consistently. Ultimately you will attract the type of employees that are excited by where you’ve drawn the line, and the gaps between the two will disappear over time.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Short answer: It will affect every facet. Employees have gotten a taste of what remote work is like, and they don’t just like it, they love it. We’re seeing equal or increased levels of productivity across a variety of industries since the switch to remote work. But that doesn’t mean an in-office model isn’t necessary for some businesses as the world continues to reopen.
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?
In many ways, the pandemic unlocked the possibility of creating a future of work that works for everyone. The historic work model has required people to live in physical proximity to an office and required those same people to spend 8 hours at that office (and perhaps another 1–2 hours commuting to and from it). That model creates a lot of constraints on people. It is not a model that is friendly to people with child-rearing obligations. It is not a model for people who are unable to relocate for family reasons. It is not a work model that opens up opportunities for people from underrepresented backgrounds who don’t have the economic wherewithal to relocate.
As we move to a virtual first work model, all of those barriers disappear, and opportunities open for everyone. At Aurea today, because we are 100% virtual, we can hire the most talented person for the job no matter who they are and where they live. It is our expectation that this model will be adopted broadly over time, creating a more equitable future of work for everyone.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
As the CEO of a software company, I’m a big believer in the ability of technology to help us solve some of our biggest problems. Technological innovation has helped pull billions of people out of poverty. Its impact on the future of work will be equally transformative. It will help usher in a work environment that is more meaningful, more inclusive, and more productive.
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?
I see wellbeing benefits becoming a far more common inclusion in a company’s benefits package when scouting for new talent. Nearly 60 percent of employees identified employee well-being as a key deciding factor when applying for a new job. This could include enforced offline hours for employees, providing better mental health benefits, and even mandating employees use all allotted PTO to properly recharge.
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?
Ignore the headlines. The key to attracting great talent is the same as it’s ever been. Provide equitable and fulfilling opportunities for people to accomplish meaningful work. Do that and everything else will take care of itself.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Remote Work Sentiments Across Generations. Contrary to popular belief, a national work-from-home survey found less than a quarter of Gen-Z workers want to work from home full-time. They are looking for more opportunities to collaborate with their more experienced co-workers as they enter the workforce for the first time. I see greater investments needed in collaboration technologies beyond the apps we’re currently using like Slack and Zoom in order to bring about that collaborative energy younger generations are craving from their remote jobs.
- Increased Employee Monitoring. As remote work becomes more commonplace, you will start to see increased employee monitoring technologies being implemented within workplaces. I see this as a necessary tool for remote work employers. There has to be a tradeoff between more flexible, potentially asynchronous work and accountability. Employers need to know work is getting done in a timely manner from their employees, and monitoring software is the best option we have at this time to understand employee performance.
- Not Just Remote, But Asynchronous. While remote work offers greater flexibility, we are starting to see greater want from employees to break out of the 9–5 timeframe we have in the business world for fully asynchronous workforces. I predict we’ll start seeing several major companies in the next year or two starting to pilot an asynchronous business to gauge if we can provide even more flexibility to our workers.
- Gig Work Is Here To Stay. As remote work rises in popularity, workers are bringing their skills and talents to a variety of businesses as gig workers in order to increase the number of revenue streams they bring in for themselves. At Aurea, beyond our full-time employees, we also work remotely with a variety of contractors and gig workers. I see gig work and freelance work growing rapidly, especially among younger generations.
- Cities Being Built For Remote Work. We’re seeing cities being reimagined in two different ways. First, cities otherwise overlooked are being seriously considered by remote workers as their next residence thanks to numerous incentives being offered to remote workers. Places like Tulsa, Oklahoma and Tucson, Arizona are growing in popularity. The second trend we’re seeing is the reimagining of business districts in cities with higher-density populations. As office spaces become more vacant with the rise of remote work, areas of the city dedicated to businesses will start to become more civically focused.
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?
“Believe you can and you are halfway there.” –Theodore Roosevelt
Most of what we don’t achieve is a function of being too scared, overwhelmed, or intimidated to even get started. My job as CEO is first and foremost about instilling belief. With belief, people can achieve just about anything.
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 am a Duke alumnus and fervent Blue Devil basketball fan. I have always been amazed at now retired Duke Coach Mike Kryzyzewski’s ability to connect and motivate young people, and to get them to subsume their individual goals into a team goal. I would love to pick his brain.
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 or follow me on Twitter.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.