Days in the office versus at home. Hybrid working has changed many of our lives. Covid allowed us to benefit from the flexibility and benefits when working from home. Although it was great for some, others preferred the office, and it has been debated that being in the office is best for people at the start of their careers. It will be interesting to track how often people are in the office, and how they use their time in the office. We will be keeping an eye on this, as well as reported productivity and wellbeing levels.

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 Shay O’Carrolll.

Shay O’Carroll is a Co-founder of PixelMax. PixelMax connects businesses with their internal team and with the external community via immersive 3D virtual workplaces in the metaverse, Shay, who’s the Head of Sales at PixelMax, has extensive levels of experience working in various businesses throughout the UK. In his last role, Shay built the 3D technology sales division of an established communications service provider, which enabled the business to grow from £800k to £3.1m revenue in just three years. He’s overseen several award-winning projects in the immersive technology space and led one of the first major virtual reality pilots on the governments Manufacturing Made Smarter programme in 2020.

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 birth of my son (and a business). This completely changed what success criteria looked like in my personal life, finding out my partner was pregnant was actually what spurred me on to leave my corporate job and start my own business as I was spending so much time travelling and networking in my old job. He is by far my greatest achievement, watching my partner give birth also embedded a huge admiration for the truest example of selfless commitment and bravery. It certainly puts any start-up stresses into context.

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?

Some things will be the same, such as our core need to interact and develop relationships. This is part of what makes us human and we don’t think this will ever change. A big part of why we go to work and (mostly!) enjoy work is the relationships we develop with our colleagues. This is a huge part of what forms a company culture and will always be critical to the success of any business.

There will be changes too. Hybrid working will be the norm, not just something we are doing because of a pandemic. I honestly think hybrid working is something that would have happened anyway, the pandemic simply accelerated it. There are too many benefits at both a macro and a micro level, from fewer cars on the road to reduced office costs. How we approach hybrid working will be very different to our current setup. The metaverse opens up a new world of opportunity when it comes to the experience people have when working remotely.

I believe that the last 18 months have enabled change that would have previously taken a decade in bridging the technological barriers necessary for true hybrid working. The next 12 months will mark a similar amount of progress again. In short, each year currently feels like it’s representing the equivalent of 10 in terms of technological advancement.

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

Invest in your Virtual Workplace platforms now. This isn’t going away so let’s embrace the benefits whilst addressing the challenges that hybrid working brought. We aren’t meant to exist in 2D. Zoom fatigue is a thing. Constant video calls make it hard to concentrate and communication can lose impact. We miss non-verbal cues and meetings become very functional.

Bearing in mind my earlier comment about our core human need to interact and form relationships, we need to ensure that the platforms we use for hybrid working feed this. Immersive 3D Virtual Workplaces, in the metaverse, fundamentally change the current hybrid setup. Avatars create presence, they bring back our ability to chat spontaneously and informally. Recreate those water-cooler moments, jump into a meeting room, do a wellbeing challenge together. Bring some fun back to the workplace!

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?

If employers don’t act quickly they will get left behind. Hybrid working is expected from employees. If remote or hybrid work isn’t available at your workplace, potential recruits are turned off. Businesses that don’t invest in making hybrid working an enjoyable experience will struggle to attract and retain the best talent. At the moment we are seeing huge skills shortages across key professions, it’s very much an employee’s market so I don’t think employers are going to have much choice when it comes to meeting employee expectations. The tech hiring market is the busiest we’ve ever seen. Most candidates will have multiple opportunities on the go within a day or two of job searching.

Having said all of that, we know that for many businesses, offering complete flexibility is a real challenge. Especially for large corporations, it can cause real logistical challenges — finding a balance is key. There is no one size fits all. Someone at the start of their career might favour being in the office more, someone who is more established in a business and their role might favour being at home more. So I think the perceived gap will vary depending on the employee, which makes this even more challenging for businesses to navigate through. So how do we reconcile that gap? We believe the answer to this lies in a combination of offering employee choice, but within a framework. Managing hybrid working at a team level, within a policy or framework that allows for a level of choice but also ensures there is consistency in approach will be the key.

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

This global experiment has changed the way we work forever, for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned.

It has also changed the way we attract talent. Businesses are no longer restricted by geography when it comes to recruitment. Employees no longer need to live at a commutable distance from work. For some businesses, access to a wider talent pool changes everything. We are based in Manchester (UK) so we have access to a highly-skilled tech and digital talent pool. If we were based even just 20–30 miles outside of the city centre though in a more rural area, historically recruitment would have been a real challenge. This has the potential to fundamentally impact where people choose to live (and therefore house prices but that’s a whole separate issue) and where businesses choose to locate. City centres could be changed forever, with empty centres and bustling suburbs.

In addition, the way most businesses approach employee wellbeing became outdated overnight. Businesses are now looking for new ways to add value to employees when they work remotely. Tech companies, in particular, put money into ball pools, slides, table tennis, free food and social spaces. But now a great number of these workers are at home. The wellbeing initiatives that worked well in the office need to be rethought to add value for the employees. Improving technology and making their workday as seamless and immersive as possible will make the day more enjoyable for employees. If your company isn’t doing it, it’s likely that another one is.

Working from home is now expected from the majority of desk workers. Working from home has empowered people to rethink their work-life balance, and find jobs that are more suited to them. Gone are the days of having a ‘lifer’ mentality in the workplace, with employees thinking they are there forever. This trend was already beginning to decline, but Covid made many realise that their company was not suited to them — maybe the career choice wasn’t for them anymore, maybe it was poor management or poor infrastructure when working from home, or maybe the company didn’t care for their wellbeing. Although there are thousands of reasons why someone might quit their job, the volatility of the job market has increased.

Although this can be a daunting thought for some employers, think of it positively. The employees at your company are there because they’re happy. They’re aligned with your values and purpose. However, the time is now to focus on your company values and work on how you can reflect this in how you treat your staff and make them happy in your workplace. Homeworkers should benefit from wellbeing initiatives too, this isn’t something that can only exist in the office.

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?

Multiple times throughout history the workforce has been completely reshaped. I believe we are on the brink of the next industrial revolution with the introduction of Web3 and its impact on us all. NFTs and Cryptocurrencies might seem like a trend to some but these are likely going to transform our working lives completely. Ten years ago the role of a Social Media Manager didn’t exist, and now they’re seen as a key part of the majority of businesses.

The metaverse will transform our lives again. Some job roles won’t be here in ten years, and there will be an increase in demand for others, and new job roles will be created. Not only this, but the move to homeworking will fit around more people, so we can enjoy a greater work-life balance and reprioritize our needs. The job market is more accessible to parents and disabled people, and this is a great force for change. I think jobs are only going to become more available and digital.

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

A great source of optimism I have had since co-founding PixelMax is the potential for technology to transform the way we are working and to make it better for everyone. Technology should make our lives better, it should bring people together, not push them apart. In addition, the transition to working from home for most of us has allowed us to establish more of a work-life balance.

Investing in technology for your workforce that gives your employees the tools to enjoy work is also important. The technology PixelMax uses encourages spontaneous interaction and employee wellbeing using the latest gaming technology. This makes work immersive and enjoyable for employees and puts everyone on a level playing field no matter where they are based. It’s time the world of work learnt from the world of gaming in terms of the immersive team experiences that can now be delivered with the technology we have at our fingertips.

With remote work, the limits of geography are now off the table, opening yourself up to a wider talent pool. Not only does this make for happier employees, but those who work for you are likely to be more engaged in the work and share your vision.

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?

One of the best things about the last decade or so is the loss of stigma around mental health problems. What was once a taboo in the workplace is now more openly discussed amongst staff and management. Although there is still a while to go before the stigma is completely reduced, employers are better understanding the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.

Working from home has helped a number of people develop more of a work-life balance, improving their wellbeing and their mental health. But for some, it has been difficult. Many feel less connected to their colleagues and often people find it difficult to switch off.

My company, PixelMax, has been looking at this issue head-on. The software we have developed aims to separate work from home. The Virtual Workplace we have created brings the workforce together no matter where they are based. It allows employees to walk through the office and say hello to colleagues, have spontaneous conversations, and have calls with avatar versions of your colleagues — no need for more draining Zoom calls.

The Virtual Workplace also encourages a positive culture. Employees can take part in wellness challenges, do workouts, meditate and relax with minigames. Previously, businesses might have offered gym memberships. Now, they could offer an online fitness subscription or a smartwatch.

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?

Company cultures are evolving, and they will continue to evolve until the end of time. What’s important for business leaders to understand at this time is it’s the turn of the employee to dictate how they want to work. This business evolution is a collaborative process now, and listening to your employees’ wants and needs has never been more important. Investing in employees is how cultures should evolve into something positive and beneficial for the business and employees.

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. Web3’s impact. The impact of Web3 is so seismic it is almost hard for us to imagine the full impact it will have. Interacting with other people, content, learning and working will all be completely transformed into a much more immersive experience. We will all be able to interact with any individual or machine in the world and it is set to change how we work forever. The decentralised internet cuts out the middleman, making the market self-regulating. Creators own their assets and content. We already heard so much about NFTs in 2021, and I think this is only the beginning.
  2. The Metaverse and Virtual Workplace. Leading on from this, we will be keeping our eye on the uptake of alternative software and technologies for workplace collaboration. The gaming world is already using these technologies to keep games engaging and immersive. You can easily spend hours on these games and not notice the time go by. We predict there will be a great uptake of this technology from businesses. Our vision at PixelMax is to use this Virtual Workplace to bring back spontaneity to remote and hybrid work and make it more enjoyable and engaging for everyone.
  3. The four-day working week. The five-day workweek is the norm for the majority of workers. But with advances in technology, increased efficiency and more of a focus on employee wellbeing, it will be interesting to see how many companies will reduce to a four-day working week. Four day work weeks have been trialled in Japan, Iceland and the UK with relative success. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden suggested the idea of a four day work week to support work-life balance and tourism in New Zealand following Covid-19.
  4. Days in the office versus at home. Hybrid working has changed many of our lives. Covid allowed us to benefit from the flexibility and benefits when working from home. Although it was great for some, others preferred the office, and it has been debated that being in the office is best for people at the start of their careers. It will be interesting to track how often people are in the office, and how they use their time in the office. We will be keeping an eye on this, as well as reported productivity and wellbeing levels.
  5. The hiring market. The hiring market has had a complete transformation over the last few months. Particularly in the tech market, where candidates can have four or five opportunities on the go within the first 24 hours of their job hunt. Employees are making deliberate choices about their careers and searching for a better work-life balance. Businesses are still working out how to approach hybrid working, and while these policies are being figured out, business leaders should look at how adopting the right approach to hybrid working can improve your business’ retention rate.

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?

Simon Sinek’s “Don’t show up to prove. Show up to improve” is a great quote. As a co-founder of a tech business that started small, I had to juggle many balls at once, and at times it was challenging doing things I’d never done before. But this is how you learn, and making mistakes is part of life.

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.

It would have to be Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist who was one of the early people who laid out his vision for the Metaverse much before anyone else did. It would be great to talk and learn more about his ideas about how working will change in the Metaverse, and see if our thoughts align!

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?

Follow me on LinkedIn and follow the PixelMax company page! We post great insight about what’s happening in the Virtual Workplace and metaverse world.

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

Thanks for having me.