The role of the manager will be reexamined and elevated. The phrase “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers” has long been making the rounds, but definitely got dusted off again in 2021. What is starting to happen and will hopefully catch on is a reevaluation of who is made a manager, what sort of training they receive and an acknowledgement of the critical role these people play in workplace success.
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 Siobhan Fagan.
Siobhan is the editor in chief of Reworked, the premier publication covering the r/evolution of work published by Simpler Media Group. At Reworked, Siobhan leads the site’s content strategy, with a focus on the transformation of the workplace.
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 seven years old, my parents took away all weekday television rights and limited weekend TV viewing to a two-hour window. I was already a big reader, but their decision set that into overdrive. I filled the hours that I would have otherwise spent memorizing commercial jingles writing, reading and exploring imaginary worlds in my backyard.
While I can’t say I was grateful at the time, in hindsight, I recognize it as the gift it was (but you don’t want me on your pop culture trivia team).
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?
One of the best things about predictions is that people so rarely follow up to see if they come true. So with that in mind, I’ll hazard a few guesses.
White collar workers will continue to seek flexibility in terms of when and where they work. The daily routines of what we currently consider normal for these jobs — the 9–5 hour day, Monday through Friday — will dissipate as individuals and organizations learn how to better work asynchronously, and to identify what requires synchronous work and in person meetings.
Frontline workers will continue to organize, unionize and demand more from their employers to gain some control over their working hours, conditions and wages.
Employees across all verticals will seek employment in organizations that align with their values.
The office as we knew it in February 2020 will appear as a quaint period piece in movies and TV shows, having since been replaced by smaller, dynamic meeting spaces for colleagues to use for team building, project collaboration and quiet work.
And for my wildcard prediction: What we think of as a job will look considerably different. Our close affiliation with teams and departments will be replaced by a project-based approach, where people move from project to project based on their skills and the project’s needs. Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreaux make a compelling case for why work is heading in this direction in their book, “Work Without Jobs.”
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Invest in your employees. Bring learning and development to the fore, so your people have the skills to thrive in the future, even knowing that at times they will choose to take those skills elsewhere. Make sure any training is accessible to the entire workforce, not a small cohort of employees who are predetermined to be the right fit.
Offer alternate career paths to help people grow and potentially switch gears as their knowledge and interests change. Make it clear to your managers that their role is to support their direct reports to help them reach their full potential and to let those employees move on to other departments, teams or organizations if that is the right path for them. Which brings me to….
Choose your managers wisely, and train them well. Walk away from the system of rewarding excellence in individual performance with a managerial role.
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?
We’re currently seeing companies roll back some of the advances of the last few years, with the mandated return to office mandates and reduction of benefits such as maternity and paternity leave. Cutbacks, layoffs and removal of benefits are difficult decisions to make, but some companies appear to be using economic uncertainty as a cover for instituting backward-looking policies. I firmly believe those companies that choose not to take this approach will set themselves up for future success in terms of resilience, competition for talent, retention and more.
We’ve already seen evidence of this, in research carried out by the Future Forum. Workers want flexibility and those who receive it report higher levels of satisfaction, reduced stress and better work-life balance. Adopting a more flexible approach to work, with clear guardrails in place, has also been tied to improvements in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
The dynamics the pandemic set in motion were an amplification of trends long in the making. But let’s be clear: working from home during a global pandemic is not “working from home” as it can be. Which makes it all the more amazing how well individuals and companies rose to the challenge. Hopefully now we can move past thinking of work as something that happens in a specific location, be it home or in a central office, and look at outcomes.
What I hope lasts from this time is our recognition of our colleagues as whole people, our appreciation for the place empathy, trust and mental health have in our daily work lives, and the realization that resilience and adaptability are now requirements for any business’s operating model.
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 the US context specifically, the country needs to create more of a safety net. It shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to reach historic lows in child poverty. A future of work that works for everyone would require universal health care, which is not tied to employer or employment status. It would support parents and caregivers, so people with primary caregiver roles do not have to choose between their loved ones and their career. A truly inclusive future of work would also require the eradication of structural issues which discriminate against people due to their race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, age and more.
And of course all of the above work will not go far without immediate action on the climate.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The news that Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard gave the company away was one of the more hopeful actions I’ve seen in a while.
When the Business Roundtable came out with its 2019 statement advocating that a business’s purpose is to create value not only for shareholders, but also for stakeholders, customers and the communities in which they operate it marked a profound departure from the organization’s foundations. While the skeptic in me questioned how much of it was performative, it was at least an acknowledgement by this group of CEOs that long-term sustainability depends on creating value for a broader swath of people than just their shareholders.
I’m hoping we see more organizations acting on this premise.
Our collective mental health and well-being 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?
We have yet to fully understand the toll the last two and a half years has had on our mental health. One of the positives however is a slight reduction in the stigma surrounding it and an increase in the resources organizations are making available, including flexible hours to allow for therapy appointments, mental health training for managers and provision of benefits like mental health apps, mindfulness classes and gym memberships. These are all steps in the right direction. But we still have to work to completely remove the stigma associated with mental health and to create company cultures where people feel comfortable taking advantage of the mental health services being offered without fear of repercussions.
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?
The terms themselves don’t matter; what leaders need to recognize is none of us are going back to the way we worked in 2019. People want jobs where they can grow, learn, contribute and advance a purpose that is meaningful to them. They want recognition for their work — financially and verbally — and they want a life outside of that work.
Any employer concerned about retaining or attracting excellent employees needs to assess if their company is delivering in these areas.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- The role of the manager will be reexamined and elevated. The phrase “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers” has long been making the rounds, but definitely got dusted off again in 2021. What is starting to happen and will hopefully catch on is a reevaluation of who is made a manager, what sort of training they receive and an acknowledgement of the critical role these people play in workplace success.
- Companies will compete on the basis of their employee experience. We’ve already seen this in effect and it will become more apparent. Firms like PwC are betting big on employee experience, investing time, money and resources to improve the day-to-day lives of employees. Other big firms have done similar, establishing heads of employee experience to work across departments to ensure the needs of employees are being met.
- The use of employee surveillance will increase among those who ignore the previous two trends. The spike in adoption of employee surveillance tools in 2020 has yet to dissipate, with demand remaining 58% higher than it had been in 2019. What this signals is a lack of trust. It incentivizes the wrong kinds of behavior and is a short-term solution with long-term ill effects.
- The gig economy will grow larger, for better and for worse. Contractors and gig workers will continue to be in demand to fill in for short term needs and projects. But gig work exists at multiple tiers, with some people able to demand high prices for their services while others scramble to juggle multiple, short-term jobs to make ends meet.
- Technology will continue to advance, but adoption will lag due to technical debt and lack of training. Advances in quantum computing, machine learning and AI will continue apace but the practical application of these tools will stall as companies wrangle with legacy systems and fail to upskill employees to work with these systems.
- BONUS! Kindness will be viewed as a core business value.
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?
Can’t say I have a favorite quote per se, but this one from Jane Jacobs strikes me as appropriate for our conversation today: “Designing a dream city is easy. Rebuilding a living one takes imagination.”
New companies have the opportunity to design their dream cities as it were. But existing organizations have more challenging — and I would argue, more interesting — work ahead, which is to forget how things were done and open their organizations up to new possibilities and futures. Think of the number of organizations that didn’t believe operating remotely was possible, but managed to quickly make that transition in March 2020 — many of those organizations not only survived but thrived. Businesses today have this amazing, and admittedly, slightly terrifying, opportunity to rethink how work is done.
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.
José Andrés. The work he’s doing with World Central Kitchen is inspiring on so many levels — the mission itself, the speed with which he mobilizes, how he fits his operations for the region he’s working in, and how he inspires others to get involved. I also know if I’m eating with him the food would be amazing.
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?
Readers can find me on Reworked, where they’ll also find a wealth of perspectives from people grappling with the same questions we discussed. They also can find me on LinkedIn.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.