Rise in digital empathy. I mentioned this one already but I really think this will be a gamechanger for the future of work. If companies refuse to bridge the expectations gap and embrace digital empathy — by bringing in new technology — they will become obsolete.

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 Stephen Tarleton, CMO of 1E.

Stephen joined 1E at the beginning of this year to help hone and amplify 1E’s brand and to drive customer growth in the Digital Employee Experience (DEX) market. Prior to 1E, Stephen ran the marketing and business development organizations at Corvus Insurance and LogicMonitor. During his career, Stephen has worked at large enterprises, worked as a management consultant and even owned the top food truck business in Austin, Texas.

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?

I was born and raised in Tarboro, a small town a little over an hour east of Raleigh, in the tobacco country of North Carolina. This environment provided me with a deep sense of community at an early age. Decades later, I am still in touch with many of the kids from my kindergarten class as well as high school and college. Being a part of a close knit, small community allowed me to create long lasting connections which have benefited my professional career — specifically, as it pertains to developing a professional network.

The flip side of this rural upbringing is that it created a desire for travel and exploration. The first time I flew on a commercial airline was for a job interview my senior year of college. Buying airline tickets was just not something my family did. Now, and for most of my adult life, I travel constantly, and get to live out my dream of traveling.

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 rapid shift to remote work in 2020 caused many changes to how businesses operate on a daily basis. As we look 10–15 years out, the importance of culture, productivity and maintaining an engaged workforce will remain a top priority. Businesses will still be looking for ways to improve the employee experience and will utilize the technology currently being developed to do that. Digital employee experience (DEX) tools are a great option as they serve as a catalyst to maintaining productivity and employee satisfaction. DEX tools monitor, analyze and optimize IT environments to ensure all employees have a seamless IT experience — regardless of their locations or the hours they’re working. Additionally, these tools also provide a competitive advantage. A decade from now, DEX tools will certainly be a “ticket-to-entry” requirement of employees when selecting a new job.

The biggest change we’ll see over the next few years is businesses continuing to expand their employee footprint. With the rise in fully remote or hybrid positions, a world of opportunity has opened up. Organizations can now expand into new regions and engage a more diverse and inclusive workforce without the constraints of the traditional 25-mile radius.

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

The biggest piece of advice I would offer other business leaders would be to lean into the technology at your fingertips and to partner closely with your IT organization regardless of your function. Don’t think of IT as the team managing devices or end points; think of that team as your employee enablement organization. There is so much great technology out there that businesses can use to scale their companies and create a truly great employee experience — they just need to be unafraid to invest in something new.

To do that effectively, you need to work as a collective team and not as rogue departments. I learned this very early in my career with a major hand slap from a CIO for running a rogue server under my Business Intelligence Manager’s desk. To put this into practice and to be successful in the future flexible work environment, executive leadership teams should look at how they can break down the traditional department silos. This may mean partnering IT departments with other departments like HR and facilities management to ensure employees remain engaged and productive in every aspect of their day-to-day operations.

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?

As the focus of the employee experience shifts from the physical to the digital world, the gap literally is the difference between what employees expect and what employers are willing to offer. When an employee is working from home, the road, or wherever else they find most productive, they want a seamless experience that moves with them. The traditional functions and realm of IT are now ‘table stakes,’ employees view connectivity, responsiveness, security, and working applications as basic needs to do their job.

To bridge the expectations gap, companies need to embrace digital empathy. A company that fully embraces digital empathy and fulfills the next level of employee needs — such as collaboration tools, autonomous remediation, sentiment measurement and tracking — will ultimately achieve employee empowerment. At 1E, we’ve altered our business model to create a more equitable environment for our workforce by introducing the concept of digital empathy. Our framework starts with our employees’ basic needs while working remotely — think connectivity and security — and combines it with their growth needs, such as autonomous remediation and user empowerment to create a foundation.

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

The work from home — or more accurately, the flexible work movement — over the last two years will forever change how we work, live, and play. Businesses have seen the benefit work from home has had on their employees’ mental health and wellbeing. But it has also shown just how productive you can be from a distance. The future of work will be hybrid and it will be distributed.

As I mentioned before, one of the biggest benefits to working from home is that businesses can expand to a global footprint and bring in top talent from around the world. I’m a great example of this. 1E is historically a UK-based company, but we are transitioning into a truly global organization and hiring leadership and employees with a remote-first mindset to help us get there. That’s how I was brought on as the CMO based in Texas. We’ll see more of this as the future of work unfolds.

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?

To truly move everyone into the next phase of work, society needs to embrace the fact that employees want flexibility. For the most part we’ve seen this happen, but as COVID cases go down, employers are beginning to demand employees return to the office full-time or in a hybrid fashion. As this happens, society cannot forget about flexibility — or the fact that remote and flexible work has worked for over two years. Society needs to change its overall thinking from let’s get back to the old way of work to let’s embrace the world of flexibility.

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

As a parent, I tend to think of the future through the lens of my children. My oldest is in his first year of high school and is currently looking for a summer job. As opposed to applying to the local fast-food restaurant, he can embrace the remote/hybrid work model and is doing multiple, flexible, part time jobs. From walking dogs in the neighborhood to doing stock research for a financial fund, he will get a variety of experiences just from the new way the world is working. What makes me most optimistic about the future of work is the tools and resources the next generation has at such a young age that I could have never dreamed of at the same age.

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 feel like this is something we’re collectively still figuring out as the aftermath of the pandemic is starting to subside. But what I’ve seen is that employers have made significant strides in their flexibility offerings — which is promising. At 1E, we are a hybrid organization through and through, which gives our employees a lot of personal flexibility in how, where, and when they work. We have leaned into online communities and are providing periodic “wellbeing” sessions that are available to all employees to share how they’re feeling and have open and honest conversations.

From the employee perspective, I see a greater focus and importance on company values. In the past, company values were often just fodder for “About Us” pages, but now they are strong signals for how a company operates. As employees search for jobs, company values will offer a window into the soul of the organization and will serve a greater purpose in recruitment.

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 are not going away anytime soon, so it’s important for leaders across industries to find ways to ensure they are not the next victim of The Great Resignation. One of the first and best things business leaders can do in response to these headlines is reevaluate how they are measuring employee success and engagement. This includes leaning on IT and technology to keep track of productivity levels across a company. The data provided by this type of tools allows leaders to see where the holes are in their organization, understand how remote or in-office employees are feeling, and address the issues head on to create a more balanced work environment and culture.

As I mentioned earlier, DEX tools are a great starting point. Companies that prioritize DEX have historically experienced easier transitions for employees working either fully remote or with flexible schedules, which will ultimately provide businesses with reduced costs, improvements in employee satisfaction and overall productivity.

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

  1. Rise in digital empathy. I mentioned this one already but I really think this will be a gamechanger for the future of work. If companies refuse to bridge the expectations gap and embrace digital empathy — by bringing in new technology — they will become obsolete.
  2. The overlap of IT and HR. This is essentially what DEX is all about. In the future of work, companies with poor digital employee experiences will find they have a hard time retaining talent. In order to grow and maintain competitiveness in an increasingly competitive landscape, companies need to bring these two previously siloed departments together.
  3. Employee experience will help slow The Great Resignation. With great experience comes great success — and DEX tools will move to the forefront of digital workplace technology. Companies who invest in DEX tools will see less employee turnover related to IT dissatisfaction.
  4. The rise in office hubs. As we’ve started to see, organizations are forgoing their permanent office space and extending their hiring beyond the traditional 25-mile radius from that space. We’ll see more office hubs emerge for employees to gather for one-off meetings or company get-togethers.
  5. The blending of traditional employment and the gig economy. We’ll start to see knowledge workers become more specialized, and operate in an on-demand, auction-based market. A good example of this opportunity in the marketing world is SEO. Today companies either hire in-house or use an agency. Going forward, an SEO specialist could work individually on demand with multiple companies instead of having to join an agency or go fully in-house.

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?

I’m a big Hemingway fan. In The Sun Also Rises, one of the characters states, (the) “Road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs.” Out of context, it makes little sense, but it is about living in the moment and seizing opportunities as they present themselves. This is a philosophy I carry in both my personal and professional 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.

This is a tough one. I grew up listening to the Beatles, so my top choice would be Paul McCartney. Watching the recent Get Back documentary reminded me just how creative the Beatles were. On a recent run in London, I searched for the building where they performed the rooftop concert. How I would love to have seen that live!

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 connect with me on LinkedIn and follow 1E on LinkedIn and Twitter. They can also check out 1E’s YouTube page for exclusive interviews and the latest product and service announcements.

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