… Change is certain, agility is key. Pace of change is not slowing down. Have courage. No leader can sit on the sidelines. We need to have courage and ask “why not?”

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 Tim Ryan.

Tim Ryan is PwC’s US Chair and Senior Partner. A forward-thinking leader committed to driving human-led, tech-powered outcomes to build trust in society and solve important problems, Tim has a proven record advancing strategy, growth, innovation, and upskilling. He reimagined PwC leading a complete digital transformation and launching a bold new strategy — The New Equation — to get ahead of the rapid pace of change bringing the best people, capabilities and technology together to support clients in building trust and delivering sustained outcomes. Equity is foundational to Tim’s trust-based leadership — he is also the founder of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion.

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.

It’s often the toughest experiences that have taught me the most. Two come to mind…

An early experience taught me about being compassionate and helping people — the core of a good leader — when I worked as a young man at Roche Bros. — a neighborhood grocery store in Boston. I was prepping produce in the back with a few of the other boys, and we weren’t being kind to a fellow employee who was working slower than us. My manager came over and was very direct. He said, “Larry is giving his 100%. Are you giving me yours? He’s doing his best, and that’s all we can ask of him.” Whether someone is new on the team or the CEO, every person’s job is to help others realize their full potential.

Another pivotal life experience came around six years ago when I took on the US Senior Partner role at a time when we were seeing an escalation of violence and racial tension in cities across the country. Still new in my role, I was moved to do something — right away. We started to have candid conversations about difficult topics across our PwC offices and realized that open dialogue is fundamental to change. One year later, building on this premise, I helped to launch CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. CEO Action is now the largest business-led initiative to advance DEI in the workplace, with more than 2,200 CEOs having pledged to create more inclusive cultures while not being afraid of having difficult conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion. Recognizing that we cannot remain stagnant, we’ve continued to push for collaboration to build a more just and equitable world. Following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Botham Jean — a member of our very own PwC community — CEO Action launched CEO Action for Racial Equity in 2020, which mobilizes the business community to address societal systemic racism through public policy. We hope the power of the business community and the individual can work together to achieve equity for the more than 47 million Black Americans and end systemic racism. Together, CEO Action is building greater understanding and creating workplaces and communities that better reflect the diversity of our society.

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?

In 10–15 years, workplaces won’t be recognizable to what they are today — the business world is changing that fast. More near term, think three years out, the companies that attract top talent will create a more tech-enabled, customized employee experience. Talent strategies will have robust, personalized options around things like health and well-being — these types of benefits will be table stakes. When you look at our workplaces today and the processes that support them — the 9 to 5 model, 40-hour work week model will be less common. Workplace cultures and processes will be better designed for the 21st century to simplify and improve the people experience.

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

You can’t entirely future proof your organization. But there are a few forces at play in the market — mass demand for consumerization, stakeholder capitalism — making it clear that leaders and their teams must better understand their stakeholders’ motivations and preferences now than ever before. At the top of that stakeholder list is the employee, because even if the economy slows down, the need to prioritize our people is here to stay.

The truth is, solving today’s problems and preparing for the future is not something that leaders can simply throw money at. At our firm, we are listening to our people and looking at every process that affects them. We recognize which changes are needed to better align with what our employees want, which in turn helps us better align with what our clients need. Ultimately our people want flexibility and choice, which led to our $2.4B investment in My+ — our biggest and boldest reimagination of our people experience. We envision a future where our people can make customer-like choices, supported by consumer-grade technology, to build personalized careers — how they work, where they work, what they work on and when they do it — tailored to support their development, well-being, sense of purpose and ambitions. By evolving our people strategy, and by offering choices that are better suited for today’s market, our business will be well positioned to succeed now and in the future.

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?

I think it’s less about what employers are willing to do, and more about continuing to evolve to what employees really want. Employees’ expectations and mindsets about where, when and how they work are changing, enabled by technology and accelerated by the pandemic. And as the world is changing at an unprecedented pace, we know our people thrive when their daily experience matches what they value and makes them happy — meaningful relationships, a balanced workload, support for flexibility, and a sense of purpose and belonging.

When I think of the future of work, what will become increasingly challenging for employers is where they can drive differentiation to attract and retain talent. Clearly compensation is a top priority for employees, but how do you get at true differentiation to win the hearts and minds of your people? Leaders can drive differentiation on experience and choice, creating an experience akin to how retailers drive differentiation through amazing consumer experiences. You can motivate and inspire a workforce and create business processes that allow them to be their best selves.

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

The debate around working from home or the office doesn’t go far enough. WFH is much more than just where people want to work — it is opening the eyes of the workforce to flexibility and choice.

We are hearing firsthand from our people and external experts how the last three years had a dramatic effect on people, and, as a result, individuals are now reassessing what they want to do and how they want to work. People are seeking opportunities that allow them to live their lives how they want to, including meeting the needs of their families, finding work that aligns with their purpose and creating an environment conducive to building the skills needed for the future. While these needs are universal, what they mean to an individual is personal, underscoring the need for choices.

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?

The world is changing at an unimaginable pace. If we go back to 2019, the full-time workforce had been declining for 15 years. At the same time, the Department of Labor statistics showed the contract workforce — including individuals wanting gig-type work — increasing. We also saw the needs of our clients continue to rise, and their expectations for us were rising.

As the workforce fundamentally changes, organizations and society need to support — and lead — with a fundamentally different vision of what the workplace looks like, where employees can choose how, when, and where they want to work, enabled by technology.

We knew our workforce was evolving before the pandemic hit, and we were already working on it. The pandemic just accelerated that evolution. Now, it is clear that the people experience should include flexibility and choice to meet the needs of the market and our people. The last part of the question — a future of work that works for everyone — also highlights our need to keep building cultures of belonging so that everyone can bring their best self to work.

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

Businesses are the most trusted institutions in the world right now — collectively, we have the power to drive real change at scale. By prioritizing our people’s well-being and experience, addressing the issues that matter most to them, and leveraging technology in new ways, we can collectively solve some of the biggest challenges we face as a country.

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?

What helps one person take care of themselves may not be the same for their colleague — people need choice. At our firm, well-being is front and center, and we’re reimagining a future where our people will be able to choose their benefits a la carte and where they can choose where, when and how much they work, all enabled by technology on their smartphone.

Last fall we announced the option to work virtually to all 40,000 client service professionals. And, we continue to expand upon our flexibility options, from reduced schedules, 20 percent pay leaves of absence and the potential to work from anywhere, even internationally for short periods.

Culturally, we are also reinforcing the value of protected time, and when we take time off together, we can support each other to fully unplug and recharge. We now have two, week-long firmwide shutdowns, and I am of the belief that no vacation days should go unused — it’s good for all of us.

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?

Talent is more important than anything else. People are the heartbeat of organizations; they are the driving force of company value, and we should treat them like valued customers to better retain and recruit them. Part of that is offering more choice about how, when, and where they work. Leaders need to really re-evaluate their culture and processes as part of their overall people strategy and take deliberate and significant action to deliver what employees want.

We have likely taken one of the biggest bets on people in the workplace today — a $2.4 billion plan to redesign the employee experience, called My+. Treating employees like customers doesn’t just keep our people happy and attract new talent but drives positive business results. And that is what matters to our clients — our ability to help them solve big problems and drive sustained outcomes.

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

  1. Leaders can no longer play it safe. As stakeholder capitalism continues to gain momentum, organizations can no longer appear to be neutral on ESG topics. CEOs will need to act on societal issues and diversity, equity and inclusion topics, both internally and externally. In 2017, we spearheaded and co-founded CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, because we knew DEI is a societal issue, and bold action from the business community — especially CEOs — is vital to driving change at scale. More than ever, society is demanding that corporate leaders do more to impact positive social change. There is more work to be done, and through CEO Action, we’ll continue to build trust and take on societal challenges to have a meaningful impact.
  2. Businesses are the most trusted institutions, and trust is the new currency of business. Our recent Trust survey found that consumers and employees are more likely to react to a loss in trust than they are to a gain in trust. Leaders need to build new skills to learn how to navigate the environment today — from its pace to stakeholder expectations to societal issues — while building and maintaining trust with those who matter most to its business. It’s why we launched a first-of-its-kind program called the Trust Leadership Institute, convening a diverse community of executives who would explore this evolving world, navigate the complexities and embrace new opportunities.
  3. Employee empowerment is here to stay. Look, some believe that we’re one recession from going back to seeing the balance of power shift back to the employer from the employee. I don’t believe that, nor do I think we should go back to that. The data showed that 5 million people left the workforce as a result of this pandemic. And while they may come back, they’re going to come back in different roles, not the traditional career they grew up in and the hours and the intensity. With that, remote and hybrid work is also here to stay. We believe this is a real trend we will continue to address. When we announced our virtual option, we saw an immediate 20% increase in job applications to the firm. Adapting to the changing workplace and implementing new ways of working is driving real impact at our firm.
  4. Well-being is at the center. The well-being of your people needs to be a top priority for leaders today. We know people can perform better when they’re taking care of themselves, which is why well-being is one of the core pillars of our My+ investment. As part of our ongoing commitment to flexibility and well-being, we’re doubling down on protected time, which includes giving our people two week-long firmwide shutdowns each year in the US (July and December).
  5. Change is certain, agility is key. Pace of change is not slowing down. Have courage. No leader can sit on the sidelines. We need to have courage and ask “why not?”

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?

For me, it’s less of a quote and more of a lesson. My parents were only high school educated, but they were the best educators you could have asked for because they taught us the lessons you needed to succeed in life. My mother, for example, always called us out when we made a mistake. They did this unique thing when they were raising my siblings and me. They would regularly remind us not to blame other people if we made a mistake, not to be so defensive, and to get over ourselves and stay humble. And that’s really a remarkable skill that I got from my parents. In managing PwC’s more than 50,000 people or when I’m working with other CEOs, I’d never succeed if I got defensive every time somebody challenged me. This life lesson of not taking yourself too seriously goes all the way back to my upbringing.

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.

Hands down, breakfast with Bruce Springsteen — I love his music and the stories in his songs.

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 or connect with me on LinkedIn. I publish a newsletter on LinkedIn, Talking Tomorrow with Tim Ryan, where I share insights from my experiences and how trends are impacting businesses and the workforce. I’d also love to hear your opinion and insights there too!

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