Companies will fight to attract and retain top talent. While focusing on sustaining a great culture with engaged employees is paramount, if employees have an emotional connection to their work and organization, they’re more likely to stick around.
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 Wu.
Tim Wu is Head of Growth at Nearside, a financial services provider and neobanking platform built on the belief that starting a business should be easier. With hands-on experience in user acquisition, retention, and customer success, Tim brings to his role expertise in startups, technology, product development, customer retention, business development, and sales. Before joining Nearside, Tim served in managerial and director-level roles for fintech giants Square and Quid, among other high-growth startups. Time holds a B.A. in International Studies and Public Policy from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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 grew up in an immigrant household. My parents moved over here from Taiwan. A lot of folks wanted to leave to find opportunities in America with their families, so they moved us over when I was one. One of the things I always remembered growing up as a child was just how hard my parents worked. My mom was a nurse in Taiwan, and she was pretty plugged into the healthcare industry, but I knew she stopped working as a nurse when she came to America. Why she left nursing was always an open question that I didn’t understand until much later in life.
My parents’ previous work experience didn’t really translate over from one country to the other. Here, they owned a swap-meet stand, and when I was six, they would take me on weekends to set up these stands in the local flea market. While I would have preferred to be at home watching cartoons on Saturday mornings as a kid, I was just happy to be there with them. Once in a while, they would ask me to unbox things or help with small tasks, and I’d sometimes get to make sales and talk to customers. During the work week, they had full-time jobs and worked their way up through a number of biotech companies.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized the importance of how hard they worked for us. They sacrificed their own weekends and decompression time while still holding down their nine-to-fives. I carry much of that work ethic and apply it to what I do on the projects that I take on.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years? What do you predict will be different?
In November 2021, a record 4.5 million workers left their jobs, according to the Labor Department’s job openings and labor turnover reports. Because of how the pandemic has so heavily shaped things, it’s evident that the future of work will be a moving target in terms of industries and how and where people work. I have the flexibility of working remotely for Nearside.
We had all the plans to grow our company from 15 folks at the time into our 50-person office space. Barely a year later, we’ve already exceeded our headcount by almost double — we’re now at over a hundred people. We’ve been able to grow so quickly because we’ve been able to make the nature of our work flexible and hire on a remote-first model. Because there are so many different ways for people to make money that don’t require them to actually be in a physical location, there will continue to be more opportunities for folks as they continue to find and use different platforms.
There will also be a consolidation of platforms. For example, many of our customers are freelancers or gig workers. With gig workers, we know there’s no loyalty to which platform they’re using (e.g., Uber vs. Lyft) as long as the app suits them at the time. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as platform exclusivity requirements, but they might have preferences for whom they want to work with. I think there will be more consolidation where people balance different applications as revenue sources and management tools like Gridwise to manage earning from multiple apps.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
The first step should be future-proofing your products and services. Consider what you’re offering today and whether that works in a remote-first environment. For example, restaurants and food service providers might offer delivery, or if you service your local community as a professional contractor, think of the aspects you can offer online that would still be able to earn revenue. The second step is to think about the struggles of your employees and their comfort levels regarding working in person.
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 will begin looking for different ways to achieve that work-life balance as remote-flexible work becomes more common. It takes me less than five seconds to walk from my bedroom to my office. Employees will start seeking companies that offer flexible options.
Employers will need to figure out how to provide flexibility — not only time-based but other more subtle nuances as well. How often are you being pinged outside of office hours? What kind of projects are employees being thrown into, and will they be able to balance time differences? Those are things employees are looking for and are more proactive about calling it out.
For example, let’s say as a company, you know that you work with some part of your business that is three hours ahead, and you are primarily hiring on the west coast. If you expect people to be up at 6:00 AM, employees will want to know about that versus finding that out after the fact. Transparency and communication are fundamental for helping employers retain workers.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Framing this as an “experiment” says a lot. We’re all continuing to figure this out as we go along. For example, when I started building out my marketing team, I had no intention of hiring people on the east coast. My role was very fixated on the idea that I would be working on Pacific hours. At this point, we’re about 50–50 with folks working on east coast time versus west coast.
As we progress through this, we’re going to discover things along the way. We’re trying to figure out things like timing and scheduling, and how this balances back to our ability to provide and give quality time for friends and family outside of work.
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?
I see flexibility as a core theme for how society will need to change for this future work dynamic. To remain competitive, employers (depending on the industry, of course) will need to provide more options for employees, including flexible scheduling and well-defined work-from-home policies. Also, the standard 9–5 workweek is rapidly becoming a relic of the past as teams potentially become more distributed across different time zones with different schedules.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
What I’m most optimistic about is optionality. People continue to find different work opportunities and optimize for either time or interest. If people can do things to make money and optimize for time, they can flex into exploring work that interests them.One intriguing trend we’ve seen at Nearside is how freelancers and self-employed folks flex into other work or become content creators.
An example would be somebody driving for Uber. Driving for income may not necessarily bring them joy, but my guess is that what’s valuable for them is flexibility and earning money when they want, around their schedule. And once they have flexibility around their schedule, they can branch out into different projects and other things — starting a business, picking up another job in a field they’re interested in, etc.
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?
We just started a new flexible spending program at Nearside for all full-time employees. It’s the first flexible spending account that I’ve seen that offers coverage for categories that aren’t just health-based like contacts or dental work. We can use it for personal legal services or accounting — general things that you need to take care of yourself. When I go to file my taxes, for example, I’m stressed making sure that the numbers are correct or that I’m paying my accountant. Those are all aspects where we all need to be able to do certain things to operate as people. The ability to make sure we have all our personal matters taken care of is part of mental health. I think offering these kinds of incentives is simple, but really innovative.
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?
I also agree that it’s an evolving narrative. Resignation comes from leaving because you want more flexibility in life. Reconfiguration is scaling back hours but keeping some flexibility. Reevaluation is considering all options. Employers need to listen to what their employees are asking of them. We’re all regularly evaluating what we want because life has been so uncertain.
As employees, we’re demanding more flexibility to focus on our family and personal lives. If what employers are offering don’t fit in terms of family life and flexibility, then they simply won’t take that job. That’s something that leaders definitely need to consider.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Working 9-to-5 will no longer be the norm, and employees are looking for flexibility and more autonomy in their schedules. As we compete for top talent, companies will need to adjust their work environments to include flexible schedules that cater to night owls, morning people, and everything in between.
- Dual-income houses are rising; it’s now more than half, at 53.3%. But keep in mind that 9 out of the top 10 cities are in California and Texas. While the cost of living is a factor, this trend will continue to spread, especially after the pandemic.
- Companies will fight to attract and retain top talent. While focusing on sustaining a great culture with engaged employees is paramount, if employees have an emotional connection to their work and organization, they’re more likely to stick around.
- Employee turnover will continue to increase. As hybrid and remote work becomes the norm for knowledge workers, flexibility around how, where, and when people work is no longer a differentiator; it’s now table stakes. Employers that don’t offer flexibility will see increased turnover as employees move to roles that offer a value proposition that better aligns with what they’re looking for.
- The creator economy will continue to grow, and it’s worth watching in 2022 and beyond, as creators are one of today’s fastest-growing business segments. More than 50 million independent creators are fueling this trend, and this generation of micro-entrepreneurs is currently valued at $20 billion. There are estimations that it could grow to a $104.2 billion market in 2022 — with $800 million in venture capital invested in these creator ventures year over year.
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 just started reading a book by Tim Grover. He’s a motivational speaker, and he was a coach and trainer for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. One life lesson that stuck out to me is that “being relentless means demanding more of yourself than anyone else could ever demand of you.” So often, through life (myself included), we need to look toward external motivations to push us to take action. This can work initially when you’re looking to try something new (e.g., New Year’s resolutions), but finding your own internal motivation for things is the best way to ensure you can keep up long-term.
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 would love to meet Michelle Obama. I’ve been asked this question before, and my immediate default was President Obama (whom I’d still love to meet), but I was actually thinking about how much of an influence and active role she played in his presidency. Above all, at least in my lifetime, she’s the only first lady where I really knew what she was doing on the day-to-day and what her job was — the types of programs she was running and the different initiatives she had. That could simply be because my interest in politics came in around that time.
However, I think she has done a spectacular job of communicating clearly through her team, herself, and what she’s worked on or supported since the first week in office. So yeah, I’m sure she has intense stories that she could tell about anything from balance and family to policy work.
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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.