… Flexibility in Leadership — Leaders of the future will need to learn real skills around flexibility and being agile, but not in some buzzwordy way. They will truly need to harness the power of listening, meeting the team where they are, and managing with extreme flexibility around culture. Leaders can’t be so stringent that they miss the importance of diversity of thought as well as diversity of culture. Rigidity mindset is something that will destroy a leader’s ability to truly build a team of world-class performers.
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 Todd Mitchem.
Todd Mitchem has been called a “Future of Work” expert and visionary. He is a former tech CEO who discovered firsthand how our over-customizing of technology was and is damaging our relationships, which was the subject of his TED talk. He has also been recognized for building communication programs that stand the test of time, regardless of available technological tools. On top of this, Todd is an accomplished author on the topic of Disruption and a business leader who has worked with some of the top companies at the upper level of the fortune 100. His book, YOU DISRUPTED (Random House) helps leaders and individuals understand the importance of intentional self-disruption.
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 like to get personal, and one of the most profound life experiences that shaped the last fifteen years of my life was the day I was nearly killed in a car accident. I talk about this in my book, YOU DISRUPTED, but in short, I was hit by a person who was on her phone and traveling at around fifty-five miles per hour. I was, of course, sitting at a stoplight, not moving. In the weeks following the accident, I was told that my career as a keynote speaker, leadership facilitator, and learning professional was most likely over. For a professional at the top of his game, this was devastating news. My doctors said recovery would take a long time and that I should not expect to get all of my mental capabilities back, let alone get on stage again. Less than a year later, I proved them wrong, retook the stage to a room of over 400 people, and demonstrated how we can all overcome anything to be what we were meant to become in this life. The idea of perseverance, overcoming tremendous obstacles, and learning the value of disruption never occurred to me until that accident and subsequent recovery. It proved to be a game-changing moment that shaped everything about me.
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?
When I am asked questions like these, I like to look at both the things happening and changing now and those coming soon, which will shape all we are becoming as a culture in the work world. Some of these changes could be scary to your readers, but I invite them to see these as opportunities instead of fear-based problems.
In the area of what will not change, I see our need for being in a community flourishing like never before. Human connection is how we have become the amazing species we are today, and this will not be something we simply stop doing. In fact, since many of us have been in lockdown or isolated from others for nearly two years, I see more of a focus on connections, building conversation, and meaningful dialogue than ever before. It has been said that the most terrible punishment a person can endure, other than torture, is solitary confinement. Humans crave interaction with other humans, so we will continue to see this element thrive in the future, just different because the tools for connection, like, VR, augmented reality, and the metaverse, will give us ways to communicate we never imagined.
Work will change but not go away, as some speculate. We are in a transformative time, but work is still critical to our lives. The key to future business will be how, where, and when that work occurs, which gets me excited. In the next few years, we will see more technological tools being added while others are removed. Out-dated systems like paper documents, long meetings, and even the old school assessment for performance will continue to die off quickly and be replaced with more efficient tools such as digital wallets, short video messages, and real-time feedback. We will see a future where email will die, offices will only be reserved for connection or face-to-face meetings, and a new way of looking at “gig work” for everyone will grow. Certain jobs will vanish, but new ones we can’t even conceive of will arrive. But more important than all of this will be the speed at which everything changes from here on out. I expect you to go to bed on a Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning, something new has become normal. Buckle up, it’s going to be a heck of a ride.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Get nimble and be flexible. These are the top attributes for all employers. Water is a powerful substance. I would argue there is nothing more powerful on earth. But water, in all its strength, can become the most flexible substance which can morph and change given any condition. Employers need to be flexible like water if they want to be strong in the future. As I say in my #FutureofWork keynote presentation, “If you’re one of the providers of jobs, products, or commerce, I suggest you start looking at all your current assumptions, planning timelines, and overall team dynamics now, so you’re prepared for these changes. The wave is coming, and you either get hit by it or ride it, but not both.” To “future proof,” as you put it, means you need to change your mind about many things. But with change also comes colossal opportunity, so be optimistic about these changes, so your mind is focused on solutions instead of conflicts.
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?
In my talks, I summarize these gaps in three areas; money, purpose, flexibility. When you look at most companies, they want to pay less, don’t care about the purpose of the employee, and are always trying to put boundaries around flexibility. These are old concepts of command and control business that must change. Employees conflict with this because they need more money, life on purpose, and ultimate flexibility. These gaps will cause most of the frustration within the employee-employer relationships. When discussing reconciling these gaps, I think we can see plainly that employees are in charge because they can now have total flexibility, but employers need to work harder to close the gaps. The name of the game to build a bridge over this gap can be summarized in one word, respect. The employers need to respect the employee’s needs, and the employee needs to respect outcomes of effort, so they own their outcome.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
One of my clients at Microsoft summarized this perfectly in the fall of 2020. She said, “We just accelerated a ten — fifteen-year timeline of emerging technology and flexible work down to a few months.” In other words, technology companies saw that we were already headed toward a future of flexibility in work with technology at the center of change, but Covid crunched the timeline. The impact was massive disruption over a relatively short period of time. We had to adapt to survive in work and life. Overall, the results were effective, and with the changes came technology advancements that were planned to take much longer. For example, our instant dependence on virtual meeting tools like Zoom, and more bandwidth at home from internet providers, pushed these companies to assess and reassess their systems. Instantly new plans for increased bandwidth, better quality, and more stability needed to happen. Good. It was coming anyway.
But working from home had a new set of impacts for us as a human culture. And it is important to pause for a moment to reflect on what happened. There were two very different situations depending on what kind of work you were doing as an adult. Starting with adults with families who worked in corporate offices, being at home constantly allowed for better family connections, but it also caused much more stress on working people who had to care for children in a more full-time capacity. Kids were also damaged as they were thrust into the prison of remote school. For most of 2020, a gap of interaction outside of immediate family did damage to how these kids see the world of work. They are not keen on remote means for engagement and would rather go be with friends. While that is a positive attribute, it will make a mess of virtual teams if these kids head into the corporate workforce. In other words, they will not want to be remote as much as offices assume. Something new for them will be born, and I believe it will look like a VERY flexible situation where these future workers control when and how they work as well as where.
For working families that had jobs focused more on service, in the medical field, or in a blue-collar capacity out there making sure everything we depend on was working correctly, they felt the immense pressure of helping their kids work on school, but also not having the convenience of working at home. For them, the future without lockdown will be a welcomed change mainly because their kids can go to school again.
In between were workers who were unmarried or had no kids. They also had a different experience of isolation and will be welcoming both interaction and flexibility. All of these experiences have shaped our future in some ways we can see and others we can’t yet. But be ready because change is coming from the impact of this very long time of constant change.
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?
Society needs to start working together better. There is no need for us to be picking sides of political arguments, vaccine bickering, pandemic fights, or positions about work. We need to realize that we are all in this together. It’s time to drop the stupidity of fighting and work toward cooperation. We also need to start seeing the world through the eyes of others we don’t understand. Everyone is doing their best, but we must find common ground during the next fifteen years of transformation. I feel we also need to begin cutting costs, living leaner, and overall replacing stuff with experiences. It’s time to get off the disposable mindset, which is killing our planet’s ecosystem, and get on the mindset of sustainability. Quality over excess should be the mantra for us all.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I am so very optimistic about the future of work because I see so many more tools for us than previous generations. My parents and even me as a young adult were very limited in trajectory for career, advancement, ways to earn income, and even opportunity of ideas and creativity. With the metaverse conversation, the speed of technology, communication tools, and a dying out of outdated tools, which are redundant at best, I see the future as all hope. No more is there only one path to becoming whole as adults for any race, background, or kind of person. Now we can explore creativity, find careers that suit us, and even demand that our new employers give us the flexibility to raise children or explore the world. Work is becoming a part of what we are as humans, not simply a place we go to pursue money. That’s exciting.
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 am currently reading a book by Parrott and Parrott (2012) called Real Relationships. They make the point that if we are not whole as individuals, we can never hope to be fulfilled in life. What I see happening is that companies are finally starting to realize that work is a part of our life, but not the totality of what makes us whole. I see employers starting to train their leadership more on the psychology of their teams. In the future, I think leaders will become more like guides, mentors, coaches, and even therapists. Some of the best coaching engagements I have worked on involved me talking with my clients about their childhood experiences, upbringing, and family so I could better determine where their dysfunctional behaviors originated. Leaders of tomorrow will also need this skill which will create an even more profound sense of empathy throughout a team. We will also see more balance between work and home for the corporate office.
What I am concerned about, however, is the lack of mental health effort being explored in the blue-collar, service, and frontline medical job spaces. These are typically far more difficult, time-consuming, and risk-oriented career paths yet lack the quality of action around mental health or wellness. I would like to see this change. As we enter into the future, we can not forget the important men and women who keep our world functioning.
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?
Simply put, employees have more choices than ever, and if you don’t accommodate their mental wellness, home life, lifestyle and treat them well, they will depart. It’s a wake-up call for leaders to sharpen their skills around employee relations in ways they never have before.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
Here are some areas I see the most change coming the fastest:
Resumes will go the way of TikTok — Recently, I was giving a presentation on the future of work and showed some of the new “resumes” presented on “TikTok resumes,” a new feature where people can submit their resume via video. The audience of HR and recruiter professionals were shocked. As I heard the people starting to talk in the audience, I asked, “What about this makes you nervous or upset?” The reactions were a mix of comments about accessibility, gender, race, and other biases. But the fact remains, young people are not even close to traditional. They don’t have the same biases as their older more-traditional counterparts. They instead thrived and were raised on video. This is their medium, just as the written resume was a thing of my father’s generation, video resumes will be a thing of my children’s. Resumes are going to be a thing of the past, and in their place will be a far more inclusive, interesting, and human video-focused resume of sorts. This is a positive step for equity, diversity, and human resources in general because the current recruitment method is outdated, AI-driven, and has stripped the human component out completely. I think the main resistance comes from people who do not like to be on camera or lack the skill to do so, but that leads me to my next trend….
Communication and Presentation Skills will be Currency — The last few years have upended the way we communicate. We are expected to be proficient at Zoom, Teams, and Webex to function as members of corporate society. The way we talk on camera, on the phone, or in meetings will change for the better. But this will require a whole new set of skills around communication and presentation. If you can’t communicate with a main clear point, in a conversational manner, and with the clarity of a television host, you will be behind in the future of work. It’s simple. As I said above, your GenZ worker will have grown up on camera for most of their lives. They will naturally be better at communication, but you will need to learn these skills to stay up with them. Email is a goner; it’s dead already but will worsen when GenZ simply refuses to send the five-page, “reply all” email to the company. That’s so 2000.
No one will care about your past; the death of modesty — Modesty is over. The era of my father’s generation where you needed to mind your past actions, comments, and behavior because of reputational risk are gone with the landline. New generations of young workers do not care at all if you had an OnlyFans page for money in college or posted risqué dance videos as a seventeen-year-old. In fact, if you didn’t, it would be strange to them, and you would be called “old” by their standards. They, as a generation, don’t care about your gender, sexual orientation, race, or any of that preoccupation GenX and Boomers seem so obsessed over. When I see my kids dating, hanging out with, following, and engaging with all sorts of people regardless of these factors, I know the future. They see who you are, in all your diversity and past postings, as just part of you. This is a positive and powerful future of total inclusion for both your uniqueness and your past. Thankfully.
Work will be a fluid hybrid of office and home, but people will start to be measured on success rather than hours put in — This is a no-brainer, but work in the office full time is also done….finished. Let’s be honest, it was a joke anyway for the last twenty years, and we all knew it. The entire series The Office made a point for us, which we ignored. It was a group of people, forced to be at work, wasting the day away and squeaking work in between the goofy, playful antics. We are evolving to a more dynamic, project results-focused population in the corporate world. I see employees being measured on merit and successful projects rather than time on the job. You should be able to make coffee, do your laundry, take a nap, AND accomplish your job tasks. As long as you get results, we should not care about your yoga pants attire.
Flexibility in Leadership — Leaders of the future will need to learn real skills around flexibility and being agile, but not in some buzzwordy way. They will truly need to harness the power of listening, meeting the team where they are, and managing with extreme flexibility around culture. Leaders can’t be so stringent that they miss the importance of diversity of thought as well as diversity of culture. Rigidity mindset is something that will destroy a leader’s ability to truly build a team of world-class performers.
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?
One I use for work a ton is, “There is no such word as can’t.” It was something my father always said to me and it stuck. I never stop being optimistic about the futre and I know that it’s going to be an awesome time of “let’s do this” in the context of integrating new ideas and thinking.
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 will sound strange, but I would really enjoy sitting down with Steve Harvey to talk about his life, career and perhaps even share a cigar and drinks. My first love, as a person who trained at SecondCity, and worked on stage as an entertainer before jumping into business, is entertainment. His is such a positive force int eh world and I would enjoy getting to know him.
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?
The absolute best way to see all I do, my tons of free content, and my presentations is https://ToddMitchem.com. You can search any social media platform for @ToddMitchem and find me, except TikTok, there I am @ToddTalk. I am on SnapChat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube, Vimeo, and everywhere in between.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.
I am so very honored for this interview. We are all in this new world together and we all need to enjoy the ride!