We need to evolve our approach to understanding employee experience. Most organizations acknowledge there needs to be deliberate investigations into employee wellbeing, but in practice, leaders consistently report a lack of actionable insights to build their plan of attack. Contemporary people analytics is evolving engagement surveys to measure more than “employee satisfaction” and focus on key indicators like absorption, dedication, and vigor. The advent of passive data analytics platforms like Microsoft’s Viva Insights and Google’s Work Insights will arm leaders with real-time leading indicators of employee wellbeing. As with trend number 2, this is even more prescient with hybrid and remote work, with increased isolation and a dearth of in-person interactions.

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 Victor Bilgen.

Victor Bilgen is a Partner at McChrystal Group where he is head of the Analytics Team, leading a group of statisticians and data scientists specializing in custom and tailored research analyzing numerous leadership behaviors, networked communication pathways, and organizational processes. As a thought leader in the area of network analysis and data analytics, Victor regularly presents at industry conferences, including the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference and Connected Commons.

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 had a winding start on my road to leading the research and analytics team at McChrystal Group. Entering college, I was convinced I would be a performer. I received a scholarship to play jazz saxophone at my university, but early on, I felt the structure of the program limited the aspects of innovation and creativity that I enjoyed. So, I had to change paths.

In that transition, I took a research-based course on persuasion and social dynamics. I realized that social science was a field that I could study, learn the fundamentals, and then apply them to solve complex problems. I could still use my jazz chops recreationally while making sense of the world around me. While music will always be extremely important to me, I found a career that would keep me inspired and hungry.

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?

For some time, organizations have been shifting from static, structure-based operations to more dynamic networked ways of working. Line and block charts are no longer dictating collaboration and innovation. More and more, we see companies deliberately leaning into this shift with “One [Company]” strategies, and investing in new technologies. I expect this shift to continue in 10–15 years, where the consumer landscape, advent of advanced collaboration tools, and the influx of small and nimble competition will force the hands of industry leaders to reshape how organizations actually operate.

The biggest change I foresee will be the shift from Shareholder to Stakeholder management, where organizations expand their focus beyond the company impact to the employee, consumer, community, and the planet. We’re seeing these conversations in the public discourse as organizations focus on employee retention, corporate responsibility and sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. As teams shift to a Stakeholder management focus, we will see corporate viability and success metrics grow beyond the bottom line, as teams place a greater emphasis on more nuanced strategies and decision-making.

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

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, new technologies created novel enterprise resource management systems. These tools, when implemented appropriately, gave leaders a complete view of their data across planning, sales, financial, inventory management and other aspects of their complex businesses. With the advent of our dynamic, networked way of working, leaders are going to need to invest in a similar infrastructure to manage employee experience. They can do this by investing in streamlined employee experience platforms for training, communication, knowledge management, and voice of the employee measurement.

Investing in employee experience also means moving beyond yearly engagement surveys to gauge job satisfaction. Teams should consider the voices of employees as KPIs to their strategies, taking their qualitative input into account. More sophisticated surveys and access to passive behavioral data metrics can give organizations leading indicators to their success far earlier than the standard backward-looking metrics most organizations are accustomed to seeing.

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?

This is a tricky question, because I believe that both employers and employees are stuck in traditional ways of thinking when it comes to employee motivation. Of course, employees will always enjoy higher pay, more flexibility, and better hours. These are important levers to consider and will always remain on the table. That said, our research shows that there are experiential indicators that can be more predictive of employee retention.

Employees who feel enthusiasm and pride in their work, feel invested and persistent when challenges arise, and feel engrossed in their responsibilities are more than twice as likely to want to stay in their roles. Leaders can encourage this engagement by ensuring employee basic needs like training are met, fostering a culture of positivity and diversity, and reinforcing fairness and transparency, giving opportunities for employees to voice up.

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

It’s safe to say that “working from home” is no longer an “experiment.” Organizations are facing boons in real estate savings, and increased employee satisfaction. That said, there is an uneasiness from leaders as they try to understand the impacts on quality, productivity, and long-term efficacy for their employees. McChrystal Group data has shown us that without deliberate management from leadership, working from home can foster overwork and burnout, as well as increase transactional collaboration, reinforcing siloes between teams. No longer can employees have serendipitous interactions at the water cooler or turn to each other across the aisle. Every problem is being solved with an online meeting, and there are only so many hours in the day.

To make the hybrid workforce “work”, organizations will need to rethink their data capture, technology usage and governance, and consider expanding their budgets on experiential events for their employees. Passive data analytics tools like Microsoft’s Viva Insights platform, TrustSphere, and Dojo.co are already giving organizations lenses into employee work-life balance, and collaboration patterns between teams. New technologies are aiming to create digital serendipity by allowing teams to manage their personal networks and connect with short burst chats and meetings. Beyond technology, organizations looking to build and retain authentic relationships will be investing in events teams, all hands, and in-person weeks at the office.

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?

Remote work gives organizations vast new access to parts of the workforce they may have never seen before. Regional and global expansion to potential workers can give organizations access to diverse, high-quality talent in exciting ways. With that, we should be able to witness the flattening of the opportunity curve across many historically disenfranchised demographics. One of the biggest challenges that our society will need to tackle is creating equitable opportunities across socioeconomic divides. In a world where your location will not dictate your opportunity to work somewhere but will dictate your access to reliable internet and communication, governments and industries will need to step in to level that playing field.

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

The idea of “stakeholder management” is not a minority area of focus, nor is it an uncommon perspective. In my line of work, I have worked with hundreds of executives across all industries, and I have seen honest, authentic care and concern for the employee and for the impact and legacy their organizations leave behind. Leaders are focused on the continued investment in inclusion strategies and creating programs for their employees to “voice up,” push back, and be heard by the larger organization.

I have been in the room with executive teams facilitating hard discussions that move well beyond a bottom-line agenda. I am truly optimistic that workers will be able to enjoy a high quality of life, and organizations will reap the benefits with success, and productivity.

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?

First and foremost, organizations need to understand how their employees are working. As a leader, I take weekly priority check-ins and monthly or quarterly lookbacks to see how my team fared. Key metrics like “how much time is my team in meetings?” and “how often is my team working late?” are easy indicators for me to track potential indicators to burnout.

Combining this behavioral data with existing company data like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and employee surveys can give leaders dynamic planning ability for their hybrid in-office/remote workforces. Leaders can make plans for more cost-efficient, scaled-down office space plans, and make informed, strategic decisions for remote-only workers. Other organizations use this approach to decide on rolling or part-time in office workers, providing them increased flexibility for work location and even work hours.

We also turn to science for tactical recommendations to manage hybrid workforces. Try to start meetings at 5 or 10 past the hour or go for 45 minutes instead of 60. Having a day of back-to-back meetings is a quick road to burnout. Block off “focus time,” “lunch-time,” and “executive time” on your calendar to avoid excessive meeting overload. Break up deliverables into days of the week, instead of hours in the day, so that you don’t face as much task-switching to fit the demands of the calendar.

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 focus of these headlines has really boiled down to the increased voting power of the employee stakeholder. Hybrid in-office/remote work has vastly increased the breadth of opportunities for potential employees. With greater opportunity, comes “great resignations” or, at least, great change. Leaders should not take a reactive approach to this. If an organization is hemorrhaging employees today, it is likely not just because of the external factors we are facing. There were likely larger, systemic issues underlying the resignation, and today’s work environment finally allowed employees optionality and choice.

The biggest lesson we can learn from this experience is that we need to focus on what is in our control. If organizations only try to plan for incoming threats like resignations or market downturns, they will always be reacting to them. Instead, leaders should take more stock in their organization’s vulnerabilities. They should consider: how well do people understand where our organization is heading, down to our front lines? Are my teams effectively cross-functionally collaborating? Do we have a system in place to check our biases?”

As the saying goes, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” By taking a deliberate approach to first understand their organization’s vulnerabilities, leaders can more effectively prioritize and execute their plans.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Organizations that can balance short-term priorities with long-term objectives will be more successful, and technology is here to help. To achieve this balance, leaders need to align their employees’ priorities to larger company goals, instead of just the objectives of their individual teams. Thus, the emerging sector around digital OKR platforms is going to be critical to scalable, long-term success. Over the past few years, we have seen a steep rise in investment in this sector, most recently and publicly with Microsoft acquiring Ally.io. Effectively leveraging these platforms and reinforcing an aligning narrative will be critical to enable effective cross-functional collaboration, especially in hybrid or remote environments.
  2. We need to evolve our approach to understanding employee experience. Most organizations acknowledge there needs to be deliberate investigations into employee wellbeing, but in practice, leaders consistently report a lack of actionable insights to build their plan of attack. Contemporary people analytics is evolving engagement surveys to measure more than “employee satisfaction” and focus on key indicators like absorption, dedication, and vigor. The advent of passive data analytics platforms like Microsoft’s Viva Insights and Google’s Work Insights will arm leaders with real-time leading indicators of employee wellbeing. As with trend number 2, this is even more prescient with hybrid and remote work, with increased isolation and a dearth of in-person interactions.
  3. We need to understand our networks, beyond the line and block chart. Organizational network analysis (ONA) has been around for decades — but has received increasing attention in the last decade as a highly effective tool to understand how organizations are actually operating. This methodology leverages passive or active data ingests to analyze and visualize networks within organizations by identifying how “nodes” (people, teams, etc.) connect with “edges” (collaboration, mentorship, shared ideas, etc.). As our interactions with peers and employees are increasingly digital, we are starting to build new stressors on our most critical people within our networks. Thus, the adoption and rollout of ONA within people analytics approaches is an increasingly urgent addition, so we can understand how our networks work, where there are high impact “nodes”, and how our way of working is impacting our teams and people.
  4. “Inclusion” is so much more than bringing people to the table; it requires a careful balance of creating a sense of belonging while also celebrating uniqueness. Over the last few years, DEI has been thrust into the spotlight for organizations, as the world reacts and responds to the expanding social commentary. That said, leaders are quickly learning is that solving for Diversity does not automatically solve for Equity or Inclusion. Organizations need to decide on a framework or approach to solve for each of these factors, and leverage data and employee feedback to check in on their progress.
  5. AI and machine learning are making huge strides in most industries, but not all applications are widely accessible due to computational loads. Quantum computing will solve for that. In a field that is still elusive in many ways, quantum computing promises a path to expand our computational power exponentially. As companies like IBM and Google make big investments to back up their optimism that logical qubits will be demonstrated within the next few years, leaders should be planning the future of digital investments for their firm. Quantum computing will directly affect our perspectives and tools across many areas like cyber security, artificial intelligence, and finance, to name a few.

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?

“In time, I realized that the satisfaction of success doesn’t come from achieving your goals, but from struggling well.” — Ray Dalio, “Principals, Life and Work”

There are many versions of this point across literature, but it is a lesson that I need to hear over and over. Goalposts can always change, so people need to be adaptable to continue growing and finding success in life. If we get hyper-focused on our outcomes, we can become rigid and more susceptible to increased stress and unhappiness if things get challenging or we fail.

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 one is pretty easy for me. As a lifelong Steelers fan, I know that the Rooney family has set the standard for leadership and success with franchise ownership. This success is beyond winning records, championships, and broad, loyal fanbases. The Rooney family has also championed change and equality with policies like The Rooney Rule: the NFL policy that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.

If I were to have time with Art Rooney II, I would love to pick his brain on how his family’s legacy and principals carry over today and what he plans on championing next.

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?

I look forward to connecting with readers on LinkedIn and McChrystal Group posts our insights weekly on our website.

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