Deb Porter On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work

Successful businesses will achieve employee retention through valuing employees and having fun with them — especially noticing and giving credit for invisible work. Squeeze in, a local restaurant does this very well. Their FB post on 12–17: “Snow is fun. Shoveling is not. But we have some great associates who will shovel in a snowstorm, fix water […]

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Successful businesses will achieve employee retention through valuing employees and having fun with them — especially noticing and giving credit for invisible work. Squeeze in, a local restaurant does this very well. Their FB post on 12–17: “Snow is fun. Shoveling is not. But we have some great associates who will shovel in a snowstorm, fix water leaks at the crack of dawn, troubleshoot internet issues, and help with all’ll the various things that come with restaurant life.”


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 Deb Porter.

Deb Porter is on a mission to “Mr Rogers” the world through teaching & practicing confidential, compassionate listening. To that end, she created HOLD Hearing Out Life Drama. HOLD is a listening service that is less than a therapist but outside the common circle of family, friends or coworkers. She makes sure that her team of listeners lightens your load.


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.

In my late twenties, I was looking for a new hobby. I took a weaving class and absolutely loved it, so much in fact that I wanted to do more — but I didn’t have a loom. I took a week vacation and rented a spot at the studio. I worked hard following the steps I’d learned in my class to prepare the warp, and “dress” the loom. When I began weaving it became apparent that I had made a dreadful mistake and there was absolutely no possibility of saving my work or even the yarn. I cut my project off the loom, threw it away and left the studio, angry with myself at the wasted time and money. A few weeks later, I signed up for another studio class. When I walked in the instructor said, “I never thought we’d see you again. You are a Weaver.” Her pronouncement reflected my determination to shrug off my perfectionist tendencies and keep learning. I see similar threads in my life today as I work at growing HOLD.

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?

I think we are on the verge of a large shift over the next 15 years where we see computers and AI (Artificial Intelligence) being employed to do different jobs than we have ever seen them do before. I think that’s going to create unease. The implementation is being accelerated by two things. First, Covid’s stress on the actual pool of people able to work. Second, the interest, fascination, and love of the AI challenge by the people building and programming them. Further, the power shift occurring in the employee/employer relationship is now in the foreground instead of remaining in the picturesque background that could once be ignored. I believe that the larger cultural shift of “we’re not going to tolerate inappropriate behavior or lack of respect anymore” is going to continue to ripple through the workplace. It’s changing right now, and I think it will continue to for some time yet. Those people trained in cyber security are also going to see an even more important role in the workforce.

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

I have four things. First, the most valuable resource any business has is their people. Making sure that every individual giving their efforts on behalf of the company feels seen, heard and that their contribution matters is key — everyone. Notice the employee that makes the coffee every day and say thank you. Pay attention to the one who is last out and turns off the lights. A work relationship is still a relationship. Thus, if you repeatedly take the people for granted, they will go somewhere they feel appreciated and valued. Second, always ask the next question. Some examples but certainly not limited to these are: Why is this happening? What can we do to make it better? Do our activities line up with our goals and what we’re building? Can I be doing something differently or better? Third, be open to new ideas especially when they come from the people doing the job you are asking them to complete. I hear this from people in my life a lot — they don’t feel heard. Look at their suggestion from all the way around from every direction, and if you choose not to use their idea, take the time to explain to them why you didn’t. This reinforces that you heard them and that they do matter, and it makes it more likely they will come back when they have a new idea. Finally, stop being wasteful. Now, I’m not saying be Scrooge. That’s different. I’m not advocating we go back to handwashing and reusing plastic bags…no. I am saying when you waste resources the company has, the employee doesn’t feel good about it — the environmental impact, the money spent that could have been used to solve a different problem they see or even put in their pocket instead of the trash.

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?

Certainly, I think both are going to need to come to an agreement on what a living wage is, however, I also believe that for many it’s not only about money anymore. Just this week I had a conversation with an influencer to help my business, and she was far more interested in whether my business aligned with her values and how she wants to impact the world than she was in kickbacks. Many employees want to feel they are contributing to the greater good, with increasing understanding that life circumstances can change quickly. As a result, they are prioritizing jobs where they receive personal satisfaction, respect, freedom, and security. Pay and benefits rather than being the sole deciding factor are instead evaluated with the metric “I want to feel secure in my job and be able to care for my family.” I believe the way to bridge the gap is to make a commitment to *listen* at every stage of the relationship. Both employers and employees need to be open from the initial interview about what they expect from each other, and what they each bring to compliment and enhance the other. Terrible job offers with minimal vacation, rigid rules (except for safety — don’t skimp on those!), are going to be turned down because other opportunities are available. Simply put, to reconcile the gap, the employer is going to need to look beyond themselves and their bottom line to see things from their potential employees point of view.

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

I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer. Instead, what I see happening is that employers are beginning to take the steps they need to evaluate the quality and output of work and based on their assessment and offer options for what works best for the employee. I know parents who need a work environment that is not in their home, others love working from home and appreciate the opportunity when their companies have allowed them to continue. One friend talked to me about how relieved she was not to sit stuck in traffic or spend the time donning the make-up and “monkey suit”. I know for some employees, working from home is simply not an option due to the nature of the work. Nevertheless, they want their employers to be concerned for their well-being. Managers, I think, are the ones who are struggling the most with those now working from home because it creates the greatest challenges and changes for them. I think everyone can be most productive when they are allowed to follow their natural bio rhythms and they are encouraged to create balance in their life.

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?

Healthcare workers, teachers, anyone in the service industry or hospitality, we are hearing a common refrain: I deserve to be respected — if I’m not going to be respected here, I will go where I am. Society is going to need to take that message to heart and change both the attitudes and behaviors. It’s simplistic, and it is fundamental.

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

Honestly, change IS happening. Things often get worse before they get better. The psychological reason behind it is that people must be very uncomfortable to implement lasting change. I’m excitedly optimistic because I see it is getting worse and it may continue to worsen for some time yet. Am I happy that my son’s high school had 12 teachers resign at the end of the semester? No, I’m not. I do see a shift in young people that gives me great hope; they are engaged and paying attention. The ones who have been raised not to tolerate bad behavior are standing up to it. It’s quite remarkable.

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?

Some companies are offering apps like Calm or Headspace, others a service like Lyra. Of course, many have had Employee Assistance Plans available to their employees for years. HOLD Hearing Out Life Drama, my business, is also answer here allowing employees to get further outside the circle and vent their stress. I believe in general there’s less stigma about taking a mental health day. Taking time off, while perhaps inconvenient or difficult for management in the short term, is being recognized as having long term advantage. There’s greater understanding that employees who rest, replenish, and take care of their overall mental health will have the capacity to bring a vitalized energy to work.

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?

Listen. Listen to your people — all of them. If they don’t want to talk and are afraid of being honest address that immediately. The first step is to apologize for creating a culture where they don’t feel safe to speak their truth — prepare for things to get messy. Without this safe space, nothing can change. Nothing will. Once this safe space is established, the next step is a sense of tolerance needs to be maintained. This tolerance allows for multiple truths at the same time. This means the manager and the employee can see the truth in each perspective and that they are valid. Understanding and accepting the point of view of each other will change the culture. This takes conscious effort and real work.

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. Respect and positive working conditions will matter more than wages. Yesterday I saw a hospital advertising for nursing staff in the Bronx for 133 dollars an hour. It’s no longer about pay. Also, tokens like pizza in the breakroom, or a pin, are not going to be enough to keep people especially in stressful jobs such healthcare.
  2. Successful businesses will achieve employee retention through valuing employees and having fun with them — especially noticing and giving credit for invisible work. Squeeze in, a local restaurant does this very well. Their FB post on 12–17: “Snow is fun. Shoveling is not. But we have some great associates who will shovel in a snowstorm, fix water leaks at the crack of dawn, troubleshoot internet issues, and help with all’ll the various things that come with restaurant life.”
  3. AI will go far, far beyond chat bots and will be implemented to deal with tasks people are right now dreaming, especially in industries that are struggling now like healthcare, education and hospitality.
  4. Before the pandemic began, flexible work was sought primarily by stay at home parents, some caregivers, and those with long commutes. Now that flexible work is known to be successful businesses will continue to off load large buildings to reduce costs and work from home will no longer be a Covid trend, but a lasting shift.
  5. Authenticity and belonging will be paramount in our work. Showing up and being real will be the glue that holds the workplace together. Consider Baltimore Bicycle Works — they are organized as a cooperative. Their website says, “Every person you interact with at our shop is either an equal owner of the business, or someone working towards becoming an owner. This translates to exceptional customer service and a deep commitment from all our staff members to making sure you receive quality service and advice that keeps you coming back.” I don’t live anywhere near Baltimore, but I know about them!

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 do this also, only I keep mine on my fridge. My notes change and get shifted to still be visible in another part of my home when I feel I have integrated the learning. Currently, the one on my fridge asks, “What’s going right?” I try to pause several times a day to consider this question, and especially if I hit a wall of frustration refocusing my mind on all the things that are going right changes my energy. It’s both a subtle and powerful shift from a previous note: “find the good.” This is a whole new level.

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’d love to sit down with Brené Brown because I’d value the opportunity to tell her thank you for being a gift in the world and to express my gratitude for the positive impact she has had on my life through her writing.

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?

My job is to really listen to people — I love to do that! In terms of sharing what I am discovering on an ongoing basis, the best way is sign up for either our newsletter or blog on the HOLD website. I also respond on social media or email if that’s preferred.

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

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