Diane Lam: “The future of work is 100% online, so prioritize your online infrastructure”

The future of work is 100% online, so prioritize your online infrastructure. The events of the past year and a half have proven that online work can replace traditional office work, with some caveats. When you’re working in an office, you hand off work, give feedback, and make adjustments in real time. The feedback cycle […]

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The future of work is 100% online, so prioritize your online infrastructure. The events of the past year and a half have proven that online work can replace traditional office work, with some caveats. When you’re working in an office, you hand off work, give feedback, and make adjustments in real time. The feedback cycle is clearer and instantaneous. This is not the case online. You lose a lot of the feedback cycle when you’re communicating via email, messenger, and even by Zoom meeting, making it more difficult to train up team members and course correct when there are issues. To get ahead of this, organizations need to focus on building a systematized infrastructure for collaboration. This means standardizing the ways you work online, how you collaborate, and when you collaborate.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work, to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Diane Lam.

Diane Lam is a speaker, and Trusted Advisor to high-achieving service based female entrepreneurs. Six-figure female business owners seek her strategic support when they are near burnout, but have the desire to scale to seven figures.

With 15+ years of experience, Diane develops their systems so they have more freedom and time to focus on their family, relationships, and next 7-figure idea. When not empowering and equipping her clients to cut their workloads in half, you can find Diane meditating, attending sound baths, doing Reiki, and exploring all things woo to keep her mind and spirit aligned so she can show up fully for her clients.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

My first job as a Wall St. Analyst only lasted six months.

It was short lived because, within six months, I was poached and brought in to work with a capital raising team at a boutique investment bank. It was there that I got my first exposure to entrepreneurship and leadership… and I promptly told myself that I would NEVER be an entrepreneur. I saw the pressure entrepreneurs were under to perform and make things happen, all while leading a team. I never wanted that kind of pressure or stress for myself.

This worked perfectly for over 13 years. I managed so many different projects from launching hedge funds and private equity funds, creating a broker/dealer, building a new insurance department, rebuilding banking teams, developing a real estate management company- the list goes on and on, and each of those projects left an impression on me about how work could be done.

After building empires for so many others, something shifted in me when I hit my 30’s. I was dissatisfied with not being able to call all the shots and really use my creativity. So I made the decision, quit my job, and five days later, moved across the country to set up my own consulting business.

What an eye-opener — even with all my experience building, launching, creating businesses — running my company set everything I thought I knew on its ear and it’s been a wild and exhilarating ride ever since.

I wouldn’t change one second of it.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

There are two specific changes that I think employers need to adapt to.

The first being 100% online, decentralized workplaces will be the norm for most individuals. Businesses have to be prepared for the dramatic changes that this will bring. While the pandemic set the precedent for remote work, challenges in team management, productivity, remote work policies, and employee engagement are just coming to the forefront.

From a management and operations perspective, most businesses are under-equipped for their employees to work 100% remotely. Even companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook are struggling to finalize their work-from-home policies as the pandemic continues and campus reopening dates have been pushed back again and again.

The second change is the rise of entrepreneurship as individuals reassess what work means for them. COVID has called work/life balance into question. Individuals are questioning whether they’re really valued as employees and whether their job is a worthwhile tradeoff for lifestyle. This has put entrepreneurship into the spotlight.

I’ve already started to see more people launching businesses online, old colleagues contemplating their own businesses, and friends starting side-hustles. Entrepreneurship is becoming an attractive work option because of the low barriers to startup and the ability to grow quickly online. I believe this trend will continue over the next decade. As more individuals start their own businesses and become employers, this will fuel remote work and will provide even more entrepreneurship opportunities.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and are unable to find jobs, it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

The question of whether to pursue a college degree is really a question about your goals. Degree aside, it does take a certain type of person to be successful without the college experience. I say experience, because your major matters less than what the college experience teaches you about your ability to be responsible, manage your time, and problem solve.

I know that a lot of people don’t get these skills out of their college experience, but for many people, college is where they really start to develop them. These skills are critically important to being successful in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur.

So it all comes down to you and your goals. Do you want that corporate job, or do you want to start your own business?

If you want a job at a large company, not having a college degree will hold you back in certain ways. For instance, when I was reviewing candidates incorporate, a college degree was a requirement and anyone without it was automatically taken out of the running. That being said, it’s not impossible to overcome, but be prepared to be tenacious.

If entrepreneurship is your goal, having a college degree doesn’t matter, but assess your skills. How disciplined are you? Can you manage your time without someone setting the timelines for you? What are your critical thinking and problem-solving skills? Can you strategize and implement? These are skilled you either have or need to hone to be successful as an entrepreneur.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

Remote work will make it much easier to find employment that fits a job seeker’s talents and skills. However, they will need to be more creative to stand out AND need to stick to traditional methods to prove they are professional and trustworthy.

I know this sounds like a contradiction, but as people move toward online work, the marketplace is getting more crowded. With all the noise, it’s harder for employers to discern one candidate over another in a wide sea of potential candidates.

If you want to lock in an opportunity as a job seeker, you have to be creative in the way you stand out to draw potential employers in. But not creative in the way that you might think — with crazy colors and fonts, in-your-face subject lines, over-the-top applications — those things will actually turn OFF an employer.

I was recently reviewing candidates with a client for a project manager role on their team. There was one subject line written in all caps, shouting at me to open or I’d be sorry. While this caught my attention, it felt aggressive and didn’t make me feel comfortable with the person that I would ultimately be working with. I can’t even count the number of responses that were in the same vein — bold, brash, and bordering on aggressive, that made me stop for a second, but ultimately didn’t give me a sense of professionalism from the individual.

So this is all to say, that as a job seeker you will need to be creative to stand out, but also temper your creativity with professionalism because, at the end of the day, employers are still looking for people who are professional, responsible, and dependable. This applies to all roles, full-time, part-time, contractor, and freelancer.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

Most organizations will be looking to streamline their operations and reduce costs, but 100% automation is actually impossible. People are still needed to manage automation, troubleshoot AI, and ensure an excellent customer experience. Bots do not have the ability to make full judgment calls when it comes down to the customer experience yet.

So while the increase of automation and AI is inevitable, I don’t believe jobs will just vanish. The work will just be shifted to another stage in the businesses’ operations. To prepare for this, individuals should focus on developing their tech and leadership skills to position themselves as the person that would manage future automation and AI.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

I expect remote work to absolutely continue and more organizations will move completely to work-from-home models. From my experiences in corporate, the biggest reasons against ongoing work from home policies were concerns about employee productivity, engagement, motivation, and managing complex and/or urgent projects, etc… when the team is decentralized with flexible hours. Essentially, businesses want to know that their employees are doing the work and the easiest way to do that is if they can physically see you in the office.

However, the pandemic has proved that employees can be productive and complex projects can be managed online. Also, now that employees have a taste of the freedom and flexibility working from home has to offer, I believe they’ll favor the companies that give them this option.

I think that most companies are aware that flexible work-from-home policies will be required for them to continue to attract talent and maintain employee engagement. I think the bigger question is, really, do they have the policies and operational infrastructure to ensure that employees can perform at the peak levels they are required to.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

For as long as I can remember, the saying “Work hard, play hard” has floated around every office I’ve been in. Work hard now, compartmentalize your professional life, and play hard later. In our society, work and play have always been two very separate things that don’t necessarily overlap.

In the US especially, we view work as the thing you are supposed to do and it’s separate from your enjoyment of life. But this idea is being turned on its ear. I think more people are focusing on their personal enjoyment and journey. They wonder whether hard work actually pays off. Whether hard work really equates to success and how important it is to “work hard” versus enjoying their experiences. This has been a very subtle change in our collective consciousness that is starting to gain momentum.

Simon Sinek said this years ago that the goal isn’t just to work hard and play hard, the goal is to “make your work and your play indistinguishable.” This is a challenging concept for a huge portion of the population that is already in the workforce. It’s a difficult notion for people who have come up in the old work hard, play later paradigm to accept. It causes conflicts because the people who came up with hard work as their motto are now managers. They’re business owners and they’re in leadership roles who don’t fully understand or embrace the subtle change in an employee’s desire to have both in their work life. So they try to squash it or make it a marker of “poor” employee performance, lack of engagement, and lack of motivation.

As a society, there needs to be a shift around how we view work life and personal life and the overlap between the two. To be able to attract and retain employees and create highly engaged teams — a balance between the two needs to be struck and that means shifting away from old measures of employee success like facetime, hours onsite, and utilization time to instead focus more on employee growth, development, and experiences.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept?

The general idea that employees want work to be something they enjoy will be a hard pill to swallow, especially for traditional employers — like brick and mortar retail and onsite services because, fundamentally, you have to be onsite to do the work and traditional management metrics are the easiest to capture.

This is where an understanding of the employees’ wants is important. The conversation of “If I can’t change the work, then how can I help you reach your goals and have the lifestyle you want?” should be started.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

I absolutely think that pay levels need to be addressed. We’re at a very interesting point in time, where society as a whole is more aware of the deficiencies in the workplace and is ready for it to change.

Employers should expect to compensate their employees more to keep pace with growing remote work options. I also think employers should be prepared to offer flexible schedules, benefits, or perks that directly improve their employees’ lifestyle if they want to keep great talent. The time is right as some of these costs can be offset by the release of unused office space, increased automation, and streamlined operations.

This is definitely not a change that will happen overnight, but I think everything that’s happening in our society is changing the perception of employee value and with that, we’ll find creative ways to ensure higher wages and benefits.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

We, as a collective, have gone through so many changes in the last 18 months and the work landscape has shifted to reflect that. My biggest source of optimism is that more people are focused on the employee than ever before — this goes for the online and the traditional work.

I’m very optimistic about the talent pools that are now opening because of remote work. I’m optimistic about employees being able to focus more on work that they love because these are the easiest paths to retention and engagement.

My focus has always been on the value of the employee and the symbiotic relationship between employee and employer. In the past, employers had a disproportionate advantage over employees and now that is being balanced. Remote work makes it easier for employees to find work with employers that value them and support their lifestyles. This gives me a great sense of hope for the relationship between employees and employers to shift into partnership.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

The opportunities to fill the gap already exist. Entrepreneurship will bridge the gap between lost jobs and new jobs. People will create jobs for themselves and online work is making this possible.

I think the most important thing to change right now, is to reduce this gap mindset around entrepreneurship. Everyone is brought up to believe that working for a large company, getting a paycheck is the only way to be successful, but the internet has changed all that. Social media influencers have started their own industry with billions of dollars at play and online industries have sprung up to support the surge in online work.

The opportunities to fill the gap already exist, but the employee mindset that entrepreneurship is unstable needs to shift to fit in the gap. I think as more people look for work that fulfills them and supports the balanced lifestyle they’re looking for, the hurdle really is mindset. Changing what you were taught was “safe” and “right” and “successful” work is the key. The people who shift sooner will have a plethora of opportunities available to them.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The future of work is 100% online, so prioritize your online infrastructure. The events of the past year and a half have proven that online work can replace traditional office work, with some caveats. When you’re working in an office, you hand off work, give feedback, and make adjustments in real time. The feedback cycle is clearer and instantaneous. This is not the case online. You lose a lot of the feedback cycle when you’re communicating via email, messenger, and even by Zoom meeting, making it more difficult to train up team members and course correct when there are issues. To get ahead of this, organizations need to focus on building a systematized infrastructure for collaboration. This means standardizing the ways you work online, how you collaborate, and when you collaborate. A recent boutique agency client was struggling with this exact problem. Hiring wasn’t an issue, they were able to hire remote resources easily, but inevitably, they would run into challenges managing, communicating, and maintaining work quality. The first thing we did was build their “virtual office” for collaboration across time zones and functions. With it in place, we were able to take employee onboarding from 20 hours and over two weeks to just five hours and one week.
  2. Values-First Organizations Will Win. Employees will flock to organizations that put their values front and center and walk their talk. More and more employees want to be part of a company that values them as a contributor AND whose values align with their personal values. We’re at a point in time where social injustice and inequality is at the forefront of the collective consciousness and social media can make your stand readily known. Employees are really asking themselves what causes they support and what they’re willing to lend their time and energy to and they’re asking the same questions of their employers.
    This was a challenging leadership grappled with while I was in corporate. Corporate responsibility and values were just coming into the spotlight and while value statements were being rolled out, it wasn’t clearly integrated into my employee experience and it was a big catalyst behind my own reason to leave corporate behind. As required training on the company values were rolled out, I would think to myself, “I’m required to live by our company values, but I was just told that I’m expendable, so why am I working so hard for this business?”
  3. Automation and AI will be inevitable. Organizations are more focused than ever before on automation and AI as fast and cost-effective means to manage their business and customers. Business owners will need to prepare to invest in automation to keep pace with technological advances that will reshape the way customers want to be served.
    And employees need to know that automation will never totally replace the need for human judgment. To prepare for this, they should shift their development focus to understanding technology and expanding their leadership skills, so they’re positioned to manage automation and AI.
    Working with clients on automating complex marketing funnels showed me that while technology can remove manual and administrative roles, overall automation required the same number of people to oversee, maintain, and refine. The work didn’t disappear, it was just shifted to another place in the process.
  4. Individuals will choose entrepreneurship over traditional work. Entrepreneurship is on the rise. More and more individuals will opt out of joining the traditional workforce and instead, choose to build businesses for themselves. The internet allows it and the pandemic forced it on many as businesses closed.
    I think we’ve all seen the social media posts of people quitting their jobs, and moving into the online space to make money. I’ve personally seen a 10-fold increase in the number of submissions for online roles my clients open. During interviews, the point that many of these individuals make is that they want to be free to do work that they want and on their own rules.
  5. College education will matter less to employers. The employment landscape has changed and with more people choosing online entrepreneurship, education will matter less than your tenacity, your ability to connect with people, and your inherent skill set.
    None of my clients ever looks at a resume when reviewing candidates. We’re looking at portfolios for examples of work, we’re looking at testimonials and case studies for the results they’ve generated, and we’re looking at video submissions for personality fit. A college degree is nowhere in the mix.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

“When one door closes, another one opens”. I know it’s cliché, but looking back on my career and my business, this has been a fundamental truth. While I have been disappointed and even fearful of certain events, everything always worked out and I learned valuable lessons from each of those instances that I still carry with me today.

When I started my business, I was so disappointed and shaken when a client decided they needed lower cost resources and wanted to part ways. They were my first big retainer client. Yes, they were difficult and demanded a lot of time, but the money was important to me as a new business owner. Ending our working relationship was hard on me. But losing them as a client, opened the door for two new clients that were so easy and a great fit to come in. I would not have been able to take in those new clients if one opportunity hadn’t ended and made room for a better fit.

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 or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d love to meet Lin Manuel Miranda. I respect how he’s turned his passions into an empire and pop culture phenomenon. He brings so much energy to the world of music, culture and theatre. I think the world needs more of the lightness, fun, and laughter of his work. Plus, he just seems like a really cool person to hang out with.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

You can follow me on Instagram at @dianelam.co or LinkedIn

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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