Create the Optimal Talent Experience. Rethinking how employers develop employees, providing them the skills that the workforce needs to evolve, while providing them workplace satisfaction where employees feel like they are bringing their best version of themselves to work in an organization that supports them.
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 Dr. Jennifer Knowles.
Jennifer Knowles, Ph.D is an international leadership development consultant, change management expert, Assistant Professor, and TEDx speaker dedicated to the global advancement of helping others achieve their greatest potential. Her work been featured in the WSJ, Washington Post Magazine, CNN HLN, CBS This Morning, and many more media outlets across the country. She was named a “Disrupter” by the local magazine in her city, and her doctoral students describe her as “innovative,” “inspirational,” and a “change-maker.”
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.
Hi! And thank you for talking with me. Like Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” I believe that the dots have shaped who I am today. I am a firm believer in being the best we can at whatever we choose to do in our professions and in life. Getting a Ph.D in Organizational Performance and Change was the culmination of my professional experiences, as it was a journey of career and life paths to figure out what I wanted to do, and how to navigate there. When I started the degree, I was traveling internationally creating and conducting leadership development programs in Southeast Asia, living life to the fullest and having fun. When I finished the degree, I had three beautiful children with different but equally awesome priorities. These experiences further strengthened my belief that hard work, perseverance, focus, and an “I can” attitude greatly impact success.
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?
Similarities to Work Today in 10–15 Years:
Much of the flexibility that we have adopted during the past few years as a result of the pandemic is here to stay. Employees and employers have recognized that productive work can still get done outside the walls of corporate walls and cubicles. A level of flexible workplace is the future.
What will also remain the same is the emphasis that the pandemic brought to the importance of need for employee connection. Ensuring that the people and the purpose are in alignment is critical for employee wellbeing and retention.
Differences in work in 10–15 years:
In 10–15 years, I predict there will be new modes, with new digital platforms and ample new forms of technology driving the way we work and the way we communicate with each other. Much more work will be automated, and artificial intelligence and the use of robots will be making its way into the workplace.
The workforce will also look different. The global average life expectancy will have likely increased, along with reduced birth rates for many advanced economies, including our in the United States, and a new generation, the Generation Z group, born from 2001 to 2020 will be more prominent in the workplace.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
My advice to employers to future-proof their organizations is two-fold. First, employers should invest in technology. Technological change offers a promising future and is a trend that employers should stay on top of, as they drive transformational change within their operations, systems, and mindsets. These could include but are not limited to ways to connect and communicate via meetings or teleconferences, emails, metaverses, virtual reality, the automation of systems or the use robotics to complete tasks.
Second, employers can future-proof by investing in their people. People are an organization’s most valuable asset. In a competitive job market, employers will be able to work anywhere in the world from the comfort of their living room. Making employees feel valued, respected and heard goes a long way in creating a culture of trust and innovation.
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?
There is a definite push and pull dynamic going on between how much time employers will want their teams back in the office, and how much employees will be willing to go back in person. More senior management will be likely in the office. More employees prefer their flexible working environment where they can pick their kids up from school, or squeeze in a workout in between zoom meetings. Many big corporations have expansive campuses that have been sitting partially empty, while leases on the buildings have continued to be paid.
A new normal for work must be found.
A Coordinated Equilibrium = Everyone Benefits.
We can reconcile the gaps by recognizing the following:
- Champion flexible working hours. Allow on-site and remote work locations.
- Reformulate in-person requirements. Create specific times, guidelines when teams get together in-person. Meetings could be held in a variety of locations including backyards, at luxury hotels, destination locations, in corporate headquarters, or rented workspaces.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Working from home has already influenced the future of work. How we view work now is very different than our view of work prior to the pandemic. I sum our new view of work as this:
Instead of structuring our lives around our jobs, we now structure our jobs around our lives.
Essentially, we are now fitting work into our lives, instead of having our lives revolve around work. We are tired and we are burned out. And we have discovered that we can still work and have a life too. This mindset will carryforward into the future 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?
As a society, and speaking directly from a background in Human Resources, we need to do a better job treating the workforce well. Treat people as people. We are all human. Whether the employees are executives or entry level cashiers, we need to make sure that we are following equitable practices, paying fairly, and providing equal opportunities.
In my career, I have helped professionals develop themselves to get in the right jobs that enable them to thrive and succeed. As part of the American Dream, we all have the opportunity to work hard and achieve great things. The future of work needs to enable talent and growth opportunities for those who are willing to put in the hard work and spread their wings.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My greatest source of optimism for the future of work is our resilience and ability to thrive, adapt and succeed under any circumstance. Look at the pandemic, for instance. Within a matter of weeks, businesses, schools, transportation, and more shut down as the world faced a deadly virus that we knew very little about. Yet we reacted quickly, figured out a new way to work, and two years later, and have come out of the situation stronger, wiser, and with new best practices.
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?
Creating healthy design work practices benefits both the employers and the employees. Forty five percent of working parents feel they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace a result of focusing on family responsibilities. Women are 65% more likely to say their mental health has declined over the course of the pandemic. Providing resources for employee well-being could help reduce this burden.
In addition, employers can take on a more active role in facilitating mental health resources for their employees. For example, they can utilize health advocates that could help company employees with a variety of requests. Employers should also provide more mental health resources and aid in providing safe workplaces, to build a culture that promote employee welfare.
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?
With the most recent world events, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a new headline with regards to the workplace by the time this interview is published. The message leaders need to hear is that times are constantly changing, and we never know what tomorrow will bring. As a leader, we need to stay flexible and adaptable, and be willing to pivot at a moment’s notice. Create a culture filled with transformational leaders who create trust, who share similar values and assumptions, communicate often, and celebrate wins.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
TREND 1- Welcome to the Metaverse. The metaverse is going to change how we work. Imagine virtual meetings that feel real. Visualize new ways to build and teach. While this sounds abstract now, tech visionaries are developing this future as you read this. Workers will log into virtual spaces so realistic that it will seem as if we are physically in the same room, and we will see each our co-workers, potential clients, and in the form of avatars. By slipping on specialized gloves, we will be able to touch virtual versions of products and prototypes. Imagine the movie Avatar, but instead of flying through Pandora, we will be in a virtual client’s office.
TREND 2- Champion Flexible Work. . We can look forward to flexible hours and more hybrid work, which is a type of flexible work arrangement that allows employees to work a combination of on-site and remote locations. Fluid work schedules will also be greater utilized. If you’d like to create your full-time schedule by working Monday-Thursday only so you can enjoy a long weekend, consider it done.
TREND 3- Utilize Asynchronous Work. The future of work is asynchronous. With more global teams now across borders and time zones, more workers have had to join meetings late at night or early in the morning, forcing employees to follow the same schedule. In an asynchronous work environment, the talent pool can be widened, expectations can be reset, and company cultures can be readjusted. Organizations can adapt to create more flexible and efficient communication styles and better utilize technology.
TREND 4- A Mix of Who Does the Work. This is all encompassing which includes both people and technology to get work done: full-time/part-time employees, side gig workers, crowdsourcing, AI, robotics, and automation. Some quit during the Great Resignation to create side gigs and have a better work life balance. Other employees are retiring and want to continue work, but on their own terms and not in a full-time job. The future will be a mix of all of these.
TREND 5- Create the Optimal Talent Experience. Rethinking how employers develop employees, providing them the skills that the workforce needs to evolve, while providing them workplace satisfaction where employees feel like they are bringing their best version of themselves to work in an organization that supports 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?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” by Gandhi. I said this in my TEDx Talk, and it is one of the quotes I live by. We should not wait for others to create change. If we want to see a change happen in the world, we need to take a stand, and make it happen ourselves.
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.
Much of my research has been focused on women in the workforce, and how we as professional women seek authentic, purpose filled careers with work-life balance. I would love to connect with Sheryl Sandberg, as I especially admire her LeanIn.org work.
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?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.