VIRTUAL MEETING TECHNOLOGY. Technology is advancing quickly in the world of virtual meetings. It may not be long until we’ve replaced the typical Zoom meeting with virtual reality. Microsoft is already taking steps in this direction. I think there are some exciting opportunities with virtual reality for added accessibility and enhanced collaboration.
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 Mamie Kanfer Stewart.
Mamie is the host of The Modern Manager podcast and author of Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging, and Enjoyable meetings. As an executive coach, Mamie works directly with managers to develop the skills, habits and mindsets needed to cultivate a thriving team. She is also the founder of Meeteor where she works with teams and organizations to improve their meetings.
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 grew up in a family business, and shortly after college I had the chance to work alongside some of our staff. Through that process, I learned various meeting practices. For example, there was a Word template for agendas, so agendas always came in the same format. The template included space for the meeting objective, prework, and norms. At the bottom of the template was a place to capture notes. And for recurring meetings, old agendas were copied so the notes from all prior meetings were in the same place, making them easy to find. To me, these things were normal, nothing special. When I left this role and began to better understand how meetings were run in other organizations, I was shocked. I began speaking to other people about their meetings and couldn’t believe how many people would complain to me about their meetings! And it wasn’t just one meeting last month that was terrible. It was the meeting they attended this morning and the one yesterday. This set me down the path of founding my company, Meeteor, and working to put an end to unproductive meetings.
Since then, I’ve expanded my work to address how people collaborate in the workplace. Meetings are one very important way that we get work done, but they’re not the only aspect of what individuals and teams need to do in order to be effective. As I dove into the world of effective collaboration, it led me to focus on managers and the important work team leaders do day in and day out. Four years ago I launched my podcast, The Modern Manager, and discovered my love of teaching and interviewing as a podcast host. All this because I needed a job after college!
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?
Part of me believes there will be very little that is the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace in 10–15 years. It’s hard to imagine how technology advancements, demographic shifts, and consumer expectations will play out. That being said, I believe we will still need to collaborate with people, and the skills to work effectively with other humans will be just as important. But where those people are located and what tools we have available to support collaboration may be very different.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Invest in developing your people and their skills to work effectively with others. Specifically, this includes investing in managers to build a healthy team culture in which all people can be their best selves and do their best work. When people enjoy collaborating with their colleagues, when they feel valued by their boss, and when they have opportunities to stretch and grow, they tend not to leave their job.
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?
Two critical areas are work location and flexible hours. As many of us became comfortable working virtually during the pandemic, the gap between leaders wanting their team members to be on site vs the employees’ desires to work from anywhere is already a tension. Similarly, people have enjoyed the ability to work more flexible hours based on their household needs, biorhythm, and/or to accommodate events like a doctor’s appointment or child’s dance recital.
The solution is not one-size-fits-all. I encourage managers and senior leaders to work with their team members to reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of work locations and flexible hours. Sometimes there truly are tradeoffs when making a choice about when and where to work, but other times the perceived tradeoffs are really a false dichotomy. With some creative thinking and intentional planning, teams can overcome the perceived obstacles and get the best of all worlds.
One additional gap that I expect will become more present is the need for greater sustainability at work. We’re starting to see it now as stress and burnout have become the norm in many organizations. What we haven’t yet seen is the demand from employees to work more reasonable hours and unplug without consequence. Working 60–80 or more hours per week isn’t healthy or productive. Needing to be “on” even when you’re off so you don’t miss an important email or Slack message from your boss is taking its toll on everyone. Yet too many organizations still want to get the highest ROI from their employees. Managers and business leaders should step back to better understand the real costs of their always-on, high-demand culture. Employee morale, turnover, diminishing brain power — these all have negative and real impact on a business. It’s time to set more realistic and sustainable boundaries for work.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
As I mentioned above, the idea of virtual work is no longer exotic or only for businesses that can’t be co-located. Now, we’ve all discovered that we can, in fact, collaborate effectively as a virtual team. While not everyone enjoys working from home, many people now feel a sense of freedom to work from anywhere. They want to keep their job in New York even though they’re moving to Ohio to be closer to family. They want to take a few days of vacation at the beach and then work poolside for the next week and get paid for it.
Managers will need to continue to develop skills for managing remote teams. HR leaders will need to develop policies to address remote work including who pays to outfit a home office, who decides if an employee can work remotely and how many days, and how do we create equity in these processes and policies.
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?
At the same time as the pandemic, we had a growing social movement for racial equity. This comes on the heels of the renewed gender equity movement. These societal forces are incredibly important to consider in addition to the workforce shifts during the pandemic. I think greater pay transparency and equity, taking steps to remove bias from the hiring and promoting processes of organizations, and providing greater flexibility and sustainability of work hours are three aspects that need to be addressed by businesses and society. If we want to have a diverse workforce, which we know contributes to greater creativity and innovation, among other benefits, we need to make it easier and fairer for all people to be part of the workforce.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
As an executive coach, I get to hear directly from mangers, senior leaders, and small business owners how they are thinking about the experience of their employees. They want to create workplaces where all people thrive. This gives me hope that we can move in the right direction.
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’ve seen very basic shifts to more experimental ones. Some are adding or improving insurance benefits to cover mental healthcare or giving gift cards for yoga or meditation apps. A few of the more unusual examples are rejuvenation retreats for the entire organization to pause for a few hours each month or quarter and come together (in person or virtually) to reflect, de-stress, and get inspired. One organization I’ve worked with implemented six-week sabbaticals for all employees after seven years of full-time employment. Another moved to a four-day workweek.
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 bottom line is that people are unhappy with the current realities of work. There was a time when a good company culture meant ping pong tables and free beer. People seemed happy to work 60+ hours per week as long as the environment was fun and the pay was decent. Now, company culture needs to focus on enabling people to bring their full self to work and be valued for who they are. People want to work with colleagues and bosses who bring mutual respect and partnership. They want opportunities to have an impact as well as be challenged and grow.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- VIRTUAL MEETING TECHNOLOGY. Technology is advancing quickly in the world of virtual meetings. It may not be long until we’ve replaced the typical Zoom meeting with virtual reality. Microsoft is already taking steps in this direction. I think there are some exciting opportunities with virtual reality for added accessibility and enhanced collaboration.
- HYBRID TEAMING. With the return to in-person work and desire to continue to allow remote work, managers will now need to optimize for hybrid teams. Previously most teams were fully in-person and collaboration practices were designed for that. Then, during the pandemic, it flipped for most teams, and they developed collaboration practices that worked with everyone at a distance. Now, we’re entering the phase of hybrid work where we need to design collaborative practices that effectively meet the needs of both in-person and remote team members. For example, meetings, fostering team culture, and communication are three areas that will likely require some innovative new ways of working.
- WORKFORCE (ESPECIALLY LEADERSHIP) DIVERSITY. Organizations are revamping their hiring, talent development, and promotion processes to increase diversity. I expect we’ll see an increase in women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ people holding leadership positions in the future, building on the progress we’re already seeing. In 2021, there were 41 women running businesses on the Fortune 500 — an all-time record — and two of those women were Black — another record.
- MANAGER TRAINING AND SUPPORT. Organizations are finally learning that people are their most important asset, and keeping great people means creating a healthy culture and work environment. According to research at Randstad US, the manager plays an outsized role in whether someone stays in or leaves their job. They found that sixty percent of employees have left or consider leaving because of bad bosses. If companies want to retain their talented staff, they’ll need to invest in managers’ abilities to be inclusive, effective people leaders and team organizers.
- EXPANDED TALENT POOLS. As virtual teaming increases, organizations no matter the size or scale will be better equipped to tap talent from anywhere. This includes both geographic expansion as well as freelancers. The trend towards global talent began several years ago and has continued. In addition, there is a growing marketplace of freelancers with a broad array of skills and expertise that businesses can tap into on an as-needed basis.
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 love the quote “Becoming is better than being” from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. To me what Carol is saying is that it’s the act of striving, not the result, that matters most. We all have the potential to grow and improve throughout our lifetime. We can both love ourselves in our current state while also being honest about our gaps and desires to be better. I am always trying to become the best version of myself, just as I support my coaching clients to do the same.
On the other side, it means we can appreciate others who are in the process of becoming. It’s easy to disregard those who don’t yet have the skills, experiences, or self-awareness that we hope or expect of them. Instead of dismissing them, we can embrace that they possess great potential and help them work towards becoming a better version of their future selves.
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’m a huge fan of Brené Brown. Her insights on vulnerability and wholeheartedness have influenced much of my work. And not only is her research so important, but the way she communicates is brilliant. As a speaker and podcaster, I’m always trying to learn from her — how she tells stories, shares her own experiences, and makes the concepts so accessible and actionable for us all.
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?
You can find my podcast and additional resources at www.themodernmanager.com. While there, subscribe to my weekly email to get each new episode and blog article delivered to your inbox. If you’re interested in working with me directly, you can learn more about my coaching at www.mamieks.com. Lastly, my best social media is Instagram @mamieks where I post bite-sized words of wisdom and share a peek into my personal life.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.