10 Insights Unlocked In The First Season Of Future Work

In the first season of Future Work, we had the pleasure of meeting 10 experts. From Workplace Happiness to AI, this is what big thinkers have to say.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
July 26, 2023
min read

Having plenty to do, I still wanted to explore the podcast format because I know that in almost all challenges and opportunities people face, there are experts who can share their perspectives from personal experience and help us all evolve. 

The first season of Future Work, which you can find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and all other podcasting apps, was like a journey into the future, unlocking one valuable insight after another. From how to use AI to successful remote collaboration and happiness at work.

I’m sharing what I learned with you as we just finished recording the first season. 

Unlocked Insight 1: In The AI-Driven Future Of Work, We Need To Become Exponential Humans (Antony Slumbers, Author And Speaker)

In the not-so-distant future, the work landscape is undergoing a profound transformation. As we embark on this journey, it becomes clear that the future of work is not merely about the dominance of machines but rather the harmonious coexistence of humans and AI. 

Antony Slumbers sets the stage in this episode, emphasizing that we must embrace our unique strengths- the qualities machines can never replicate—creativity, critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration to thrive in an AI-driven world.

"We need to become exponential humans in the world of exponential technology. You need to look at what machines are good at and what a human's good at. Machines are good at anything structured, repeatable, and predictable. 
Humans are good at design, imagination, inspiration, creation, empathy, intuition, innovation, abstracts and critical thinking, collaboration, social intelligence, and judgment. These are the primary human skills in worlds where machines do everything structure, repeatable, and predictable."

Stay tuned for my interview with Antony Slumbers, dropping next week. Subscribe to our newsletter here if you want to be the first to hear it.

Unlocked Insight 2: Work Can Make Us Happy (Tracy Brower, Steelcase)

The idea that human qualities are more important than ever resonates deeply with the exploration of work and happiness Tracy Brower, the VP of Workplace Insights at Steelcase and author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work, shared in the podcast's first episode.

Contrary to the prevalent belief that work is a burden, Tracy reveals that work can be a source of fulfillment and happiness. Finding purpose in our contributions and connecting with communities transforms work into a meaningful part of our lives.

"We tend to follow this narrative that the popular press has handed us about how work is bad, a grind, it's a negative, and do as little as you can. Actually, work is part of a full life, so work, and life can and do intersect. 
Of course, we need time away from work, which is rewarding and fulfilling. But we can think about work as a way to express our skills and talents and connect with our communities. 
And that is no matter what kind of work we're doing; we don't have to solve world peace or world hunger for work to have meaning in our lives."

Knowing that we can be happy at work as human beings that need to become more human filled me with hope for the future and encouraged me to continue pursuing our mission to make the time we spend more meaningful and enjoyable. 

Read Happiness at Work (with Tracy Brower, best-selling author, Steelcase VP, and Forbes writer).

Unlocked Insight 3: We Need To Find Time To Get Together, Especially In Remote Teams (Stephanie Lee, Nansen)

Yet, to be happy, especially with the rise of remote work, Stephanie Lee, People Experience Director at the remote-first Nansen, emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions. 

She highlights the need for intentional team-building experiences, exemplified by company retreats. In-person connections foster stronger collaboration and camaraderie in a digital world.

Company retreats and shared experiences can greatly benefit the employee experience, fostering stronger connections and collaboration. 

“If you can really set aside a big part of your employee experience budget to run a company retreat, the payoff is incredible. You won't believe the number of conversations I've had post a retreat where they were like, oh, now I know this person. I've hung out with them and had a beer with them. We've gone hiking together. 
I can tap on their shoulder on Slack and ask, do you want to help with this community activity? Or, I have this project in mind. Would you be keen on giving feedback or helping me run it, or collaborating on it? These things are much harder if you've never seen someone in person.”

This insight highlights the significance of building in-person experiences to complement the digital aspects of work, and creates a sense of belonging and community.

Read: Retreats and Employee Engagement for Remote Teams (with Stephanie Lee, Director of People Experience at Nansen)

Unlocked Insight 4: Teams And Companies Should Be Run Like Communities (Mark Birch, Amazon)

On the topic of community, I had a great conversation with Mark Birch, a global leader at Amazon, the founder of the Enterprise Sales Forum, and author of "Community-in-a-Box: How to Build Event Driven Professional Communities.” 

In our interview, he urged organizations to operate as communities. Building strong connections and shared values fosters engagement and success. By nurturing a collaborative culture, companies empower employees to flourish.

What I loved about his point of view is that in the future, we need to focus on what makes people want to come to work, paycheck aside. Communities do this naturally, but companies don’t – yet. 

“We're no longer hourly workers at a factory, churning out units of some sort of product. We're creators. Many community dynamics work in the organization's context and how managers should orient themselves to manage in-person, hybrid, or distributed teams.
For example, how do you think about engaging your employees? How do you enable them and give them the agency to explore and be involved so they feel best utilized and add value? My first question to founders about running a company is about the organization's values and whether their team aligns with the startup's purpose.
The best companies in the world have values that center the organization in terms of some very discrete things you do, from hiring to the work you do to how you manage meetings, how you engage external audiences like your customers, partners, and investors, and how you think about promotion cycles.”

Read: Why and How to Run Your Company Like a Community (With Mark Birch from Amazon)

Unlocked Insight 5: What Makes You Unique Is More Important Than Ever (Dror Poleg, Author And Speaker)

Building a community often starts with the individual. Only when we know who people really are can we unite groups of like-minded people.

In my conversation with Dror Poleg, the author and speaker shared insights on embracing what makes each person unique in the future of work. In a world of infinite possibilities, the key to success lies in celebrating our individuality. 

Dror shares that we will see the rise of a 'scalable class' which enables individuals to achieve remarkable success by leveraging AI and the internet in any field, allowing them to compete globally and become superstars. 

To succeed, people must embrace their uniqueness, take risks, and experiment, as traditional paths to stability may no longer be viable in a world of big winners and high rewards.

"Unlike any time in history, a single human being today has more power to achieve whatever they want. Whatever idea you have, you can become as big as the corporations of 100 years ago, just on your own, with the help of AI and the internet.
On the one hand, this is wonderful, but on the other hand, it means that we're moving into a world where there will be big winners and where being in the middle will no longer be a great option. We all have to double down on what makes us unique. 
That's usually not like a skill we're born with, but a combination of things, our experiences, interests, places we've been, and our friends. Combining all these and trying to create something unique ultimately gives you a voice that resonates with others like you."

Read After Offices: How Life and Work Will Change Forever (with Dror Poleg, Author of Rethinking Real Estate)

Unlocked Insight 6: Taking Care of People Means Focusing on the Whole Person

Amidst this shift, Alyssa Than-Stark, responsible for the well-being of over 20,000 Singtel employees, advocates for a holistic approach to well-being.

In our interview about wellbeing strategies that work, she shares that focusing on the whole person emphasizes mental health, physical well-being, financial security, belonging, and professional development. This approach sets the foundation for a supportive and thriving work environment.

“I don't believe in a mental health webinar culture. I'm sure many of you have seen jokes online about employees having breakdowns, and HR throws a webinar at someone hoping that's a solution. Neither do I believe that giving your employees just free food or massages will take care of the crux of the matter. 
What does work? Real organizational culture change. 
One of the first things I did was identify five different well-being pillars. Many companies focus only on mental health, but physical health affects mental health and vice versa. Financial health affects mental health and vice versa. 
The pillars we chose are mental health, physical health, financial well-being, belonging and inclusion, and professional development. We believe they represent this employee the whole self instead of just addressing these aspects in silos.”

Besides focusing on the whole self, Alyssa also mentioned that she activates their well-being strategy at each level of the company, with leadership buy-in, on-the-ground champions, and middle management. Something that every company should think about.

Read: A Wellbeing Strategy that Works (with Alyssa Than-Stark, Group Wellbeing and Reward Manager at Singtel)

Unlocked Insight 7: It's Time To Rethink the Workplace Experience Completely (Corinne Murray, Agate)

So what about the workplace?

This topic was central to my wide-ranging conversation with Corinne Murray, ex-RXR, WeWork, Gensler, founder and CEO of Agate. Corinne calls for a complete re-imagination of the workplace. Beyond physical spaces, she envisions a digital ecosystem that aligns with employees' needs and aspirations. This adaptability enables a seamless blend of work and life.

"We're defining "workplace" too narrowly, as just the four walls where everyone goes rather than thinking through the entire digital ecosystem where people get work done. What's the workplace that travels with you and is present whenever you open your laptop and have power and Wi-Fi? 
We're seeing more people treat the "Workplace" as a product just like any other company puts consumer products on the market or B2B products on the market, their workplace, and their employee experience, not just parties and food.
From when you apply for a job to when you hand your badge in, what is the experience of working at any company? The progress on this thinking is still much slower than I would like, but I've been thinking about this for a decade, so I have to be patient."

Read: It's Time To Completely Rethink the Workplace Experience (With Corinne Murray, ex RXR, WeWork, Gensler, founder and CEO of Agate)

Unlocked Insight 8: Set Clear Goals And Remove Barriers (Chris Dyer, Author and Speaker)

As we let go of ‘space’ as the central tenant of management, we need to rethink how we manage.

I asked expert and speaker Chris Dyer about remote work best practices. His insights focused on setting clear goals and removing barriers. Effective remote work thrives by prioritizing outcomes over hours, allowing teams to work efficiently and autonomously.

"We have to make sure that everyone agrees on what success looks like. What are the goals we're trying to accomplish? Who is specifically in charge of what? How much autonomy, and where do we give it to them? Where are they allowed to meet? 
Don't just assume; we have to be a leader explicit about what areas they have the autonomy to make decisions, think independently, and get things done.  
And we want to remove barriers and unnecessary approvals. Great teams understand at a very deep level how to get work done, what they are allowed to do, and what requires approval. Then we can energize them with good leadership to move forward and accomplish their goals."

Read: Expert Advice on Remote Work Best Practices (ft. Chris Dyer, Forbes #1 Leadership Speaker on Culture).

Unlocked Insight 9: Remote (Or Not), Managers Must Put in the Effort (Renee Kida, ex GoTo, Google, IKEA)

This is where Renee Kida, a Human Resources Leader with over 20 years of corporate experience in Japan and APAC at companies like Google, GoTo, and IKEA, enters the stage, highlighting the vital role of managers. Investing effort, building relationships, and understanding team members' needs are the hallmarks of effective leadership in the future of work.

In our upcoming interview, Renee also shares about the research she worked on at Google way before the pandemic, showing what we are all starting to embrace: it simply takes effort. Yes, you do have to go the extra mile to build and maintain relationships and lead strong teams.

“What the data really came down to is you must invest time and effort. It's one of those remote or distributed ways of working that means everything you probably feel when you sit together more. So you need to make a bit more conscious effort to get to know people. 
You need to build time in your one-on-ones to say, how is their day? Where are they stuck? Is there anything going on? If they're comfortable, they might want to share. What are their working preferences or styles? How do they want to be held accountable? 
Because accountability is a manager's job, but [you must balance talking about accountability by saying that] I also want to be there for you. Tell me what's going on. How can we traverse this? 
And this is true whether you're one day in the office or three days in the office, and honestly, even if you're 100% in the office, often you're not sitting next to your manager all day, every day.”

My interview with Renee Kida comes out in mid-August. Subscribe to our newsletter here if you want to be the first to hear it.

Unlocked Insight 10: We Need To Listen To Our People, But Not By Asking Them Random Questions (Christie Hoffman, Pingboard)

One thing I loved about my interview with Christie Hoffman from Pingboard is how practical we got, for example, on listening. Listening is crucial to becoming a people-first leader and organization. But that doesn't mean that you can send people random questions. 

Christie shared how making up your own survey questions is like baking your first cake from scratch – you'll be missing some ingredients, and it might have others that don't belong in a cake. Instead, Christie says to focus on what's proven, like the Gallup Q12. 

"You want to avoid messing around with a survey and guess; you must ask the right questions. Gallup has a twelve-question framework that directly maps to the different parts of the employee experience.
These are the little touch points of an employee working at your company every day, from having the right tools and systems to ensuring they have opportunities to learn and grow at work."

And this also applies in many other areas – don’t try and reinvent the wheel, but take advantage of all the knowledge already out there. Where possible, always start with a proven template or framework. This is a big mission behind what we’re building here at FlexOS.

Read: Employee Engagement Best Practices from a Pro (ft. Christie Hoffman, Workplace Experience Strategist at Pingboard).

A Human-Centric Future of Work

Going on this journey and speaking to 10 such diverse and interesting thought leaders on many aspects of the future of work makes me hopeful for what’s to come.

The future of work should prioritize happiness and well-being while reimagining workplace experiences to accommodate the changing work landscape. Interestingly, it requires embracing uniqueness and leveraging human qualities that AI cannot replicate. 

Fostering a sense of community and listening to employees' needs is crucial to building successful teams and organizations. Ultimately, the future of work lies in creating environments that enable individuals to thrive and find fulfillment in their professional lives.

I look forward to Season 2 of the podcast, where we’ll dive into topics like the gig economy, fractional work, diversity and inclusion, future workplace ethics, and more.

If you have a guest you feel we can’t miss, shoot me a DM or email! And thanks to all the guests in this first seasons for your generous sharing and the great work you’re doing to move work forward.

– Daan

You Might Also Like …

All articles about

Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.