Career & Jobs

Sculpting The Future Of Work Mindset

As we think back over an entire year of lockdown and as employees start to return to the office, some of us are wondering if we’re going back in time and progress. 

Denise Brouder is the founder of SWAYworkplace, a subscription-based learning community focused on the future of work and flexibility. With digital tools and training, her team guides individuals toward mastery of flexible work skills and finding fulfillment in their roles. Even before the pandemic hit, Brouder advocated for flexible work, not just remote work, that allows employees to choose how and when they work to produce the best results.

In our interview, we discussed what the future looks like, what holds us back from that future and what she calls Work as a Lifestyle.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kevin Kruse: When you say the “Future of Work,” what do you consider the past? How is the world of work shifting?

Denise Brouder: COVID-19 brought about nothing short of a paradigm shift in the world of work, which has really only happened twice before in the history of humanity.

We started as hunter-gatherers, foraging for what we needed. Then we shifted into an agriculture economy through crop innovations. The next shift was into the industrial revolution due to innovations in steam and electricity.

Now, we’re having a digital and technological revolution. This monumental shift presents the potential to reshape, eliminate and create new job types, all of which we’ve seen happen over the past year.

Kruse: Are we experiencing or living in the Future of Work today?

Brouder: Yes and no. 2020 is not the future I want to live in! We’re not advocating for 2020 to become a long-term reality: that was organized chaos, forcing exclusively remote work without any preparation.

The future of work is built on choice in a culture of trust.

The only future that we realized in 2020 was the digital mindset. Employers finally embraced the possibility of working from anywhere, and now the future of work is bright!

Kruse: So if 2020 wasn’t the future, how do you picture a flexible, futuristic workplace?

Brouder: Again, the future of work is built on choice. So, the employee in the future will choose how and when they work to produce the best results. For me, working from home in sweatpants is not the most productive environment: I prefer a library or coffee shop depending on the work I have planned. 

Another employee may truly work better 9-5 on-site in the office. But that’s their choice! We would still consider that flexible work if they chose that option.

Kruse: As workplaces finally move towards the future of work, what components do they need in place for success?

Brouder: Some industries have actually been working with this model successfully for years, and we now need to apply it to other industries. For example, accounting firms have always sent auditors or expert consultants to work away from their offices and structured teams. A futuristic mindset would ask how we can make that model work for different businesses.

The place to start is trust and personal responsibility.

Flexible work is a privilege and requires all parties to opt-in. Without the structure of the office, employees need to discipline themselves to build expertise and stay productive during the work hours they chose. Managers and employers need to learn to trust their teams without seeing their screens from across the office.

Then, they really need to improve their communication skills because trust is a two-way street. Managers need to be specific in their expectations during this transition, and employees need to provide regular status updates to keep the team on track. 

Kruse: How does this new mindset benefit businesses?

Brouder: We know from multiple surveys, even before lockdown, that employees want flexible work schedules. While we would never suggest this, reports show employees will take less pay if it means a flexible work schedule! For businesses, this means that flexible workers are happy workers. With happy employees, they’ll have lower turnover, which always means cost savings. And happy employees just do better work. When you work in a place that values your Work as a Lifestyle, you’ll produce better results and work more efficiently.

Kruse: That’s different: what is Work as a Lifestyle? Are you saying I need to make work my life?

Brouder: No, just that “work/ life balance” simply doesn’t exist. It’s not 50/50: there’s an ebb and flow. The easy example is a tax accountant who works long hours in March and April but relatively easy hours the rest of the year. You wouldn’t say they don’t have balance because that’s the nature of the job.

Work is a large piece of how we bring value to the world, and we should be able to enjoy it while we’re doing it. Then be able to shut it down and move on to the other parts of our lives, whether that’s family, friendships, exercise, health or hobbies. Work is one part of your lifestyle.

Kruse: What do you believe is the most significant barrier to the future of work?

Brouder: The biggest barrier is easily proximity bias. There are still professionals saying you’ll miss out on career opportunities if you choose not to go back to the office, and we can’t let that be true. The OLD THINKING says, I’ll promote those workers who are at their desks before I arrive and after I leave. FUTURE THINKING says, I’ll promote the person who has done the best work, consistently contributes and continually grows their expertise.

At SWAYworkplace, we believe in location inclusion. Workplaces should find the best worker for the job no matter the location, and workers should be judged solely on their work and deliverables.

Kruse: What about jobs that don’t rely on technology or an office? How do we make jobs like teaching, nursing, or retail work flexible and futuristic?

Brouder: We do need to practice patience and give some positions time to evolve, but we’re already seeing the start of this now with remote learning and telehealth.

As far as shift-based jobs, that level of variability creates a lot of uncertainty, leading to burnout. These roles are extremely valuable in the marketplace, and teams need to find a way for hours to stabilize. Particularly in retail jobs, employees need to take personal responsibility to show up for their shifts, putting the same effort into their work as they would at an office.

Kruse: Many people may think flexible work is best suited for a side hustle, freelance or gig model. Is the future of work made up of gig workers?

Brouder: There is definitely a place for platforms like Upwork and Uber, but most people don’t want to be an entrepreneur or hustle to find the next job. In fact, these platforms resurrect day laborers and the hunter/gatherer model of work in digital form but provide no social safety net for employees. For example, no one used Uber during the pandemic, except maybe for UberEats. What happened to those drivers?

However, many companies are moving towards an open talent model, hiring expert consultants for specific roles instead of bringing on a full-time employee for something like social media management or bookkeeping. I think we’ll see more of that and possibly more consulting firms to place these experts in different industries. That way, a worker wouldn’t need to be an individual business owner to have success.

Kruse: So what’s the next step for SWAYworkplace?

Brouder:  Throughout the pandemic, we were able to offer coaching to businesses that didn’t know where to start with remote work. Now, we’re focusing more on that community aspect and teaching those soft skills like trust, leadership and emotional intelligence to bring about the future of work. We’re excited to empower choice and freedom in the workplace.

Kevin Kruse is the Founder + CEO of LEADx, a platform that scales and sustains leadership habits throughout an organization. Kevin is also a New York Times bestselling author of  Great Leaders Have No Rules, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, and Employee Engagement 2.0.

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