What’s Next for Work: Insights from The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Future of Everything’ Event

A group from Mission North’s Future of Work practice recently attended The Wall Street Journal’s The Future of Everything event, which tackles topics as broad as its name suggests — including inflation, fashion, fertility, food, and more. Suffice to say we were excited not only to (safely!) attend in person, but also to get the scoop on our collective future. As event organizers put it, the gathering is a way to view the world “through the lens of the global forces that are shaping it now, and in the future.”

Experts offered unique commentary on what’s next for where, when and how we work. For example, they explored whether a widespread “return to the office” is now a dated concept and addressed the role technology will play in making work more efficient and fun. They also questioned whether the lines between our professional and personal lives are getting blurrier — and how that blurring could benefit employees and companies. Read on for some of the event’s biggest takeaways.

Julia and Alexis celebrate (safely!) attending their first in-person work event in more than two years.

The future of work is flexible

In light of the transformative events of the past two years, many speakers suggested that there will be no widespread return to the office. Monzo Bank CEO TS Anil, who led a mostly remote company for years before the pandemic, argued it’s not safe to assume that having employees in a traditional office setting is “a silver bullet” for productivity, relationship-building or employee engagement. Instead, he said, “the future is about flexibility and choice.” This newfound flexibility comes amid growing worker power – with employees profoundly influencing where and how they get their work done.

Illustrating the same point, Katherine Hallen, director of customer and partner strategy and commercial solution areas for Microsoft added, simply: “Flexibility is non-negotiable.” And Atif Zaim, national managing partner at KPMG, stressed that it’s not about how many days employees are in the office. Instead, “it depends on what you’re doing in the office,” with productivity and strong team relationships being key.

Tech can make hybrid work efficient and inclusive 

Microsoft’s Hallen added that atop the rising power of choice for today’s employees, hybrid work is about “inclusivity and intentionality.” She explained how during the fully-remote era of the pandemic, strong professional ties became stronger and weak ones got weaker. Still, she said, technology can help counteract any imbalance.

For instance, meetings in the metaverse – the immersive, interactive and 3D space powered by virtual and augmented reality – could be more inclusive by equalizing every participant’s experience with specialized cameras, microphones and spatial audio, Hallen said. Remote employees would no longer fear missing out on in-person side conversations with colleagues, or the many other perks of interpersonal communication. Still, the adoption and deployment of this growing VR network in the workplace may take time, much like other disruptive tech.

Additionally, Mahrya Dakubu, head of solutions consulting for Adobe Document Cloud (North America Enterprise, East), added that technology like artificial intelligence can mitigate burnout among top performers by helping managers evenly distribute projects among their teams, even if the way they communicate is different than it was in an office. The full potential of AI in the workplace, for applications like project management, is still being explored.

Open conversations about mental health at work

Our Mission North crew was moved after hearing from Bonobos co-founder and former CEO Andy Dunn, who spoke candidly about his experience growing a startup while privately struggling with bipolar disorder.

Dunn urged companies to support employees by offering benefits like reimbursement for therapy. He also stressed the importance of creating safe spaces for employees to disclose and discuss their own mental health challenges. It’s especially important for leaders to speak openly about their experiences so that more junior employees feel safe to do so.

“Leaders have the luxury” to talk about these issues, he said. As a leader himself, Dunn said he “never felt as connected” to his team as when he revealed his own challenges. 

In her own session on wellness, Adele Spallone, vice president of clinical operations at The Hartford, highlighted the importance of training for middle managers on the warning signs of mental health issues, empowering them to step in and offer support at the right time.

Grab bag

The event wasn’t all work and no play! We also learned about reducing the fashion industry’s waste through upcycling, why instant delivery will be here to stay in a post-pandemic world, and augmented reality’s role at enterprise companies.

We hope to absorb even more knowledge at next year’s event!

In the meantime, our Future of Work practice remains at the forefront of supporting these many workplace evolutions. We partner with companies influencing everything from HR and people management, to workplace collaboration and productivity.

Learn more about our work here.

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