Apartment Hunting

Prepare Yourself for the Future of Work

The future of work has been on our collective minds for some time.

Technically, you never arrive in the future. It’s always, by definition, ahead of you. Yet months into a global pandemic that has triggered major changes to how we work, many experts are saying the future of work is hurtling towards us.

I sat down with Vice President of People and Communities at Cisco Systems, Elaine Mason. Elaine is a well-read deep thinker on the subject of the future of work, and I invited her to share her own research-based reflections on the changes we’ve seen so far, and what may still be to come.

And no matter what your job, career stage, or aspiration, Elaine shared plenty of tangible advice you can put to work today to prepare for your future professional success.

We focused our conversation on four trends that have been particularly relevant in 2020. These were:

  1. The remote workforce
  2. Diversity and Inclusion as part of corporate strategy
  3. Movement in the gig economy
  4. Shifts in corporate structure and hierarchy

The future of work and the remote workforce

Remote work could be here to stay

As I write this piece in my dining room—while my kids homeschool in their bedrooms—I’m aware that working virtually has become the norm for many across the globe.

Prior to the pandemic, company philosophies on remote work were all over the map. Some organizations have worked virtually for years. Many others resisted the trend.

The world of work has probably fundamentally changed.

But as Elaine describes the current state of virtual work, “With the rare exceptions of lab work, manufacturing, healthcare, [and other frontline professions] the majority of us are now [commuting]… seven feet from our beds to our offices.”

“The world of work has probably fundamentally changed,” she says.

Companies that had previously been cynical of virtual work have been forced to acknowledge that things are getting done. In many cases, executives report higher levels of productivity than ever.

But Elaine warns that studies on productivity are not yet conclusive. Some show productivity is up. Others, however, contend that work time is up, but actual productivity is down. The jury remains out.

So what’s next in the world of virtual work and productivity?

The purpose of the traditional office will evolve

Elaine predicts that virtual work is here to stay … sort of. The way we use the traditional office will likely shift.

"Workspaces will be used more like community service centers," she said. "What you're [likely] to see is those large campuses for a lot of organizations… will probably shrink, and the use of that space will be more event-based or point-in-time-based."

Workspaces will be used more like community service centers … and the use of that space will be more event-based or point-in-time-based.

In other words, there will be an office to go to, but it won’t necessarily be everyone’s default. You’ll go if and when a project or occasion calls for an in-person working session.

The good news? “If you're a new Yorker,” she offers, “that's been dying to live in Wyoming, this [may be] your chance.”

The concept of productivity will evolve

As Elaine points out, the measurement of virtual productivity is messy. Many companies measure by the amount of time employees spend on screens. By that measure, productivity is going up. But so is burnout.

Wearable technologies (think augmented and virtual reality) will allow companies to better measure how employees engage with their work.

In the future, she explains, we will begin to see a shift toward wearable technologies (think augmented and virtual reality) that will allow companies to better measure how employees engage with their work beyond staring at screens.

We’ll see a more complex definition of productivity grounded in actual outcomes versus just minutes online.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Rethink your geography. If you want to make a move, this may be your moment.
  • Consider your priorities. Let go of the mindset that busyness equals productiveness. What impact do you want to have, and what work do you need to prioritize in service of that?

The future of work and Diversity and Inclusion

While the pandemic has challenged companies to figure out remote work on the fly, social justice happenings have pushed Diversity and Inclusion to the forefront of corporate priorities.

Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.

Elain says, "Companies are focusing on the triple bottom line: People, Profit, Planet… putting social justice into how they operate.”

So what does this look like in practice?

According to Elaine, companies are moving away from having standalone diversity strategies and departments. Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.

Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) are a great example of this trend. ERG’s are voluntary, employee-led groups within organizations that aim to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace. Each group typically includes participants who share a characteristic such as gender identification or ethnicity. 

Employee Resource Groups are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.

At Cisco, Elaine says, the executive leadership team has started meeting quarterly with ERG’s to understand their experiences and incorporate their ideas into business decisions. These ERG’s, in other words, are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.

ERG recommendations are helping to shape product development and positioning and marketing strategy, all of which contribute to top and bottom lines.

Organizations like Twitter are beginning to compensate ERG leaders—historically these have been volunteer roles—in recognition of their strategic value.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Lean into diversity. Don’t just pay it lip service, but be proactive in engaging with a variety of voices and experiences.
  • Be humble. Know you’ll make mistakes along the way. “Listen. And assume you don’t know [things],” Elaine says.

The future of work and the gig economy

“Gig is having fits and starts,” Elaine said. She described the tension that many American workers face between desiring the independence of gig work but also relying on the healthcare and benefits provided by full-time employment.

Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.

And she believes that tension will keep the gig economy in the US in fits-and-starts mode. Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Be incredibly clear about what you’re qualified to do. What do you want to do? Where those things overlap? “This requires a good degree of self-awareness and an understanding of what [you’re] known for today."
  • Decide where you need to invest. Are there experiences, credentials, references you need to accumulate? Do those things early.
  • Focus on standing out. If you do business strategy consulting, for example, is there a unique angle you can offer to help yourself stand out from other such consultants? Differentiation will matter more as the gig economy grows.

The future of work and shifts in corporate structure and hierarchy

Recent years have revealed a good deal of pendulum swinging when it comes to how much structure and hierarchy is best.

“There was a real trend in the last decade,” Elaine explained “of breaking down structures [and] silos.” She described how online shoe-retailer Zappos experimented with the Holocracy—a means of giving decision authority to groups and teams rather than individuals. (Spoiler: they’ve since moved away from this un-structure.)

Companies, in Elaine’s opinion, are working to determine the ideal balance of hierarchy and freedom. And the previous trends we discussed are having a big impact on that decision.

Everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.

So while some companies are leaning toward structure and hierarchy while others lean away, the common thread she sees is that everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind a company that it needs to be ready for absolutely anything. As organizations assess how they’re organized, they’re asking questions like “How fast can we recover? What contingencies do we have in place? What plan Bs and plan Cs do we have?” 

Elaine doesn’t know exactly what structure the organization of the future will take on. But she does offer some actionable wisdom.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Gain new skills. Whatever your role, function, or industry, upskill yourself on being ready for change at any moment
  • Think broadly about what “career progression” means for you. As companies evolve, titles and promotions may no longer be the thing to shoot for.

For Elaine, she measures her own progression through three lenses that you too might consider:

  • Economic. How much money do you want or need to make?
  • Impact. "How close are you to positions of power and authority that allow you to make the largest impact on an organization?"
  • Personal growth. Are you learning new things as you go?

And there you have it. No one, not even the great Elaine Mason, can predict the future. But there are some actions you can take that will be sure to serve you, no matter what the years ahead might look like.

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How to Cope with Change at Work Without Stressing Out

While each person’s experience in 2020 has been unique, I bet many of you lived through some version of the following:

One day you were in an office, shaking hands, having in-person meetings, and serving a known set of customer needs. And the next day, your home was your office, Zoom was your conference room, handshakes were lethal, and customer needs were being completely reinvented.

Feel familiar?

Change has become our everything. Get ready to be stretched.

Prior to 2020, you could still get by as a great performer at work even if you were a little resistant to change. But now? Not so much. Change has become our everything. And if it’s not something you naturally lean into, then the time has come to fix it. Stat. 

So if you’re someone whose default has been 'I don’t want to learn this new system, process, or way of engaging with customers…', then get ready to be stretched. If you want your career to continue to soar, you’re going to need to be able to roll with change.

Resisting change is natural

If you find it hard to get comfortable with change, you're not alone.

When my kids were babies, getting them to try new foods was an experience. After they spit spoon after spoon of strained peas or carrots back into my face, I talked to my pediatrician. I learned it would take seven to eight experiences with a new food before my baby would begin to like it, or at least stop spitting it at me.

In our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea.

This is due to the mere-exposure effect. While we may like or appreciate some things out of the gate (hello, chocolate fudge sundaes), our natural inclination is often to resist anything that feels different. But more exposure equals more comfort. We're wired to prefer the familiar and comfortable.

But in our work lives, we’re not always offered a grace period of seven to eight exposures to a new idea before we have to adopt it.

So let’s talk about actions you can take to open your mind and expand your comfort zone with change.

1. Scope the change

Sometimes “a change is coming” can sound like “the sky is falling.” But usually, the blue abyss above stays put. So let’s start by putting change into perspective.

Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.

Your boss just told you that you’ll be reporting to a new team. Or you’re switching to a new people-management system, or you’ll be managing a new product or account. Before you panic, check the sky. Is it still there? Phew! You’re OK.

Start by asking yourself what's really changing and what’s staying the same. You may have a new boss or new relationships to manage, but your day-to-day responsibilities aren’t shifting.

You may have a new system to learn, but the data it’s tracking, the reporting it offers—how different will they really be? Your skills will carry over.

So start by putting some boundaries around the change. This should help you take a deep breath. Now, let’s charge ahead!

2. Find your bright spots

When my kids—the spitters of pureed peas and carrots—began remote schooling this year, the change was all kinds of unwelcome. They missed friends. Their new homeroom teacher (yours truly) was highly unqualified. Everything felt messed up.

But I asked them to spend a few minutes finding and focusing on the bright spots. Because every change has bits of sparkle.

Focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.

They came up with extra sleep (don’t we all need it?!), jammies all day, and breakfast and lunch in bed. (Yes, we've let go of the reins a bit here at my house.)

Maybe for you, it’s the opportunity to add fluency in a new system to your resume, or to build your reputation with a new leader, team, or customer base. What’s something you can get excited about?

Big or small, focusing on bright spots helps open your mind, readying it for the change ahead.

3. Acknowledge the pains and challenges of change

Do focus on the upside. But not at the expense of acknowledging and preparing for the challenges. Don’t put your head in the sand.

If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.

We resist change for a reason. There will be growing pains. Transitioning to a new system does provide you with new opportunities. But there will also be a learning curve. It will take time, focus, and effort. You’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone. If this triggers mild concern or anxiety, don’t push that down. Give it space. Address it.

Part of gaining comfort with change is giving yourself a chance to master it. The only way to master change is to resolve and repair pain points. We can’t resolve what we can’t see, so give yourself the space to list out every single thing, big or small, that scares or challenges you.

RELATED: Why Negative Emotions Aren't All Bad

What might live on your list?

  • Finding time to learn a new system
  • Having to build new relationships virtually
  • Feeling like a novice after years of feeling like an expert

4. Identify actions within your locus of control

Part of what makes change feel scary is the sense of losing control.

According to the Harvard Business Review:

Many employees have had to abruptly accept fundamental changes to their work routines. And these changes have been stressful… because [they have] stripped people of their autonomy… [which] is detrimental for employee performance and well-being.

In other words, it’s normal to crave a sense of autonomy, of control. So here is where you focus on what you can control, and you make it happen.

Look at your sources of anxiety or discomfort. Identify tangible actions you can take to close the gap or minimize the pain of change.

When I left the world of full-time employment to start my own business, I was terrified of managing that change, even though I’d been the one to initiate it. But as a taker of my own medicine, I followed this very process. And when I arrived at this step, I identified a series of actions in my control.

Here’s a sampling of what I came up with

  • Invite every small business owner I know to coffee and pick their brain
  • Read one book per month on a relevant topic—consulting, marketing, pricing, etc.
  • Hire a coach to help me learn to build
  • Hire a lawyer to ensure I don’t step off a cliff

You get the idea. I was stepping into the unknown. But by identifying a series of actions designed to get me incrementally closer to known, I was re-establishing a sense of autonomy and control.

Maybe you have to learn a new system and you’re afraid it will be complicated. What steps can you take to close the gap? What can you control?

5. Commit positive change experiences to memory

I reflect on the days of smushed peas and carrots. Mostly, it was gross. But once in a blue moon, a baby would accidentally swallow a mouthful. And I was nothing but jazz hands. 

Turns out, my jazz-hands-enthusiasm was accidental genius because now, baby associated mush with entertaining Mommy gymnastics. For her it became fun. And over time she downed more mush.

And really, that’s kind of your goal. 

When you have your first positive experience with that new system, even if it was an accident, make a note of it. When your first client lights up at the description of that new product feature, capture that.

These winning moments add up over time. And suddenly one day you realize: Hey, these smashed peas and carrots are kinda delish! Who knew?

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The 2021 Career Wisdom You Need from Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Well, we made it. To 2021. The earth, moon, and sun each did their thing again. But somehow this year feels different. Because 2020 was a doozy and so many of us are deeply ready for a fresh start.

RBG fought, she believed, and she persevered—all actions that feel deeply relevant as we look to the year ahead of us.

Last year left many of us with a lot to mourn. For me, and for many, that includes the loss of a national treasure, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The diminutive woman, known affectionately as The Notorious RBG, served as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1993 until her death on September 18th, 2020, at age 87. RBG was the breaker of all kinds of ceilings. She fought, she believed, and she persevered—all actions that feel deeply relevant as we look to the year ahead of us.

Before I charge too quickly into the spin of 2021, I plan to reflect on some of the amazing life and career lessons RBG left behind. She gifted us a legacy of wisdom that will remain relevant for years to come.

So today, let’s reflect on some of what she taught us and consider how it might apply to our own adventures in the coming months.

1. To persuade others, don't react, respond!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved tremendous things in her lifetime. Much of her success required that she persuade others to share a point of view that may not have been popular.

And persuasive she was. Never one to steamroll or shame others onto her side, RBG was artful in how she changed hearts and minds.

She once shared with the New York Times some wedding-day advice she received from her mother-in-law: “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

And she goes on to say of that advice:

I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I believe she was telling us not to ignore or excuse unkindness or incivility but to label and rise above it in our response.

In 2021, we are all going to be processing and wading through the heaviness that was 2020 as we face the challenges of the coming year. Careless words are likely to be spoken. But when they are, try not to let them trigger a reaction. Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

Respond as the version of yourself you’re most proud of.

The absence of your emotional reaction will make the intelligence of your response stand out even more. This is one way to bring hearts and minds to your side.

2. Disagree with an idea but respect the person who shared it

RBG maintained lifelong friendships with colleagues sitting on both sides of the political aisle. She was asked about her success at this many times throughout her career.

She spoke with NPR about her friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and shared that while they disagreed deeply on many issues, she respected him enough to listen to what he said. And although he rarely changed her mind, his thinking pushed and challenged her own, making her even better.

When an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it?

She also spoke of their finding common ground through shared interests and humor. She was able to separate her friend and colleague from the opinions he held. And this too feels like a useful skill to cultivate for 2021.

None of us knows what shape the workplace will take in the coming months. We will all hear many predictions, suggestions, and opinions. We will like some and hate others.

But when an idea doesn’t land with you, take a pause. Can you find the positive intent behind it? Can you empathize with the person suggesting it? Is there something useful you can find in it?

Keep the idea and the person in separate corners.

3. Never stop learning

Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, responding to a letter from an 8-year-old girl

RBG never lost her appetite for more information, for expanding her mind. As much wisdom as she had acquired, it was never enough.

And in this, she wasn’t alone. According to Inc. Magazine, many of the world’s most successful leaders—from Warren Buffet to Tony Robbins to Mark Cuban—are voracious readers.

As we continue to navigate the uncertainty ahead, learning new ways to do things will be critically important. So make continuous reading and learning a priority in 2021.

Not sure how to make it happen? Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose your sources wisely. Don’t try to read everything. Explore different books, publications, or blogs to see which resonate most with you.
     
  • Schedule reading time. Put reading time in your calendar. Maybe it’s 10 minutes a day. Maybe it replaces what used to be a commute before many of us started working virtually. Get creative.
     
  • Try audio. Hey, like podcasts or audiobooks? They're a great source of inspiration, motivation, and knowledge. Maybe you can listen while you’re cooking or working out.

4. Prioritize self-care

RBG was so famous as an exerciser that her personal trainer published a book of the workouts she was still doing into her 80s. Once asked who the most important person in her life was, she famously responded, “My personal trainer.”

For RBG, intense exercise gave her the energy she needed to deliver her most impactful work. This is a lesson we all need to carry into 2021. As stress and burnout continue to threaten and plague us, we must all be mindful of how we manage our energy levels.

Working endless hours isn’t the most effective or fulfilling path to success. Working well is what delivers results. So find ways to care for yourself, to recharge your tank, every day.

You too may enjoy some intense exercise. Or you may choose to walk, meditate, journal, or call a friend. There is no right way to practice self-care, but doing it in some form is a must!

If you want some self-care guidance when it comes to fitness, nutrition, and coping with stress, here's where I shamelessly plug podcasts from my amazing Quick and Dirty Tips colleagues:

  • Get-Fit Guy with fitness pro Brock Armstrong
  • Nutrition Diva with nutritionist (and renowned nutrition myth-buster) Monica Reinagel
  • Savvy Psychologist with clinical psychologist and sleep expert Dr. Jade Wu

Search for these wellness experts on your favorite podcast platform or visit QuickandDirtyTips.com.

I hope these nuggets of wisdom have helped you feel empowered to take on 2021. These are only a few of the countless gems RBG left us with. They feel, for me, entirely relevant in this moment. So let’s honor and celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life together by letting her wisdom guide us through some murky months ahead.

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