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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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Sometimes the need to redecorate a room doesn’t line up with when the budget allows for a full makeover. In those times, it’s good to have a few budget friendly ideas to spruce up the space. These seven tips are things that can be done even when funds are tight.

1 – Rearrange or Swap with Other Rooms

The most budget friendly thing you can do when redecorating is to look for inspiration from the other rooms in your home. Often times, especially in larger homes, there are pieces of furniture and other décor that could be moved from one room to another to make a free update to the space. If you are thinking about updating your master bedroom, consider using pieces from your office, the living room, and even the outside patio. Taking a piece from another room can provide just the change you are craving in the space you want to update.

2 – Paint Furniture

If you found a piece of furniture in another room that can work based on the shape and size, but it doesn’t quite match, consider painting the furniture. This is also a great option for updating old wood furniture that you’ve had in the room for years, or even furniture that you just found at a thrift store or rummage sale. Changing the color of furniture with spray paint is a quick and easy way to give it an entirely new look in less than a day’s time.

When determining if a piece of furniture can be painted, look for pieces that have good structure and very few flaws to the shape. When you paint, gouges and scratches can become more pronounced, so if you find a few imperfections, fill them with wood filler and sand them smooth before painting. If you are painting metal furniture, make sure to sand off any rust spots to ensure the rust doesn’t spread after you complete the makeover.

3 – Paint the Walls

If you want to make a bigger impact in a space, consider investing in a can or two of paint. Many rooms can be completed with one can of paint, but for more drastic color changes (like from white walls to dark blue walls or vise versa), you may need two cans to allow for multiple coats to get the walls fully covered.

If you don’t want to paint the entire room, consider painting an accent wall to give it a pop of color. If you have more time than funds, you can invest a few hours, a quart of paint, and a roll of painters tape into making a design on a wall instead. You might add a single stripe, a chevron stripe, or some free-hand circles around the room. You can get creative with the accent designs to make the room as fun as you want it to be.


4 – Have a Plan

One of the biggest things you can do to keep a makeover project budget friendly is to have a plan and a little patience. Think about it like this: if your car dies and you need a new car, you are at the mercy of the people who are selling cars at that exact time. If you are able to plan ahead on the purchase of your new car, you have significantly more bargaining power because you don’t NEED to purchase it immediately. You can wait for a better price to come along.

The exact same thing is true when it comes to purchases for your home. If you are determined to buy things on a certain day, you are at the mercy of what’s available on that exact day in the shops you can get to. If you’re able to instead plan the project, decide what you are going to look for, and then purchase when you find the items at the right price, you are in a much better position to find bargain pieces.

5 – Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Once you have your budget makeover plan in place, keep your eyes open for the perfect pieces everywhere you possibly can. Tour your neighborhood on the weekends to see if any of the neighbors are selling the perfect pieces on rummage sales. Search Craigslist and online rummage sale sites to catch when the items you need pop up for sale. Walk through thrift stores on a weekly basis and keep your eyes peeled for the perfect used items. And don’t forget to watch the clearance racks at your favorite stores to see what goes on super sale. I personally love walking through Target on the days they mark down their home décor items. It feels like a treasure hunt to find just the right throw pillows or wall art to fit my plan. When the items are on clearance, it’s an even bigger success knowing that I didn’t spend even close to full price on the perfect pieces.

6 – Change Light Fixtures

If you are handy, or you have a friend who is familiar with electrical wiring, you may want to consider changing out the light fixtures in your home to quickly update the space. Having light fixtures that are decades old often means that they are in an outdated style or finish, which can make the entire space look out of date. By swapping them out with an eye catching light fixture that you found on sale or at a thrift store, you can make a big impact change in that one item. One of my favorite stores to check for items like light fixtures is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Many cities and towns that have a Habitat for Humanity program also have a Restore where they sell good quality home fixtures that have been removed from homes that were remodeled. It is a store where one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.

7 – Change Flooring

The final tip is definitely more hands-on, but can make a large impact in a room if you have just a little bit more money to spend and a weekend’s worth of time. Changing the flooring in a room can create a big change for not as much money as you are probably imagining.

Laminate flooring has come a long way in the last 5 years, and you can now buy a variety of great looking laminate flooring for less than $1/square foot. This lightweight, easy to install flooring can be printed with images of wood, stone, or other designs to give your room a totally new feel. Considering most bedrooms in homes are close to 12’ x 12’, that means you could change the flooring in a room for under $150.

If that is outside your budget, you still have options. Consider getting a large area rug to anchor the room. These are typically available at stores like Ross and Home Goods for $50 or less. Not only can they add a pop of color to your floor, but you can move them into new rooms if you ever feel like rearranging in the future.

Having a strict budget shouldn’t keep you from having a space that you love. For under $200 there are a number of quick changes you can make to your home. Mix and match a few ideas and you’ll be surprised at how quickly a little time and a few dollars can change the feel of your home.

Until next time, I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.

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