…More gig and project work and workers — This has already started, and I expect it will continue in the future. During the pandemic, many workers decided to venture out on their own with varying degrees of success. The feeling seems to be that if they can’t find their dream job in the marketplace, why not create it? I think you will see more of this going forward. People will want to tailor their roles to their own preferences, and they may find that the only way to do this is to be an independent contractor.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview David Peters.
David Peters is a financial advisor, tax practitioner, educator, and entrepreneur. As the Director of Financial Planning Services for CFO Capital Management in Westport, CT, he helps clients reach their financial and retirement goals. He also founded a continuing education website for financial professionals (www.petersprofessionaleducation.com) and speaks at seminars all over the country.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
In 2009, I took a position as a staff accountant at Elephant Auto Insurance, a new insurance start-up in Richmond, Virginia. Like most start-ups, money was tight in the early days. We didn’t pay the highest salaries in town, nor did we have the best benefit package in the area. However, we consistently won awards for being the best place to work in those early years. What drew me to Elephant (and what I believe drew many new hires to us in the early years) was how well the company treated people. Little things like encouraging staff to speak up and offer ideas during meetings, being transparent about how the company was doing, and letting people execute the work in the way they felt was best make a difference. When you show people trust, respect their ideas, and allow them to own their work, they will run through a wall for you and your business. It all starts with real, honest respect though. If you want a good work environment, that’s how you build it.
Outside of the business world, my most formative experiences have been as a volunteer. When I was in graduate school, I volunteered my time as a hospital chaplain at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. I used to spend my time visiting with patients — sometimes talking about spiritual matters, but mainly just talking about life. Often times, people would tell me about their families, careers, and how they ended up in the hospital. Some conversations were tough. Sometimes the patients I saw were dealing with life and death matters. However, even in the toughest of conversations, I learned the power of listening. I learned that if you listen long enough, people will tell you their life story and their opinions on almost everything! Too often, we have a need to fill space with our voices. If you listen first and talk second though, you tend to learn and understand more. This is a lesson I still carry with me to this day when I am meeting with clients and business partners. Relationships deepen when you listen first.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
Over the next 10 to 15 years, I think you are going to see lots of changes. The workforce of today wants more than just a job with a solid salary. They want a job that is stable where they can make a difference. I think this is only going to continue in the future in a more pronounced way. People are not going to be content with just lofty generalities about how “everyone is important here.” They are going to want to see how their specific career projection looks. They are going to want benefits packages that are catered to their specific needs. In many ways, recruiting will become more individualized.
I also think that competition for talent will continue to increase. The pandemic taught many companies that their work could be done by employees whether they were in the office or a million miles away. This greatly increases the potential talent pool available to employers, but also increases the competition for that talent. If geography does not matter, any company can make an offer to any employee that meets the job requirements. I expect these trends to continue in the future. Companies will be forced to become more aggressive in pursuing talent. Smaller companies will need to offer something unique about how they work in order to be considered by potential hires. Competition for employees will become global.
As a result of this, I think you will see companies taking a harder look at their people needs in the future as well. If competition is more intense for talent, the hiring process is likely to take longer. Businesses may be more willing to look for alternatives to hiring before going through that process. They may look to implement systems first or they may try to get more out of the talent that they already have. In short, why go through the pain of hiring someone new, if we can just simply expand the role of someone we already have? I think you will see companies more often asking themselves, do we really need someone in this spot?
Perhaps the one thing that will not change though is that business success will still depend on leadership being able to bring people together towards a common goal. The way that we communicate may change. The environment that we work in may change. The products we offer may change. However, building a business and good leadership necessarily depend on getting everyone moving in the same direction. This may be more challenging if everyone is not physically in the same location every day.
Similarly, brand identity will continue to be important in the future as well. We buy the products and services that we know and trust. If business is done more online in the future (which it likely will be), company identity will not be based on a store front. Company identity will remain important — but it will be based less on the sign out in front of the building or the office environment. Companies will need to find other ways to make their identity unique in the minds of consumers and business partners.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Don’t try to insulate your company from change. It will never work. Instead, try to focus on relationships and the things that really drive success. Relationships with people are fundamental to business. Instead of trying to insist that people work in a particular way, try to find ways that will make building relationships easier. Make it easy for customers to find you. Make it easier for employees to find you. This may mean providing alternative ways of communicating. It may mean deviating from your normal way of working. I think it is really easy to get caught up with all of the what-ifs in the future. Instead of worrying about that, worry about building and fostering relationships — and the rest will fall into place.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
I think employees expect to have more insight into their futures these days. They want more individually tailored positions that fit their lifestyle. They want employment that is steady but offers them flexibility. Also, since unemployment rates are relatively low right now, salary demands will also be higher in the short run as well. Employers will need to balance this and the business needs that they have with the flexibility and individualization that employees demand. From an employer perspective, I think the best strategy is to really think about what is necessary for a position and what isn’t. Do you need an employee that is available between 9 and 5? Or can you be flexible on work hours?
On a much higher level, I would also suggest that employers can and should take a look at whether they need people to fill certain positions as well. Instead of hiring someone new, is there a way to move existing resources to fill the need? If so, promoting from within may have a positive effect on company culture and also help the company to stay streamlined.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
The pandemic really forced us to re-evaluate how we viewed work. There were some companies that were experimenting with the idea of letting employees work from home even before lockdown. The pandemic forced us to rethink what could and could not be done from home. It taught us that employees could work from home and get things done just as efficiently as they could in the office. It taught us that we could maintain communication with clients and hold meetings over the internet. In-person meetings were not as necessary for our business as maybe we thought. Most importantly, it taught us that we could still sell products and services even though we were working from home.
As a result of this experience, I think companies are now more open to alternative working arrangements than ever before. We used to look at working from home as being a lesser form of work. It was an alternative that was really used only when someone could not make it to the office. Now, we are thinking about it as a way to offer employees a more flexible schedule and a way to save money by spending less time driving to the office. We are beginning to look at working from home as an opportunity, rather than a barrier.
I think you will see this continue. Companies will continue to push the lines about what is necessary to do in-person and what isn’t. They will continue to question their former ways of doing business and look for alternatives that will help make employees’ lives easier. You will see more companies give up their physical office space and encourage employees to work in ways that they deem to be best. They will empower employees to work on their own and at the times they want — rather than dictating when, where, and how things need to be done.
The pandemic opened companies’ eyes to what was possible in a remote environment. Instead of thinking about what they will do when things “go back to normal,” businesses are thinking about how they can build on what they are doing remotely.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
One of the big things that we learned during the pandemic was that we are social people. We don’t do well in isolation. While mental wellness is not a new issue, it became an area of focus during lockdown partly because we missed the connectedness that came with going through our day to day lives. Finding ways to stay connected to our colleagues, clients, and business partners is imperative in the future working environment. Working from home looks like it is here to stay, so we as a society need to continue to explore ways that we can work from different geographic locations without feeling isolated.
Secondly, in order for a more permanent work from home environment to be successful for everyone, we have to make it more acceptable for people to place boundaries on their working hours. Working from home can provide increased flexibility in terms of when we work. However, if we want this for ourselves, we need to be more accepting of the fact that not everyone works at the same time. It needs to be okay not to return emails right away. It needs to be okay to not be available right at 9am during the week. I believe we are working towards a more flexible and fluid workday. If that’s the case, then we need to get rid of some of the expectations that we have historically had for others.
Finally, we need to be more accepting of people’s personal lives when it leaks into their professional lives. I still occasionally hear stories of people getting angry when a child enters into the room during a conference call. I had someone in one of my classes get upset when my doorbell rang while I was teaching a class online. We need to be more forgiving of these types of things. If we are okay with people working from their living room, we have to be okay with personal and professional lives bumping into each other sometimes.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
All of the opportunities! In the future, geography doesn’t matter and collaboration opportunities are infinite. You can partner with almost anyone. The talent pool is endless. Your day is less structured and you have more autonomy to create. In my opinion, the future of work is more exciting than scary because you can just simply do more without having to physically be at the office.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
The key to better mental health in the workplace is realizing that we are social beings, whether we are working from home or at the office. In short, we need to interact with other people. It is good for us to talk and collaborate on business issues. As we move forward into the future, we need to make mental health an okay thing to talk about in the workplace. We need to encourage workers to come forward when they are not feeling right. We need to encourage managers to check-in regularly with staff — sort of the remote work equivalent to management by walking around. We need to encourage staff members to check-in with each other. We also need to make resources available when employees have things that they need to talk about. I don’t just mean a phone number we hand to an employee that is experiencing an issue. I don’t just mean human resources staff hearing problems either. I mean real professionals who have real training in how to help people who are having problems. Companies should partner with mental health professionals to offer services when companies have employees who need help. This is not hard to do. Trained professionals can meet with people over the internet, if necessary — so really it is just companies forming those relationships with mental health professionals.
For so long, mental health was not something we talked about in the workplace. It was almost taboo or a sign of weakness to admit that you were having a problem. The pandemic was terrible in so many ways, but perhaps one good thing that came out of it is that mental health problems are starting to be something that we talk about. We have a lot of work to do, but I am glad to see that companies are starting to pay attention to these issues. Mental health is just as important as the physical health of our employees.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
The most obvious takeaways that I see are that employees are losing engagement very quickly and the old days of people just being happy to have a job are going away. It used to be enough for employers to simply offer a position to an employee with stability and solid pay. However, that’s not enough now. Employees want more. They want to feel like they are a part of something. They want to see career trajectory. They want a job that fits their life with benefits that are meaningful to them. While the talent pool is bigger these days for employers, the competition is also global now when it comes to recruiting. Employees who are good at what they do can afford to be picky now. They don’t want just any job. They want a job that is tailored to them and plays to their skills.
If employers are going to remain competitive, they need to reconsider how they recruit. Don’t just put out a position and try to find someone to fill out. Think in-depth about how interviewees could potentially fill a role. Think about how the organization could benefit from the skills they bring — not just what skills does this position need. In short, make recruiting more like a business partnership. How can the business and potential employee work together?
This is not to say that organizations should bend their operations around each new hire. However, it does mean that people nowadays want more insight into how they are going to be used and where they fit. The key to keeping people engaged over the long run is helping them to see where they are headed. If they can see that, their work becomes more meaningful.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Finding innovative ways to brand without using a store front — If you have less companies that have a physical office space, you lose some impressions with customers. They can no longer drive by and see your presence in the communities that they are in. You can do TV commercials or internet ads, but these are very crowded spaces. Especially for smaller companies, cost may be prohibitive as well. So I think you will start to see companies experimenting with different ways to brand themselves without using their physical office space. For example, one financial services firm that I heard about used to hold in-person conferences for their clients once per year. As part of that conference, they used to have catered lunches paid for by some of the local restaurants in town. During lockdown, they held their conference virtually but also sent clients Grub Hub gift cards so that they could have food delivered to their house while they were at the conference. I have also heard of companies sending more handwritten thank you notes and birthday cards than they ever have before. While some of these things were being done before the pandemic, they were not as prevalent. I think you will see companies investing more time in these activities going forward. Essentially, I think you will see companies taking the approach that if they can’t see clients in-person, they will do everything they can think of to create a personal connection and touch — outside of the normal channels.
- More gig and project work and workers — This has already started, and I expect it will continue in the future. During the pandemic, many workers decided to venture out on their own with varying degrees of success. The feeling seems to be that if they can’t find their dream job in the marketplace, why not create it? I think you will see more of this going forward. People will want to tailor their roles to their own preferences, and they may find that the only way to do this is to be an independent contractor.
- More individually tailored benefits and working conditions — People are not just looking for standardized positions and benefits anymore. They are looking for work that fits their life. So I think you will see benefits packages that fit people’s lives as well. For example, I think you will see employees asking for home office stipends, technology requests that enable easier work from home, and work schedules that are even more flexible. Companies will focus less on providing benefits like gyms in the office, wellness programs, and Blue Jean Fridays. They will look to tailor benefits — and work together with employees to offer benefits that are individualized.
- Less churn and burn positions — I love being a CPA, but one thing I have always struggled with is the churn and burn positions. For some reason, we feel like those in public accounting need to “prove themselves” by working through busy season and the 17-hour days that go along with it. Accounting is not the only industry like that. Higher-end law firms, consulting firms, and investment banking firms have similar “rights of passage.” In all of these cases, many firms hire with the idea that a certain percentage of their new hires will not make it through the initial busy season. They expect a certain number of people to burn out quickly. They plan their budgets around this expectation. The next recruiting year, the cycle starts over again. I think you will see these types of churn and burn positions start to disappear in the future. Today’s worker is more picky. They are not just looking for a high paying job. They are looking for a job that fits them and their personality. They are looking for stability, but also career trajectory. If firms continue recruiting for churn and burn positions in the same way they always have, then you will simply find less people going into that industry. In the accounting industry, for example, you are seeing less students coming out of school with accounting degrees than before. I think you will continue to see trends like this, if firms keep with the traditional churn and burn mentality. The workforce has changed. Firms need to change with it.
- Less defined hours and times of work — The Great Resignation has taught us that people are looking to work on their own terms these days. They want positions that fit their lifestyles — not necessarily positions that require them to change their lifestyle to fit the job. That being said, I think you will see a trend of companies allowing more and more freedom in terms of when and how work gets done. During the pandemic, you saw many couples adjusting their schedules to accommodate their children. You might have one spouse work in the morning and the other spouse work in the afternoon in an effort to have one of them available at all times for their kids. While this was done out of necessity during lockdown, I think many companies realized that it was possible to let people choose when they work. It was possible to be flexible with the schedule while still getting everything done. I think this will continue. Companies will focus more on the work getting done and less on the times when it is done. You are already seeing this in small glimpses and I think it will continue.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
I had a mentor of mine who used to always say “perfect is the enemy of the good” — which is a quote that is often attributed to Voltaire. When my mentor used to say it, what he meant was that if you have to be perfect in everything, you won’t accomplish nearly as much. Not everything needs perfection. You don’t always need perfect information to make decisions. Sometimes mostly correct information is enough to do something noteworthy.
I am not really sure if that is what Voltaire meant or not! However, I have always tried to differentiate between places in my business life where I need to be perfect and places where I don’t need to be. If a client is trying to make an important decision based on an area of the tax law, I need to be perfect. The client expects that from me. However, if I am trying to figure out where to take that same client to lunch, that probably doesn’t require me to be perfect. A few places are probably fine.
We spend a lot of time making decisions on things that don’t matter. Don’t spend time trying to be perfect in areas where no one cares. You don’t need all the information for every decision. That just causes us to be slow and inefficient.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I have always been fascinated by Warren Buffett. There is a simplicity in his approach to investing and business that I have always found to be refreshing. In the finance world, there is a lot of big talk and large egos, yet Buffett seems to always keep things in perspective. When he is wrong, he admits it. In a world of complex business and investing strategies, Buffett keeps things simple and remains phenomenally successful. That is someone to learn something from!
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Absolutely! If readers would like to get a hold of me, they are welcome to visit my website at: www.davidpetersfinancial.com.
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They can also send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my thoughts! I greatly appreciate it!