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5 Takeaways from Remote Year’s Future of Work Summit 2018

Ashley Ryall is the Founder and Chief Content Strategist for UntapSocial. Ashley describes herself as a content junkie, ambitious world traveler, early technology adopter, yogi, meditator, future coder, second language learner, and startup promoter.

Talent leaders and executives from the likes of WeWork, VaynerMedia, Kelly Services, Johnson & Johnson, Forrester Research, Dell, Fiverr and more gathered in Brooklyn, New York April 24th and 25th. The group met to chat and share their free-flowing ideas around how we can take care of our most valuable asset in the spirit of change – our people.

These two days were filled with engaging, heart-felt panel discussions and open, roundtable dialogues as intimate and charismatic as the venue (check out FREEHOLD).

Remote Year’s Future of Work Summit left me in a blissed-out state of activation.

People leaders are being called upon. We are asking each other to step up and be the catalyst for a future of work that we, ourselves, will create. We’re all responsible for employee culture. It’s on us to flip traditional HR on its head, to look at broken processes with unconventional lenses, and to embrace the idea that the employee career path is so far from linear.

If we are bold enough to rethink the employer-employee relationship, we have an opportunity to retain the whole PERSON, not just the employee. Which means we can get the most out of their expertise, facilitate an equal exchange of value, and shape them into consumer advocates for our brand. I can’t think of a better outcome.

Here are the five key themes I walked away with from Remote Year’s 2018 Future of Work Summit:

What IF employers focused on shorter employee tenure?

The biggest question that came out of the Summit for me was this: if more workers are going to ‘jump ship’ every two years, why don’t employers adapt to shorter employee tenure plans? Instead of tiring ourselves out over empty retention strategies, what would happen if we invested in specific talent skill sets and capitalized on their expertise, regardless of how long or short they stayed?

Imagine a dynamic employee-employer relationship that evolves over time, consists of different roles, and adjusts to fit the business’ needs as they change. Job arrangements like this, that fluidly shift  from contractor or freelancer to salary, and maybe back again, would require a fundamental change at the organizational level, but could drastically influence productivity and the bottom line.

Our employer branding strategy now needs to include the contingent workforce.

Yes, if we shift our focus to accommodate shorter employee tenure trends, company culture will inherently change. And if our culture changes, the way we hire for culture must also change. During Tuesday’s The Future of Attracting Talent panel, Johnson & Johnson’s Global Head of Candidate Experience, Trevor Higgs, and, VP & Managing Director at Kelly, John Healy, both asked us the one question we needed to be asked.

“How much of your employer branding strategy is geared towards attracting contingent workers?” Even among an audience of innovators, the answer was a reluctant “not much.”

Winning employers not only distinguish candidates who are a ‘culture add’ vs. a ‘culture fit,’ but they hire for skill sets, not credentials. They test for predictors of high potential, including critical thinking, underlying interests, and emotional intelligence (which keynote Alison Gough from Stylus would probably applaud). “As long as companies chase the latest skill, they’ll always have a shortage. Instead, hire for behaviors and core aptitudes that you can flex into whatever the future brings,” says Anne Benedict, SVP of HR at Infor. Trevor Higgs chimed in, excited about new predictive analytics tools that identify alternative job opportunities where specific skill sets have historically been successful, outside of the job that candidate may have applied for.

So how do you include everyone (1099 workers, W2s, freelancers etc.) in the culture conversation? It’s all about community, which can be tough when you hire a bunch of contractors who may be reluctant to prioritize the social bonding that intrinsically comes with a strong employee culture.

Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia, Claude Silver, reminds us, “the only thing that is important is that everyone feels like they belong.” Consider leaning on alumni as brand ambassadors and inviting former employees back on campus to give advice and share stories about how your company advanced their personal and professional goals.

Maintain culture through change with transparency.

Facilitating a culture of transparency through growth and change begins with asking yourself and your employees, what do you hope doesn’t change about our culture when everything changes around us? A thought-provoking question that VP of Talent at The Muse, Toni Thompson, asked us during Monday afternoon’s roundtable. This question not only builds trust, but facilitates an open dialogue of real-time, honest and frequent feedback among colleagues – something you can agree, we all need more of.

Don’t be afraid to open up. It’s easy to boast flex schedules, high Glassdoor ratings, and Friday night karaoke in front of candidates, but VP of Talent at Flexport, Kristen Hayward, reminds us how far a little vulnerability can go, not just in an interview but at town-hall meetings. “Don’t be afraid to be honest about business pain-points.” Candidates and employees alike want to hear what’s a struggle and what leadership is working to fix.

Most importantly (drum roll, please), EXPLAIN WHY. It’s difficult for a champion to back your decision to implement a new software or hire a new boss if you don’t explain the intention behind the decision and provide context about how the change will affect employees personally. (Thanks for that nugget of wisdom, Toby Hervey of Bravely.)

Look at your employee experience with the same lens as your customer experience.

The way you approach your candidate and employee experience strategies should be no different than how you approach your customer experience strategy.

Why? Because candidates who have a negative experience with your brand are less likely to buy your product or service and up to 33% of them are likely to tell others not to buy from you. I don’t know about you but that’s enough incentive for me to get my act together.

And, validated at the Summit, happy, satisfied, driven employees can only improve your bottom line and your NPS scores. Shopify takes this concept a few steps further. Anna Lambert, Director of Talent, explained on the Who Owns Employee Culture? panel how Shopify gives employees the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship and better understand what it’s like to start a business, since most of their customers are small businesses.

Rethink place + space in a changing workforce.

More people want to work when they want, where they want, how they want. Fight it all you want but this is the new normal. Although flex work or remote work isn’t for everyone, more workers across generations are happier and more productive when they can control their work environments and are often turned off by old-school HR mentalities like ‘in-seat syndrome.’

“We can’t afford for our lead developer to sacrifice his surf time during lunch,” says one attendee whose company has embraced flex work and realizes a detrimental alternative.

So, as Founder and CEO of Remote Year, Greg Caplan, asked us, how can we think about place and space to facilitate productivity and team bonding, and where do technology and communication play a role in increasingly dispersed teams? During a breakout session on Flex work as a recruiting and retention tool, Jacquelyn Smith of FlexJobs helped us lay the foundation for how to operationalize flex work successfully. Start with defining exactly what flex means to your organization and then set expectations from the get-go. In other words, “put fences around the freedom.”

Consider establishing a two-hour global window for all employees to be accessible online and allow for teams to share internally, using video, what they’re working on in order to cultivate cross-functional ideas across offices or business lines (spot on, WeWork).

Remote Year’s Future of Work Summit 2018 left me with a lot to think about, and many ideas for changes I could implement in my own work. Along with the takeaways mentioned above, the chance to connect with major industry players was a major highlight. After this year’s experience, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year.