4 Founders & CEOs on what the future of work holds

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Picture yourself back in early February 2020. You most likely had a job that saw you heading to the office Monday to Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. Maybe, if you were lucky enough to be employed by one of the “cool companies”, one of your perks was to have a fixed number of work-from-home days that you could use at your leisure.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and changed everything – including the way we work. And that’s something companies are still evaluating more than 2 years after the outbreak of COVID-19.

The question of “should my company be fully remote, on-site, or hybrid?” is one that many CEOs, founders, and co-founders are wrestling with. That’s why we caught up with the Founder of Hotjar, the Co-Founder & President at Trainerize, the Co-founder of Abacum; and the CEO and Co-founder of TravelPerk to ask them what they thought the future of work would look like – and no two answers were the same.

“Hybrid” – the word of the decade

If you love working from home in your sweatpants some days, but also think that it’s nice to interact with people in the office and have lunch with colleagues, you’re not alone. In fact, 76% of professionals claim that their companies have decided to grab the best of both worlds by opting for a hybrid working model. And employees seem happy with this change, with 83% claiming that they would like to go to the office at least 25% of the time – over 70% of whom are Gen Z-ers who crave this in-person interaction. That just goes to show that we’re not going to let screens and computers take over the world just yet!

Tech giants like Apple and Amazon are the trendsetters leading the charge in committing to adopting a hybrid work model. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook sent out an email to all his employees outlining a hybrid work model that will see them return to the office 3 times a week. Amazon, on the other hand, has decided to leave it up to individual teams to make these decisions.

Longing for the hustle & bustle of the office

Watch out, Metaverse! So much digitization in our daily working lives isn’t for everyone. Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings has been one of the most outspoken advocates against hybrid or remote work, planning to bring teams back to the office as soon as it’s safe to do so. And he’s not alone in that area – companies like JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs have also announced an office-first approach to the future of work. 

While the rationale behind this decision differs from company to company, more than 30% of US-based employers feel like remote or hybrid work would jeopardize their company culture. 26% are also concerned with maintaining productivity levels in these new ways of working

Decentralizing with remote work

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many companies worldwide have opted to ditch the traditional office work model, save on real estate, and go fully remote. Companies like Dropbox, Facebook, Okta, Shopify, Slack, and famously Twitter, have all decided to send their employees to work from home full-time. That’s going to give the athleisure industry something to smile about! 

For the time, being just 16% of all of the world’s companies are fully remote. However, it’s undeniable that this is gaining traction. In fact, 90% of US employees who worked from home during the pandemic claim that they were as productive or more working remotely when compared to the office (of course, barring accidental cat face filters on Zoom or dogs barking during a meeting!).

What our 4 CEOs and Founders had to say

Hotjar’s hot for remote work

David Darmanin Hotjar

Renowned for its revolutionary remote-first culture, Hotjar’s founder David Darmanin believes that the future of work lies with a fully distributed workforce. 

“For the companies that CAN be fully distributed (a.k.a remote), I believe this future is inevitable. The benefits of a lifestyle that does not require you to commute and a culture that is not centralized into one central power office will eventually attract the best talent. The only question is how long that will take.”

Hotjar has operated on a full-time remote work model since before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. For David, this comes down to one simple thing – what you base your company culture on. 

“Our culture is alive independently of how we operate. In my opinion, a culture that depends on having an office space and meeting in person is not based on values, but rather on customs and rituals. At Hotjar we have defined our values, we revisit them, and we communicate how they are used and celebrate them when they are.”

According to Hotjar’s vision, building a company fully focused on remote teams is also an opportunity for true equality in the company. In a recent Hotjar blogpost, David explained how with remote workers, the likelihood of company politics based on who sits next to who is completely eliminated. 

“As long as your internet connection is as good as everyone else’s, for example, I’m the same distance away from everyone in the team”.

David’s advice for companies trying to figure out their working model

“My biggest piece of advice is not to choose based on what you like, prefer, or feel safer doing. Instead, speak to your team. Speak to the people you would love to hire. What lifestyle do they seek and what values do they believe in. If they could ‘wave a magic wand’ what kind of workplace do they desire? Then get to work and be ambitious.”

David Darmanin, Founder at Hotjar

At Trainerize, maintaining connectivity is key

Sharad Mohan Trainerize

Sharad Mohan, Co-Founder & President at Trainerize, highlights that Trainerize will strive to strike a balance that offers flexibility while also harnessing the power of in-person human connectedness. 

The many benefits of work from home (WFH), like not spending hours in traffic or having time in between meetings to chat with your family or eat a home-cooked meal, are all perks people have recently gotten used to. But things aren’t quite so black and white. According to Sharad, there are other considerations to take into account, like the fact that people crave interactions with others, or perhaps whose home is simply too small to spend both day and night at. 

“Employers need to adapt to what people need, and so we need to find out what that fine balance is. Ultimately, people want flexibility, people want freedom and choice. Personally, I want to create a work environment that pulls people into the office with purpose, rather than pushing people in.”

Trainerize was a remote-friendly organization even before COVID-19, however, Sharad believes that even that needs to evolve to suit our changing needs. More specifically, he thinks that office spaces will shift away from the traditional assigned desk concept and more towards a hot-desking set-up. He’s considering introducing quiet spaces for focused work, collaboration spaces for teamwork, and socializing spaces for building relationships.

“My goal is that when members of our team decide to leave home, it’s meaningful for them, and for the business”

What’s really important for Sharad is implementing a hybrid model across Trainerize that allows employees to maintain connectedness. The main idea here is to foster trust between people and teams. Building trust over only zoom calls can be difficult, especially if you’ve never had an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with the person on the other side of the call. This can be particularly important as teams find themselves in situations where they may need to solve complex problems, or are at odds with one another – a disagreement without the foundation of trust can be tricky to navigate.

Additionally, cross functional in-person interactions can often result in unexpected and highly creative results, and sometimes those moments don’t happen on scheduled calls. With all of that said, Sharad recognizes that in order to achieve this, Trainerize will redefine how they connect – and that no longer means a 5-day a week in-person workday. 

The future is all about creating connections—which means creating purpose driven opportunities to connect outside of work. Sports, lunches, and celebrations provide that opportunity to bring people together and give them a chance to laugh and bond. To me, hybrid teams will be best served by complementing remote work, with in-person events that aren’t necessarily work related.”

Sharad’s advice for companies trying to figure out their working model

“My first piece of advice is to think about what your employees want. Get a group together to brainstorm what people want at different stages of life. From there, think through the role that you as an employer can play to make their lives better. What environment do they need to do their best to work in? How can we inject energy into their lives? 

Secondly, stop classifying staff as “in-house”, “full-time”, “freelancer”, or “contractors”. Remove the classifications there; leave that for the accountants! Consider everyone part of the team, working towards a joint mission. Treat them the same and value their contributions. Make sure everyone feels valued for their contribution regardless of the time they spend with your organization.”

Sharad Mohan, Co-Founder & President at Trainerize

Abacum is having its cake and eating it too with a hybrid work model

Jorge Lluch Abacum

A lot of people say that hybrid work is the “best of both worlds”, affording employees the opportunity to meet in person when they like and the flexibility to WFH when they need to. Jorge Lluch, Co-Founder of Abacum, very much feels the same way. 

“There are some interactions that need to happen in person. But at the same time, the reality (COVID might have helped with this) is that some people prefer to have the flexibility to work from home. But we also care to bring people together to foster bonding, share our values, build relationships, among other things. These are important concepts which take longer when done remotely on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.”

At a fast-growing startup like Abacum, Jorge also argues that hiring remote employees also makes the process of scouting talent faster. His Human Resources and People teams can explore from a broader pool of resumes and talented candidates, streamlining this process and making it more efficient.

So, how is Abacum having its cake and eating it too?

“We embrace remote working techniques. We make sure people are ready to join a meeting with the right equipment, put a lot of emphasis on documenting, and share best practices for communication (async and sync). At the same time, we organize quarterly offsites, have weekly rituals, and do what we can to bring people together, remotely or in person.”

Jorge also claims that it’s important to make the effort of over-communicating on cultural stories, share them with the company, and have them as live examples. This is one of the best ways for co-workers, no matter where they’re working from, to really feel unified and part of the team.  

Jorge’s advice for companies trying to figure out their working model

“We chose the working model that fit best our growth plans, helps to build the type of company we want, and that was aligned with our employees’ expectations. 

There isn’t an answer that fits everyone. So you just need to try to make the best decision and be ready to adjust if you see something is not working. We are continuously tracking what needs to be changed to improve and assessing if what we have in place is optimal for what’s next in our growth plans.”

Jorge Lluch, Co-founder of Abacum

At TravelPerk, meeting in real life and flexibility walk hand in hand

Avi Meir TravelPerk

When you talk to TravelPerk’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Avi Meir, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t believe in living in the Metaverse. That’s why TravelPerk is first and foremost an “in real life” company. But that doesn’t necessarily mean going back to an established office or workspace 5-days a week. It’s about finding the right balance between coming together to meet people face-to-face and having the flexibility to adapt to your personal circumstances. 

“As human beings, our default shouldn’t be meeting one another through a screen. We shouldn’t be living in a virtual world – who ever watched The Matrix and thought it was a good idea? It’s my deep belief that true understanding between people can only happen in person when they can sit together, create, build. And I think that can be achieved through a healthy balance of giving people the opportunity to come together in real life and giving them the flexibility they need to make all this work for them.”

And the team at TravelPerk is taking this seriously, even integrating it into the new mission statement – to connect people in real life in an enjoyable and sustainable way. This is part of the company culture, and part of who TravelPerkers are and always will be.

That being said, Avi and the rest of the company’s leadership team acknowledge and appreciate that flexibility is an important element of work-life in a post-pandemic world. They recognize that not every task requires interaction with other people, and that’s why they are giving employees the freedom to decide where they physically want to be when working on focused, non-interaction-based tasks.

“TravelPerkers should be able to work in the environment that makes them feel most productive or stay home to be with the kids when they’re home from school without having to take time off work. We’ll never make people punch in at the beginning of the day and punch out before going home. It’s always going to be about ownership and doing what’s right for themselves, their responsibilities, and our company.”

Avi’s advice for companies trying to figure out their working model

First of all, know who you are as a company and what your company culture is. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to how we’re going to work. My best advice would be to clearly define the bottom line of your own company culture and identity and then shape a policy based on that.

Also, remember to treat your people as owners. Ask them what they think the right way to work is and how they think they’ll be most productive. Take that into account when building a new work policy – as well as a new workspace. Rethink the concept of the office to make it a for employees to go to, turning it into a place they want to go rather than a place they have to go.

Finally, just know that you’ll need to be OK with ambiguity for a while. There are growing pains in developing any new work model that changes what people are used to, but as long as you stick to your values, you’ll come out on top. 

Avi Meir, Co-Founder and CEO of TravelPerk

coworkers in the office

How about you?

What do you think the future of work holds? Do you believe that the coronavirus pandemic represents a distinct “before” and “after” in terms of the way we work? Or do you think that things will go back to the way they always were once it’s safe to do so? Let us know on LinkedIn! 

Whatever you decide, it’s clear that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for every company. And if you’re only going to skim through this article and read one thing, let it be these top 8 tips we collected from our 4 Founders and CEOs:

  1. Treat people like owners and ask them what they think and want. Find out what lifestyle they’re hoping for and what values they believe in.
  2. Understand what role you can play as an employer in making your employees’ lives better. Find ways to inject energy into their work lives through an environment that allows them to do their best work.
  3. Forget about classifications like “in-house”, “full-time”, “freelancer” etc. Remember that everyone is part of a team working towards the same goal and make them feel included – no matter where they’re working from.
  4. Remember that the way you work is a key part of your growth strategy. Use this as a tool to build the kind of company you want to have in the future.
  5. Be flexible. If a policy you’ve implemented isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it. Adapt to the times.
  6. Clearly define the bottom line of your company culture, and work backward from there in shaping your work policy. Stay true to who you are.
  7. Think outside the box – you don’t have to adhere to one classification within your work model! Rethink the meaning of an office, for example, as a destination employees want to go to, rather than a place they’re obliged to go. Now is the time for creativity!
  8. Be OK with ambiguity for a while. There are growing pains with every type of change, and the best thing you can do here is to stick to your values throughout the process.

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