Preparing For The Future Of Work: Top Five Trends To Watch In The Future Of Work
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, Authority Magazine reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, Authority Magazine interviewed Rob Den Besten, AIA, LEED AP, COO, and Dan Tyrer, AIA, LEED AP, Design Leader.
Rob Den Besten, AIA, LEED AP, is Chief Operating Officer at GMB Architecture + Engineering, a learning organization of educational planners, designers, and engineers, where he began his career as an intern 20 years ago. His passion lies in connecting GMB’s offices in ways that elevate the firm’s “Team of Teams” and fostering an empowered culture, leading to everyone’s growth. His role is to keep teams focused on reaching goals, delivering an amazing service, integrating the major functions of the firm’s business, and growing everyone’s knowledge. He believes in getting the right people, in the right seats, and removing obstacles so that the amazing people at GMB can achieve.
Dan Tyrer, AIA, LEED AP, is a Design Leader at GMB, and a creative at heart, believing in high quality design detailing and craft, rooted in strong conceptual ideas, to deliver impactful experiences and solutions for clients and communities. Collaborating with a multidisciplinary “Design Table,” along with all staff at GMB, he aims to grow the design culture, quality, and practice grounded in empathy and curiosity. Always striving for design excellence, he has led architectural design with clients for over 20 years as a champion for design throughout all phases of a project.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Everything we do is driven by our Just Cause to generate more for the world by working with communities to equip students for lifelong learning. We firmly believe that education provides transformational opportunities for our communities, industries, and our world, and the learning ecosystems we’re creating together prepare students of all ages for work and careers that enable them to live better lives and make their communities better places. It’s a continuous cycle we call a learning ecosystem, and it’s at the core of what we’re working for and creating every day. New methodologies in education are constantly influencing (and are influenced by) those in professional workplaces.
With a firm purpose centered around continual learning, growth, and building learning ecosystems that result in life-changing opportunities, GMB is reimagining the future (and present) of work. Our integrated team of educational planners, architects, and engineers understand that one size does not fit all when it comes to learning — and work. That’s why GMB has encouraged a flexible in-person and virtual work environment long before 2020, like offering our quarterly GMB University and annual Community Day at all of our hubs and online with no judgement or preference for people’s choices. We feel it’s important to empower each person to decide where and how they work best.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
This global event was a disrupter to traditional ideas of what work and education are and could be. It’s clear that traditional notions of education and workplace are no longer sufficient to prepare people for a unique, organic, evolving world. Educational trends are influencing workplace practices and needs, and vice versa. Employers are exploring new ways to make learning available to their employees by creating their own educational systems. While educational institutions understand that people will need continual learning to remain employable and competitive, both workplace and educational organizations are interested in a workforce able to respond to the changing needs, in order to maintain the effective delivery of their goods and services.
It’s important to understand the ways in which workplaces can support learning to react to this changing world. At our own company this has led us to be interested in examining and utilizing our own workplace as learning environments. We find that little attention is paid to the learning environment at work, and it’s a crucial component for employers and employees to be able to adapt and evolve.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
Knowledge is brought back in different ways by the students now (through STEM, collaboration, asynchronous learning, and team-based projects), and this is having implications for the workplace. Recently graduated students however have very different experiences of the workplace. What is exciting is that there is a common focus for both education and workplace on the individual.
Education in itself, regardless of subject, level of attainment, or location, creates opportunity for individuals, for communities, and for industries. We work with all levels of educational institutions, from early childhood centers teaching our youngest to love learning, to colleges and universities and beyond, including community centers and vocational training facilities.
In particular, our community college partners such as Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana and Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan, make higher education, career training, and advanced learning accessible to all students. They provide opportunities for area residents to expand their horizons, learn new skills, and acquire valuable jobs to make a better life for themselves and their families, all at an affordable tuition rate that has significant return on the investment. But rather than serving as merely a springboard to a four-year institution, many community colleges have identified opportunities to serve as a conduit for filling in-demand jobs in their regions while improving the lives of community members with highly skilled educational programs. By partnering with regional business and industry groups, many campuses are creating custom or industry specific certifications and learning programs to fill workforce alignment gaps and supply a steady pipeline of skilled and trained employees.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
It’s about skills, not degrees. Traditional companies focus on demand for specific jobs over a long time horizon. They assume that the positions needed will not be very different in the immediate future. So they create hierarchical job titles, accountability matrices, processes, and performance measures, and assume the skills for those positions stay the same. However, we live in a unique, organic, evolving world. Jobs in the future require skills that will come and go over just the next few years.
We are in the process of moving towards skills-based strategic workforce planning. We are beginning by creating skills profiles for every employee that will influence the projects they select to work on, understanding personal skill gaps for learning, how they are compensated, and understanding what skills we need to hire for. This means we will have an understanding of each individual as a composition of skills rather than viewing them as their one overall job function. We want to understand what people can do, rather than what they are, as that will make us more agile to react to change.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
Our inclusive, people-first culture encourages teams to collaborate, communicate, and find fulfillment personally and professionally, regardless of location or schedule. GMB’s revolutionary approach to productivity, connection, and learning through our network of teams empowers our people to work virtually anywhere, and this non-linear scheduling proved fruitful during the pandemic. GMB doesn’t operate within a hierarchical pyramid structure; instead, we operate like a network of teams that come together around specific goals working toward our overarching purpose. We think this is a better way to work and help everyone reach their potential. We embrace a flexible workplace that empowers each person to decide where and how they work best. We’re reimagining the workplace and embracing flexibility, empowering teams to design their ideal work environment. We see the trend toward flexible, hybrid work continuing, as more people value the flexibility to work when and where they work best, and employers acknowledge that their teams produce more high-value, creative work when people are put first.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
For many employers, the move to hybrid and remote work cultures may be difficult to accept. We’ve heard numerous excuses for demanding employees to be present in an office building for a certain period of time, from “collaboration can’t happen remotely” to “how can young employees be mentored if they’re not sitting next to senior team members?” … What we’ve found is that both collaboration and mentoring occur organically and asynchronously throughout the organization and with the client experience as well.
Some employees might find the onboarding process difficult in a remote or hybrid work environment, as well as building relationships with other team members. Some may even find it difficult to work fully virtual or remote and not have in-person meetings or activities; and some may even miss the in-person socializing that often comes from being in an office. Our internal collaboration platform, DORP, is an active virtual hub that enables employees to work remotely without feeling disconnected. The platform connects people in celebrating wins, project updates, and sharing personal stories.
We’ve also found that a flexible or hybrid workplace like that at GMB empowers teams to design their ideal work environment, and allows for greater diversity in roles and perspectives for our teams. Though we have hubs for in-person work and collaboration in Holland, Grand Rapids, and Royal Oak, Michigan, and Indianapolis, Indiana, our project teams decide how and when they use those spaces. At GMB we believe collaboration, mentoring, learning, and growth doesn’t only happen in an office building. This 50+ year-old firm is reimagining the workplace and embracing flexibility, encouraging our employees to forge deeper connections with their communities and expand our learning ecosystem.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
GMB’s people and our focus on developing a strong culture that just keeps making us better give us the momentum to stay positive and focused during this period of transition for the modern workforce. We’ve been a people-first organization for some time now, and that aspect of our culture enables us to collaborate and work in new and exciting ways that put people at the center of everything we do. Over the last several years, our Team of Teams structure has changed the way we build teams, connect disciplines, develop regional offices, grow empathy and trust within a multi-generational workforce, and structure the business itself. The Team of Teams structure has helped us to navigate the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, manage knowledge within the organization, and prepare for the future of work. There are incredible opportunities for redesigning the physical office workplace to fulfill the purpose of the organization and where employees are learning and growing together. Locating our physical offices so they are truly part of learning ecosystems within our communities, creating hubs of growth and collaboration, is an exciting opportunity on the horizon.
The main focus for our offices is to function as hubs of learning, to serve as a learning resource for our education ecosystem. They’re places where employees, clients, students, and community members can come to learn and grow together. And our work is 100% flexible — all employees have the same opportunities regardless of where they are working. This flexibility is encouraging our teams to grow, connect with their communities, clients, and each other, and create better, more impactful work.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Hybrid or Flexible Workplace. Doing great work shouldn’t be about a spot on the map. Regardless of location, we’re accountable for the outcomes of roles and teams and we’ve found that can often happen outside of a cubicle! At GMB, employees are encouraged to perform work when and where it is best suited to fit into their personal life situation. Employees will increasingly be working in what we call the hybrid office — moving between a remote workspace and a traditional office building. The latter will become primarily a culture space, providing workers with a social anchor, facilitating relationship building, enabling learning, and fostering long term goal building. It’s one component to answer the purpose, place, people, and routine question. Our offices are one tool of many tools in our relationship building toolkit. We will continue to facilitate a cadence of in-person collaboration and team gathering either through our own dedicated real estate or other flexible spaces.
2. Offices as collaborative learning environments. At GMB, we’re redesigning our office hubs, and potentially relocating their physical presence, to better align with our purpose and how our teams work. Instead of designing offices, we’re creating a collaborative learning environment that acts as a hub for active learning for both employees and their clients and community. Given our just cause and focus on education, accessibility for clients, students, and the community is central to our commitment to education. We are designing the whole employee experience around Virtual First, from IT to HR. We’ll invest in a holistic ecosystem of resources, including a dedicated team, to support employees and track our progress by measuring impacts on productivity, engagement, and culture so we can continue to adapt. As a first step, we’ve developed a Team of Teams playbook so that we can add to it and share our learnings as we go.
3. Non-linear Work Day. We embrace a non-linear workday, which not only allows our lives to look and feel different, but also opens up possibilities we may not encounter in an on-site, synchronous workplace. For us, a non-linear work day means accomplishing work at times of the day and week that are best for our role, and also meet the needs of clients and teammates.
4. Team of Teams. Team of Teams is a structure that fosters intentional intersections between diverse people. This is how we challenge one another, remove echo chambers, and find the next best idea for our clients. Our Team of Teams approach empowers groups of people to identify, learn, and solve challenges based on interest and their own individual critical contribution. Once solutions are found, new teams are formed to address the next challenges. Traditionally, many companies are organized in a hierarchical fashion with the CEO sitting at the top of a pyramid. In our Team of Teams environment, we operate like a network of teams that come together around specific goals that work toward our overarching purpose. Because we serve clients in the field of architecture, engineering, and interior design, we have multidisciplinary project teams. But when it comes to things like leadership, driving change, and creating standards, coordinated teams are built as needed.
5. Focus on Employee Wellness. From lighting to indoor air quality, and even opportunities to get outside for some fresh air and sunshine, the future of work will have a large focus on employee health and wellness, including both physical and mental wellness. At GMB, we have a Wellness Pod that facilitates opportunities for employees to learn about and discuss wellness of all types, removing stigma and barriers to openly discussing the subject. Our quarterly GMB University often involves the Wellness Pod to create programming and learning opportunities for everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
Rob: I’m not sure I follow any specific quote but this idea and author have shaped my perspective on leadership and teams. Patrick Lencioni said: “Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” I think the most important thing a leader can do is to be honest with themselves and others about their weaknesses, mistakes, and needing to ask for help. That will build a stronger, healthier team.
Dan: Admittedly, I do not have a favorite that I try to follow. I do like Michael Jordan’s quote: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” It also seems to fit the points made here. For me, I strive to be the best I can be and seek individual accomplishments. While I think this is extremely valuable for one’s own growth, dovetailing this with the passion, talents, skill, and expertise of others can create something even greater than I can accomplish on my own.
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 or she might just see this if we tag them.
Rob: Simon Sinek. I think he is an inspiration to myself and to other business leaders who I follow for his work of trying to inspire better working practices and trust between teams. I would very specifically want to ask him more about his thoughts on education as an infinite game.
Dan: P.J. Fleck, now football coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but who came from Western Michigan previously, where I first started learning of his success at building teams around a shared idea. I appreciate a clear direction that is genuinely embraced and owned by a team. While “row the boat” is attributed to P.J. Fleck as the leader (their coach), it seems to be an authentic part of the whole team. This is an aspiration for me in leading design at GMB. I am not seeking to have others mimic my ideas, but truly help to shape and own a shared vision.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Follow us on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/gmb-ae/
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.
This article was originally published on Authority Magazine, October 2021.
Want to learn more?Reach out to one of our design professionals
As COO, Rob's passion lies in connecting GMB's offices in a way that elevates a 'Team of Teams' approach, fosters an empowered culture, and leads to everyone's growth. His role is to keep teams focused on reaching their goals, delivering amazing service, integrating the major functions of the business, and growing in knowledge. He believes in getting the right people in the right seats and removing obstacles so that they can be successful.
Dan is a creative at heart, believing in high quality design detailing and craft, rooted in strong conceptual ideas, to deliver impactful experiences and solutions for clients and communities. Collaborating with a multidisciplinary “Design Table,” along with all staff at GMB, he aims to grow the design culture, quality, and practice grounded in empathy and curiosity. Always striving for design excellence, he has led architectural design with clients for over 20 years as a champion for design throughout all phases of a project.
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