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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

The workplace of the future: Hybrid, Gen Z-friendly, and by invitation only

Employees need to know where you stand regarding the issues they care about—and they need to know that you care about them. 

The workplace of the future: Hybrid, Gen Z-friendly, and by invitation only
[Flamingo Images/AdobeStock]

We are all starting to navigate a mass return to the office, a continuation of the hybrid model, or something entirely different, and there are so many questions to address. What do employees want and/or need now? How can we build in flexibility without losing social connectivity and diluting corporate culture? Plus—most importantly—how can we reconfigure organizations for the incoming Gen Z workforce?

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As the head of a boutique marketing and creative agency, I’m not just focused inward on my own team, but also keen to source inspiration from a wide variety of “thinkers” to better serve my clients. I thought it might be helpful to share ideas I’ve read recently, while providing commentary and context from my own experience. Hopefully this will give you some support as you work out (what works for) what’s next.

ENGAGING EMPLOYEES

In “It’s not about the office, it’s about belonging” Bonnie Dowling, Associate Partner at McKinsey (and her co-authors), points out that the main issue for CEOs right now is how to keep everyone connected and engaged: “More than half of employees who left their job in the past six months did not feel valued by their organization (54 percent) or manager (52 percent), or they lacked a sense of belonging (51 percent) [it’s clear that] employees want stronger relationships, a sense of connection, and to be seen.”

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I know that many of my fellow CEOs who had more traditional in-person office situations pre-pandemic are struggling to re-engage employees and get them back to the office. Perhaps rather than demanding everyone return to life as it (once) was, they could try what we’ve done at my company and “extend the invitation to return”—a subtle but powerful, distinction.

Some of our staff will always be remote. In fact, many have moved out of the city, but I’m committed to having an office they can come to. I think the communal space is a powerful tool for engaging employees and getting stuff done. It’s all about letting people know they belong.

GOAL-SETTING ACTIVITIES

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To give structure, purpose, and a tangible output, when people are together in the office, I suggest using a skills-identifying framework such as Strength Finders for goal-setting activities. We’ve done this as a refresher to fill gaps in hiring and upskill through in-house training.

I also recommend Marc Benioff’s V2MOM exercises to get alignment on how you want to grow, or change, in the coming year. We use this to debate and discuss, then establish the articulation and framework for our vision, mission, and goals. For example, one focus that emerged from this work is how we’ll improve our diversity quotient within our partner network. These group activities really bring people together and enable them to coalesce around shared goals and stem attrition.

From my own observation within my network, firms that do this regularly have had far lower staff turnover in recent years. Employees need to know where you stand regarding the issues they care about—and they need to know that you care about them.

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PREPPING FOR GEN Z

Finally, Gen Z is the rising majority in the workplace. That means we have to shift how we work, not just where we work, and define why we work in the first place. According to Deloitte’s report Understanding Gen Z in the Workplace, this highly diverse cohort has an entirely fresh perspective on life:

“As Gen Zers are about to step onto the world stage, the impact of their entry will be swift and profound, its effects rippling through the workplace, retail consumption, technology, politics, and culture. Radically different from Millennials, this generation has an entirely unique perspective on careers and how to define success in life and in the workforce.”

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It’s true, Gen Z has a totally different relationship with work, money, and life. They’ve witnessed the financial suffering of older generations and are jaded by it. They seek out stability and are well aware that the promises and safety nets of the past (things like expecting strong returns in the traditional equities markets) are not necessarily going to exist in the future.

As the Deloitte report notes: “If given the choice of accepting a better-paying but boring job versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Gen Z was fairly evenly split over the choice [so] employers will [also] need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens.”

It’s clear compensation discussions need an overhaul to emphasize values-based offers, alongside remuneration. This means we need to elicit innovation and ascribe meaning (or find it) within the traditional driving forces behind capitalism, such as financial services, by talking about addressing inequities and building generational wealth in underserved communities. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see a brain drain away from traditional jobs toward making a living in the creator economy.

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I do believe this is what we’re aiming for now—a workplace that is hybrid and equitable and addresses the disparate needs of each employee, all while being truly productive and smart. A hybrid model requires work tasks and goals that function as seamlessly as they would if the employee was physically at the office. This requires a shift in behavior and intentionality in how we work. It’s not just about returning to the office, but also about building habits that allow for the best experience possible—whether someone is hiking in Colorado or sitting at a desk in New York. At least, that’s what I want to build—how about you?


Marisa Ricciardi is Founder/CEO of the Ricciardi Group, the NY-based strategic marketing agency with clients including Visa and Adobe.  

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