Much of today’s conversation about the future of work focuses on technology, especially the way that technology enables remote work. It’s a topic that has understandably risen to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But to strategic consultant, podcast host and author Connie Steele, it’s the people — the ones sitting on the other side of all of that technology — who offer the most fascinating insight into the future of work.
Connie has more than 20 years of professional experience in market research, marketing and strategy at companies like General Mills and AOL. Ten years ago she turned that expertise into Flywheel Associates, a consultancy that works to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. Through working with consulting clients and interviewing countless more business leaders for her podcast, Strategic Momentum, Connie began to notice an interesting pattern among the people she talked to.
“The way that they were pursuing their careers was nonlinear,” she says. “The way that they were operating was different. What they wanted out of life was being defined differently … They were seeking more fulfillment; they were seeking purpose; they were really wanting to make an impact.”
Connie saw these themes playing out the strongest among Millennial and Gen Z professionals in the early and middle stages of their careers. And once she saw this pattern, she couldn’t look away. Connie dug in, researching to find an explanation for these nonlinear, fluid career paths that were becoming more and more mainstream.
In this episode of That Solo Life: The Solo PR Pro Podcast, Connie joins Karen Swim and Michelle Kane to discuss the groundbreaking trends that she uncovered in writing her 2021 book “Building the Business of You,” as well as her tips for rethinking your own career trajectories.
Going with the flow of fluidity
Fluidity is a trend that has seeped into every part of today’s work experience. For many people, work is no longer defined by linear processes, executed in sequential order in a siloed organization.
“Now it feels more collaborative because you need to work with multiple people to get something done. It’s more multimodal and multidimensional,” Connie says. “We now have this optionality where we don’t have to choose between one thing or another. It’s not an ‘or’ situation — it’s an ‘and.’ We want personal and professional, purpose and profit, work and life.”
Fluidity also applies to the way we switch context among identities — from PR pro to podcaster to parent, for example — and to how we juggle multiple email inboxes, working hours and client processes.
“It’s so important that people understand the world of work is fluid,” Connie says. “You can’t stay fixed. For you to grow in whatever it is you want to do, you have to have that growth mindset. It’s constantly testing, learning and iterating on yourself to see what fits best — because the future of work is about you trying to be your whole self.”
Examine your interests to determine a goal
Fluidity allows individuals to pursue careers and opportunities that embrace all of their talents and passions. But this can be a lot to juggle, especially for people who may have been raised in a time when a single, linear career path was the norm.
For those ready to branch out, it’s important to define your goal, and then consider how each of your skills or interests complements the goal.
“What do you really want in your career as well as life?” Connie asks. “We don’t spend the time to necessarily look inside ourselves and ask that question. It’s, What’s the next job? What’s the next opportunity? But when we say, What really fits me? What makes me happy? What is the environment that I want to create for myself? These are all higher order questions.”
Connie acknowledges that this type of self-reflection takes time and can be uncomfortable at first, but it’s part of the broader self-strategic planning process that is necessary to open up a new path forward.
Observe how your career stacks up
Connie uses the analogy of building with Lego bricks to explain what it might look like to integrate so many parts of ourselves in today’s work environment.
The previous, linear way of working is similar to sitting down with a clear plan for what you want to build with your Legos — you may even bring an instruction manual that shows you how to put it together. This is like someone who may have gone to school to train for a particular profession or gotten certified in a particular skill before taking an entry-level job and working the way up the ladder.
The nonlinear alternative is to sit down with a bin of mixed Legos and just start fitting them together in ways that feel interesting.
“As you start to build it, and they’re all over the board, it starts to become clearer and clearer for you what that whole picture could be,” Connie says. “But you don’t know until you try.”
Today’s work landscape offers similar opportunities for experimentation, which allows people to identify what they like and change direction faster.
The era of fluidity applies to organizations, too
It’s not just individuals who must adapt to the future of work — organizations have to figure out a new way to operate too.
“We have to remember that companies are made up of people,” Connie says, adding that just like brands, employers need to understand their target audience and what compels them.
And because companies may have employees representing four or five different generations, it’s entirely possible that those groups of people will all want different things out of both work and life. This means that the days of one-size-fits-all compensation and benefits packages may well be over.
Connie recommends that companies wrestling with this question start small.
“What could be an opportunity that we can pursue? Does that work for us?” she says. “How can we improve it? Then you can learn how to scale it to others. But you have to constantly flex and adapt because there are absolutely new things that come into play that you cannot anticipate.
Connie points out that embracing a fluid mindset is uncomfortable and challenging, but also sets us up to respond to inevitable change.
“Change is constant. Uncertainty is the new certainty,” she says. “I think it’s important for people to realize that this is the way it’s going to be. But there can be great things out of it because you might get new opportunities or learn new skills that you wouldn’t have expected.”
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