A leader in her own right as an innovator, emerging technologies futurist and disruptor of traditional education, Frances founded Tech FuturesLab in 2016 to foster the capabilities and skills needed to develop a culture of innovation and agility critical to NZ businesses and individuals to thrive in this fast-paced technological advancement era.

What does a better world of work look like to you?

Our lives and work would coexist on a single continuum, where a person’s sense of self and self-worth are meaningfully connected to their work. The ability to learn and evolve would be a key expectation of all work to ensure all employees feel confident in their decision-making and contribution to their work. Careers would advance as new skills and knowledge are learnt, rather than advancement being solely tied to tenure and age. 

Cross-disciplinary teams would become the norm as teams work on solutions that are robust in their development and widely tested for market fit, relevance and impact. The creation of goods and services that do not meet Sustainable Development Goals will become less appealing for employees as more people look for a positive impact from their work. The ability to contribute to projects that have long term benefits and intergenerational commitments will be highly valued. 

Work will increasingly be seen as a commitment to legacy and connection to projects will be an extension of skills, passions and talent. Dated business priorities and hierarchies where wealth is often seen as an indicator of success will shift as innovators, creatives, community leaders, teachers, health workers will be elevated to the same level as people who work in finance, law and politics. 

What is your business doing to build a better world of work?

We are developing more accessible and equitable access to postgraduate study for working adults. We have changed the model of delivery to suit full-time employees who are studying to better respond to the changing world around them. We have contextualised knowledge and learning so that it is reflective of the world we work in, focused on contemporary and applied practice, linking new knowledge to the workplace, regardless of context or industry. 

We provide a significant number of scholarships (over $13 million dollars worth in the past 8 years) for Māori, Pacific People, students over 60 years of age, and people working in impact roles such as health, social services, sustainability and community. 

We develop programmes that are focused on positive outcomes such as Leading Change for Good, Human Potential in the Digital Economy, Leading Beyond Sustainability. These programmes can be learnt at a Masters level or studied in bite-sized pieces as micro-credentials that can be stacked together to earn a postgraduate qualification over time. This optionality is significant for people who are easing their way back into study after years away from formal learning.

What are your predictions for how work will shift over the next few years?

Work will be completely reimagined over the next ten years. Starting with the erosion of the forty-hour working week, as flexibility and output based contracts become widely adopted. Global citizens working on global projects as part of collaborative, cross-disciplinary teams will become widespread as employees focus on the work they live, delivered from the location of choice. Technology and the adoption of smart productivity tools and collaborative platforms as the tools of choice will support distributed teams across different time zones. Positive and supportive workplace culture will become the most highly valued attribute for employees as geographic barriers are lifted to provide greater access to new opportunities in other markets. 

Generation Z and then the Alpha generation will drive the sustainability argument and hold organisations accountable for their decision making and their outputs. Equity, access, responsiveness and accountability will become more than catchphrases to be a core part of the pitch to attract great staff. More people will choose to have a portfolio career, working on a range of different projects for different organisations simultaneously. Side hustles in areas of interest eg. writing, fitness, cooking etc will be adopted as a means to benefit from higher-paying roles on a part-time basis combined with passion projects.

Companies that can demonstrate true diversity of people, including thought, age, ethnicity and skills will continue to produce better financial outcomes, but also a stronger, more engaging culture.

More companies will diversify their hiring processes to engage and employ a diverse workforce representative of the communities they operate.

What is the biggest challenge you see for companies who want to improve the experience of work?

Legacy systems are hard to break and legacy thinking is hard to shift. The changes in the workforce have been significantly shaped by changing needs brought on by Covid, but also from the impact of Generation Z as they enter the workforce in record numbers.

While Millennials paved the way for a more balanced view on work and life, they were encumbered by systems that were hard to navigate and impossible to move. Many of these millennials are now in their late thirties and they are now in roles where they can influence change and reimagine the future.

They are more open to listening and responding to the thoughts and motivations of Gen Zer’s who have grown up in a fully immersive digital world where information and events are live-streamed and full-frontal, uncurated and uncensored. Gen Zer’s see life and its challenges play out through live media, social media and through global forums as topics are discussed and debated. 

While the tides of change are apparent through movements such as the ‘great resignation’, and as more people look for meaning, flexibility or company culture that aligns to individual style or beliefs, the biggest challenges continues to be the systems and expectations that were built when we all marched to the common beat of 9-5 days in offices, long commutes and salary bands. 

Businesses that haven’t adopted the digital tools, platforms and processes that support a distributed, flexible team will struggle to adapt to new ways of working. Without the broad adoption of online collaborative tools, the disconnect between individuals and teams will be very real. Productivity and personal connection will erode and businesses will find it hard to build cohesion and to form a strong collective needed for teams to be high functioning. 

The need to move systems online, to the cloud and to create a work culture built on technology-assisted connection was defined before the pandemic, but there are still many organisations that have invested very little time or money into creating these systems, preferring to retain their focus on legacy systems that were built for another time and place. 

What is one piece of advice you would share with businesses that are wanting to build a better world of work?

Listen. The answers won’t come from reports or advisers, research or ratings. The answer to creating a strong cohesive team is right in front of you. Start with a candid, no rules, anything is possible conversation with all members of the organisations and have them co-create and agree to how they would like things to change. Start slowly, and feel things out as they evolve. No one size fits all will work, so accommodating a wide range of preferences will be key. 

Is there an individual you admire who you believe is building a better world of work?

There is no one individual who has contributed to building a better world if you compare the power of one against the force of disruptive change. The biggest catalysts don’t arrive at any predetermined time. The most controversial of the recent catalysts, and yet the most influential is Covid. A novel pathogen that was so ferocious that we all stopped in our tracks and found ourselves living, connecting and working in very different ways. Against the backdrop of uncertainty and fear we found solace in new ways of working, that included new daily rhythms that worked with other priorities including children, pets and fitness. I believe in silver linings. I believe the world will only improve through the introduction of circuit breakers. While world wars, economic collapse, and natural disasters have long been viewed as instruments of extreme disruption, they are also significant levers of change. 

We can now imagine what working from home looks like, what it feels like and how it works with our own life and lifestyle. We know what it is like to reconnect with nature when crowded environments become off-limits, and what it means to put a different lens over economic priorities, family needs and personal goals. 

Our world is as fragile as it is robust. Systems don’t last forever, and neither do the rules of the past. There are so many things from as little as ten years ago that seem entirely inappropriate or tunnel-visioned by today's standards.

Through adversity we build understanding and through understanding, we activate positive change. 

Know of someone who's building a better world of work?

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