Don’t follow trends. Especially if they come with a top 5 or 10 list. Trends often become obvious when they’re too late to make a meaningful impact on the business. If you’re a leader of a team, you first and most important role is to think ahead of the trend du jour.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Calin Pacurariu.
Calin Pacurariu, is the co-founder and chief executive of Spatial a tech start-up that brings real-time & interactive immersive audio to life. The company is reshaping the human experience by creating virtual soundscapes that set new experience standards for the future of work. Previously Calin led product teams at Apple & Handspring for groundbreaking products we all enjoy today.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
I was lucky enough to work with two of the best CEOs & mentors during my career, Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple and triggered the biggest growth period that the company is still experiencing today; and Donna Dubinsky from early days at Handspring. They took radically different approaches to building extremely high performing teams, company cultures and more. It was interesting early in my career to have these examples informing my approach as I took on that role at Spatial from inception through various stages of growth.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
The common aspects of the future of work still comes down to the basics of human beings and how they interact with each other. That’s true both internally within the company, and outbound through the customer relationships and experiences they build and maintain. These human traits & interactions are based on millions of years of evolution that stands in direct contrast to the almost instantaneous evolution of technology & tools like the smartphones that we helped create at Handspring & Apple.
Based on this I think people underestimate the subtle changes that are critical to evolving workplace interactions, and overestimate the positive impact of technology to help those changes (while underestimating the damaging side effects). In the next 10–15 years, we’ll see increasing thoughtfulness in the design of the workplace experience in a way that will hopefully balance these different paces of evolution: how to protect the humanism of working together in real spaces, while smartly using advances in technologies where it can amplify, rather than replace, the advantages learned over many generations.
A specific technology platform & related products that will be mainstream in this timeframe is Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality will have a life changing impact to people inside & outside of the workplace similar to what happened with smartphones that we all take for granted in our daily lives. Our focus at Spatial is to assure the Augmented Reality future tilts toward a positive human future versus the dystopian approach some large technology companies are actively promoting.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Think deeply about how to build a resilient organization that can constantly adapt the inevitable changes that are coming in your industry, and learn from them. There is no such thing as “future proof” but you can optimize to become future-prepared across your teams.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
From my view the current shifts of expectations of in-office time and productive interactions vs remote work are fundamentally problematic for some organizations. At Spatial we started the company as a hybrid org and the pandemic forced us to consider the extremes and impact of fully remote work. Luckily, we’ve been able to safely and quickly return to a hybrid work model while managing the gap in expectations. Maintaining a flexible approach for the needs of specific teams is our strategic approach to how we maintain the necessary interactions, career paths & promotions and true innovation across the org in the years to come. Of course, each company will have to look inward and examine what balance and approaches work best for not only the efficiencies of their work, but also for their values, culture, and development opportunities they want to provide to their teams.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
As I mentioned, this is something we were fortunately better positioned to handle as a startup. We saw very different regional approaches in our R&D location and our global HQ. We’ve blended the best from both as we move forward through rapid growth. I’m curious to see how companies that try to maintain their performance with fully remote teams will fare in industries that aren’t mature. My bet is they’ll fail miserably and I’m not willing to take on that additional risk as we grow Spatial.
I imagine this question will be even more accentuated at larger, established companies. Informal networks are a critical lifeblood for creativity, innovation, and serendipitous exchanges whether personal or professional. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to properly integrate and grow, especially when you’re a newcomer to a 1000, 5000, or 20000 person organization.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
A future of work that works for everyone sounds like a utopian vision that won’t survive the realities of the global challenges we face as a species. It’s especially eye opening, for example, to see how the incredible scientific focus and execution to combat and protect us from Covid were effectively sabotaged in many regions and countries by social media and political influences. I can’t speak to the societal changes that will be necessary, other than to say that they won’t come quickly or easily.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The formidable way that we accelerated and adapted to the radical challenges in the last two years. It speaks to the amazing flexibility human beings can deploy in the face of unexpected and harsh realities. I regularly meet with and am inspired by how individuals and teams have met these challenges, maintained a positive approach and moved forward in their respective businesses.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
That’s been a true test as well over the last couple of years, especially for parents with children at critical phases of their growth. Perhaps not innovative, but this forces a focus on basics beyond work: help with fitness, nutrition, mental health and sleep. We’re working in health & wellness sectors with Spatial’s technology and are directly applying what we learn from our customers to our own teams. Bringing these topics to the surface, making sure we’re talking about them de-stigmatizing them, as well as acting by offering the options to our teams to be part of the very programs we help clients evolve — these are just some way we’re starting to approach health and wellbeing at work, and the road is still rich with opportunities to always learn and improve.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Ignore the hype and media escalation. They put your teams in a state of elevated stress and only pay back the clickbait vendors. As we discussed earlier, there needs to be a ruthless focus on building resilience in the culture and part of that is learning what externalities to ignore.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
I’ll be as specific as possible starting with:
- Don’t follow trends. Especially if they come with a top 5 or 10 list. Trends often become obvious when they’re too late to make a meaningful impact on the business. If you’re a leader of a team, you first and most important role is to think ahead of the trend du jour.
- Maintain flexibility. We’ve discussed this a bit already and this is a foundational concept for any organization that scales. My favorite stories around this were the radical changes we made the weeks or days before a Steve Jobs keynote. This forced the whole org to realistically look at new products, features, pricing etc. and oftentimes make last minute changes that radically shaped the way we know and experience these products today. Most companies are too dogmatic to allow for this flexibility especially at late stages. Maintaining flexibility assures the customers only see the best aspects of your business.
- The workplace should be a desirable and inviting destination for employees, partners & customers. Gone are the days of cube farms and the inherent miserable human experiences they impose. The thoughtful customers Spatial is talking to about the future of work know this change was accelerated. They are working with experience designers, architects, interior and landscape designers to make the workplace an inviting thematic experience — not just on a superficial, form over/without function basis, but in a deeply empathetic, thoughtful, and caring way.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
We’re growing rapidly and communication paths were a hurdle with a few hires that worked at larger companies. Elon Musk nailed:
“Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command.” Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.”
I think he would have enjoyed meeting Steve Jobs. Steve had an amazing ability to answer or manage an incredible amount of communication directly. I loved working in an org that solved problems directly and I aim to maintain that as we grow Spatial to a global scale.
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, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
If Isaac Asimov was still with us, I would have loved to meet him. The Foundation Series (and intertwined Robot series) changed my life when I came to the United States from Romania. But he’s not reading Authority Magazine…
For today, it’d have to be Elon Musk. Through hard times he’s maintained a radical focus at Tesla & SpaceX. With Spatial, I have a feeling we’ll be taking the sounds of Earth to Mars with him so it’ll happen soon enough. If that project gets accelerated by Authority Magazine, that’d be awesome!
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
We’re lucky to often have great updates to share with our community of creators, customers, and friends through LinkedIn, Twitter, and increasingly on Instagram for the more visually and creatively minded. And having just discussed the power of direct communication, I’d be remiss not to offer up my own email, email@example.com, to anyone who wants to say hello.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.
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