The Future of Work: Key insights from our fireside chat with Jason McCann, CEO of Vari

At Freeman+Leonard, we strive to stay ahead of the curve, and our recent event with Jason McCann, CEO of Vari, was no exception. Our compelling discussion, hosted by Freeman+Leonard President and CMO, Kathy Leonard, involved a variety of factors shaping the workplaces of tomorrow.

For those who missed it or need a refresher, here are our top takeaways:

1. A new focus on flexibility and health

Without question, the pandemic has reshaped our perspective regarding work. Beyond the immediate effects of the virus, businesses have also had to navigate challenges from external events such as wars and supply chain disruptions, along with other issues such as the mental health of their employees.

“A lot of things got tested and challenged… pressure was put on businesses and it turned the world upside down,” said Jason McCann. “We’ve had to fast-forward our way of thinking when it comes to business. Companies now focus on flexibility and overall health because the way that people work and interact has changed.” These new priorities are now at the forefront of the work conversation, driving an emphasis on hybrid work and expanded health benefits for workers.

2. A shift toward more interactive workspaces

Gone are the days of traditional, static offices where everyone worked in isolated cubes. These times call for interactive spaces that facilitate solo and collaborative tasks.

“Over 50% of the commercial buildings we design today provide spaces for people to connect at the office in the same way they connect outside of the office,” said McCann.

From green spaces to coffee shops to state-of-the-art gyms, companies must understand the culture of the talent they are trying to recruit, and incorporate those values into the design of their workspaces and the DNA of their companies.

3. Embracing the remote-work revolution

While the upward trend of remote work offers greater flexibility, it also presents challenges. The emphasis now is on equipping home workspaces with the right tools and focusing on continuous learning, wellness, and community involvement as central tenets.

“Companies who have defined their core values, identified their goals, and are providing their team with the tools needed for ongoing training are the companies attracting and retaining this new generation of workers,” McCann said.

He also noted the global trend towards decentralized office models, often closer to residential areas, making going into the office a lot more convenient.

4. Customer-centric innovation always wins

Vari, which has an impressive 300-product portfolio and strong sales, has succeeded mainly because it relies heavily on customer feedback and user testing. Their approach to product development, from chairs to dynamic workspaces, has always been about addressing real-world needs. So McCann shared the office space Vari owns is most valuable not as real estate to lease, but for testing of new products.

McCann said there is great value in “listening and having a relationship with your customers.” In developing products customers actually need and want, it’s critical to consider this feedback along with actual usage patterns and user behaviors.

5. Robots: tools, not threats

The introduction of robots (physical or otherwise!) in the workplace has sparked conversation about automation and AI replacing human jobs. However, robots should be seen as tools that enhance efficiency, not as replacements for human skills and interactions.

To demonstrate, Vari partnered with RobotLabs in introducing Future of Work attendees to “Pepper.” McCann described Pepper as a tool and aid, very similar to how a car gets you to work, or how a smartphone helps you do your job. At the event, Pepper guided guests on where to go, and another robot served drinks poured by the (human) bartender.

McCann said that if business leaders can “explore the ideas that technology is bringing, it will actually provide a tremendous number of jobs and opportunities for the future workforce.”

6. Embracing Gen Z with empathy

The youngest generation to enter the workforce, Gen Z, brings a blend of tech-savviness and self-learning prowess. Yet, the importance of face-to-face mentorship and interactions can’t be overlooked for this tech-comfortable generation.

While Gen Z has grown up with access to nearly every kind of consumer technology, the pandemic has caused significant workplace isolation during their first years in the workforce. Many have yet to acquire the social and interpersonal skills needed to effectively function in the workplace.

McCann said that “leaning in to this younger generation and showing empathy and love – much like you do with your kids – can be a hard shift for leaders. But embracing Gen Z and going along with them on their journey is important.”

For these younger workers, “soft skills” that allow them to interact effectively in the workplace must be taught – and “showing” is a more effective teaching strategy than “telling.” As leaders, we must lead by example.

7. A dawning new reality

With breakthroughs in virtual reality and “mixed reality”, as with Apple’s Vision Pro headset, technology is being integrated into physical spaces in new ways – and will ultimately redefine our work environments. We’re just not there quite yet.

Though the technology is still early in development, McCann predicts it will only get better and become more a part of our daily lives. And as that happens, more companies will integrate virtual and mixed-reality technologies into their workspaces. (Hopefully, the product leaders responsible for these innovations are taking careful note of insight #4 above.)

McCann closed the event by saying, “If I can help the next generation of entrepreneurs build the companies of their dreams, then I’ve done my job. And if the next generation beyond me takes it to a whole other level, then I’ve really done my job. And that is what excites me!”

As we navigate these transformative times, candid conversations like these are instrumental in guiding us toward a workplace that works for everyone.

Stay tuned for more insights from Freeman+Leonard as we continue to explore and define the next era of work.