Transforming Tomorrow: Harnessing the Future of Work

By Yolanda Lau

The future of work unfolds with boundless potential and transformative opportunities awaiting. As we stand on the cusp of exponential change, a new era emerges in which the skills imperative for success diverge from those of the 20th century. The rise of automation, artificial intelligence, and the gig economy is changing how we work. To thrive, companies and individuals must be proactive in preparing themselves for the future of work.

Embracing Automation

The rise of automation is one of the most significant changes in the future of work. Automation encompasses various technological advancements aimed at reducing or replacing human labor with machinery or software — and is expected to reshape almost every industry. Many low-skilled jobs, such as assembly line work or data entry, will likely be automated, leading to a transformation in job roles and skill requirements. Automation isn’t about replacing humans entirely — instead, it’s about augmenting human capabilities and efficiency. Companies must invest in training and development programs to ensure their employees have the skills required to adapt to this evolving landscape. While automation may displace some jobs, it will also create new opportunities for those who can design, build, and manage automated systems.

Integrating Artificial Intelligence

In tandem with automation, artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the future of work. AI technologies — including machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and robotics — are increasingly integrated into various aspects of business operations. While many fear that AI will lead to widespread job loss, the reality is more nuanced. AI has the potential to enhance productivity, streamline processes, and unlock new possibilities. However, individuals who resist or fail to adapt to AI may find themselves at a disadvantage in the job market. Companies must invest in AI education and training to empower their workforce to leverage AI technologies effectively. Every senior executive should be thinking, “How can my team use AI to augment themselves?” By embracing and integrating AI, companies can gain a competitive edge and drive innovation in the evolving landscape of work.

Navigating the Gig Economy

Simultaneously, the gig economy continues to grow, redefining traditional notions of employment. More people are taking side gigs, to hedge against potential layoffs and to sharpen and learn new skills. And more individuals are gravitating towards freelance or contract engagements, thanks to the rise of online platforms facilitating flexible work arrangements. To adapt, companies must embrace the liquid workforce — and learn to cultivate and work with a virtual talent bench engaged in project-based work.

Shifting towards Project-Based Work

The future of work will also see a shift towards project-based work. This trend is driven by the need for agility — and for organizations to constantly be responsive to changing market conditions. Project-based work allows companies to quickly assemble a team of experts with the necessary skills to complete a specific project, rather than maintaining a large permanent workforce. Companies must invest in project management and collaboration tools — and create a documentation-first culture — to ensure that their employees and contract workers can work effectively in project-based teams.

Cultivating Skills and Adaptability

To prepare for the future of work, companies must be proactive in developing their employees’ skills and abilities. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as on-the-job training, online courses, and formal education programs. Companies must also invest in leadership and management development programs to ensure their employees have the leadership skills required to succeed in a rapidly changing workplace.

Individual Agency in Career Development

Individuals must take ownership of their career development and professional growth — honing their skills through lifelong learning and side gigs. By actively cultivating adaptability and resilience, individuals can position themselves as indispensable assets in the dynamic landscape of the future workplace. Individuals must also be proactive in building their personal brand and cultivating professional networks. Today, everyone is a brand — and individuals must curate their online presence and narrative to authentically reflect their values, expertise, and aspirations. Doing this stratgeically can help find uncover new opportunities. When combined with a strong network of weak ties, individuals can leverage diverse connections to achieve their career goals.

The Imperative of Work-Life Fit

The future of work is also likely to see a greater emphasis on work-life balance, or as I prefer to call it, work-life fit. We’re already seeing this with some countries exploring a four-day work week and others have made it illegal for companies to contact employees outside of the workday. Executives, policymakers, and workers are realizing that work-life fit is essential for both individual well-being and organizational success. Companies must adopt flexible work arrangements, offering employees the ability to work from home or on flexible schedules. They must also invest in creating a workplace where mindfulness, compassion, and grace are commonplace.

Take Action to Transform Your Future

The future of work is here — and it’s teeming with promise and transformation. The time for action is now. Whether you’re a company leader or an individual contributor, the future of work awaits. Embrace change, augment yourself, invest in growth, and seize every opportunity that comes your way. Together, we can shape a future where innovation thrives, and success knows no bounds. The journey starts today — let’s make it count.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Professional Development Tips For Startup Founders

I’ve spent my career advising startup founders and founding companies myself. When you work in a big corporate structure, there are many structured professional development opportunities. When you’re a founder, you have to create your own professional development opportunities and prioritize those against building your company.

Here are my tips for professional development for startup founders.

Join a community of peer founders.

Entrepreneurship can be lonely. Finding and joining a program for founders at your stage is a straightforward way to find peer founders. Two organizations that I can personally recommend starting with are All Raise and On Deck, which run programs for founders at various stages. All Raise runs a seed bootcamp and a post-seed to Series A program, and On Deck runs a founder fellowship and a scale fellowship. (Full disclosure: I am an inaugural member of All Raise’s Visionary Voices Speaker Bureau and am an inaugural fellow in On Deck’s Fintech Fellowship and in On Deck’s Customer Success Fellowship.)

Connect with founders who are one to two funding stages ahead.

It always helps to know what’s coming and to get advice from those more experienced than you. These founders know and understand what you are dealing with and can provide a fresh but experienced perspective.

Once you get further ahead, be sure to return the favor and connect with founders who are one to two funding stages behind you. Personally, I love the energy of new founders. I find it energizing to mentor and advise new founders. In addition, the experience of advising other entrepreneurs can help you be more reflective of your own experiences, helping you learn more quickly.

Ask for feedback.

Ask for feedback frequently, and be specific when asking for feedback. I’ve found that frequent feedback has not only helped me continually learn and grow as an entrepreneur, but has also helped me generate new ideas to move my business forward. If someone gives you vague feedback, ask for specifics on what was good or what could be improved. Even when you get specific feedback, ask clarifying questions so you can be sure to leave with actionable insights. Always thank people for their time and feedback, and follow up with your progress if and when appropriate.

Get a mentor or coach.

Yes, I said a coach. Don’t be afraid of coaching. When we were kids, we all had coaches and mentors — experienced advisors to help us along the way. As a founder (or any adult navigating their career), a coach can be invaluable. Coaches can help you improve your leadership skills, increase your productivity, unlock new opportunities and help you set achievable goals and deliver results. Not sure how to find a coach or mentor? Ask your peer founders or founders a few stages ahead of you for some recommendations. However you find your coach, make sure you find someone you connect with and trust. Without trust, coaching won’t get you anywhere.

Delegate, delegate, delegate.

Don’t hire quickly. In fact, I recommend doing each job function before hiring. But once you understand the work that needs to be done, delegate it as quickly as you can. Hire employees if the work calls for someone internal, but also be open to building a virtual talent bench. Using a liquid workforce ensures that companies can tap into the right expertise and skill sets as needed for any time frame. Engaging on-demand advisors and consultants is an efficient way for startups to grow their teams and scale their businesses without increasing their headcount.

Grow your network.

When you’re busy building your startup, it can be too easy to get deep into the weeds. As a founder, your role should be strategic. Yes, you should dig in when needed, but you should be focusing on the overall vision. Building a network of fellow founders, industry experts, investors, mentors, coaches and advisors will help you accomplish your extraordinary vision. Network with other founders in your industry, regardless of stage. Network with investors in your industry, even if you aren’t fundraising — and in fact, especially when you aren’t fundraising.

Build a “personal board of advisors.”

No one is exactly like you, and no one has built a startup precisely like yours. So there isn’t a single person out there who can advise you on all aspects of your startup. You’ll have to find and build a group of mentors and advisors who can help you with various issues. The right mentors are people who believe in you and are willing to provide honest, candid feedback.

Get a COO.

As soon as you can, get yourself out of the business of running the day-to-day operations and hire a COO. You need a COO who will not only have strong organizational, analytical, and project management skills but will also be your partner in growing your business. Trust and good communication are essential building blocks to the success of your relationship. The right COO will help you run your company’s operations while helping you take it to the next level.

Invest in your development.

As a founder, it’s easy to put off spending time networking or investing in your personal development. After all, there’s always a new fire to fight or an opportunity to tackle every day. Personal development time can be a low priority compared to the day-to-day requirements of running and growing your business. But this personal investment is critical to your success as a founder and entrepreneur. Prioritize and carve out time to focus on your personal development — invest in yourself as a leader, and it will help you in ways that you won’t anticipate.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Embrace Lifelong Learning To Thrive In The Future Of Work

In the future of work, the critical skills for success are increasingly soft skills like emotional intelligence, adaptability, and resilience. Success in the future of work requires becoming a lifelong learner. The world is changing faster than ever, and only through lifelong learning will we have the capability to adapt along with it.

Here are 11 strategies to develop a habit of lifelong learning.

1. Ask why.

Think back to when you were a child. Chances are you drove your parents a little crazy with all of your questions. Be like a child and always ask why — question everything. But be open to changing your mind. Seek out counter opinions and acknowledge alternative viewpoints — and you’ll learn more from these perspectives and push yourself further.

2. Learn to love challenges.

Challenges stimulate learning and bring a sense of fulfillment. I love challenges and welcome struggles and obstacles as the things most worth doing are often hard. Without challenges, we stagnate. While challenges and bumps in the road can be uncomfortable, these opportunities are the ones from which you will learn the most. Get ready to take risks by setting stretch goals for yourself. A willingness to take risks doesn’t mean you need to take on every challenge — it’s about taking measured risks that push you beyond your current limits.

3. Embrace failure.

Failing is something you do because you’re pushing yourself to do more. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of failure. You likely aren’t challenging yourself if you haven’t failed some of the time. I’ve found that failure has frequently been my best teacher, and my successes are a result of growth and learning from past failures and mistakes. Embrace failure and mistakes as opportunities to integrate valuable feedback and information. After all, as Albert Einstein once said, “Failure is success in progress.”

4. Practice mindfulness.

I’ve found that mindfulness is an essential soft skill to learn as it amplifies your other soft skills. Mindfulness can boost your mental agility, self-awareness, and resilience. Plus, taking a mindful brain break can boost your productivity and effectiveness while increasing the “divergent thinking” that results in new ideas. A plethora of apps and programs, such as Headspace, Yoga Ed., and Calm can help you practice mindfulness and build this essential lifelong learning skill.

5. School is only the beginning.

School should function to build a foundation for lifelong learning. Lifelong learners realize that learning doesn’t stop when school ends. Never stop seeking opportunities to learn, prioritizing both surface learning and deep learning. While surface learning is quick and easy, deep learning takes more effort. Both are valuable.

Coursera, Udemy, and EdX are great for consuming content. Cohort-based courses like Maven, On Deck, and Ascend take learning to the next level by bringing together groups of learners.

6. Be open to feedback.

Be proactive about asking for feedback. Surround yourself with mentors, personal advisors, and coaches and be willing to ask for help. I’ve found that having a community and network of peers and advisors has been essential in not only solving day-to-day problems or identifying new opportunities, but also in fueling my personal development. Frequent feedback has helped me to continually grow personally and professionally.

7. Become a polymath.

In the past, it paid to be a specialist — to accumulate as much knowledge as possible in only one area. But in the future of work, polymaths and expert generalists have the advantage. Developing deep knowledge in multiple areas, ideally with cross-disciplinary awareness, makes it easier to uncover unexpected connections and convergences. In a world where data is everywhere, pattern recognition and intuitive thinking have become more important than ever. Being an expert generalist or polymath requires continuous education — lifelong learning.

8. Teaching brings mastery.

In my experience, teaching brings mastery. I’ve been a teacher or teaching assistant for everything from entrepreneurship to ESL, citizenship to physics, biology to coding, sustainability to app building — each teaching opportunity was a window to deepen my understanding. Answering questions on the fly is the quickest way to test your knowledge and learn what you don’t know. Having spent my career advising entrepreneurs and small business owners, I’ve constantly been learning as I teach. I love it when I get to tell a founder, “I don’t know,” as it gives me something to learn.

9. Stay curious.

Talk to strangers. Be present in conversations and look for things that stimulate your curiosity. Pull on those threads and be open to learning from strangers. Follow your curiosity, and you never know where it will lead you. Sign up for that yoga teacher certification course, take that cooking class, try out a new sport, go for that art class. You need to keep that sense of wonder you had as a child to spark inquiry and continual exploration. This curiosity and openness will fuel your lifelong learning.

10. Prioritize process over goals.

Life is not about completing a series of goals. Most of us have had long and winding career paths, which didn’t necessarily make sense at the moment. When you prioritize the process of learning over the goals of completing the class or diploma, you’ll open yourself to new opportunities. Changing your mindset gives you the flexibility to follow your curiosity and may lead to opportunities you would never have otherwise thought of.

11. Give yourself the gift of grace.

But give yourself the gift of grace. It’s okay if you don’t know something. Embrace this as a challenge and as an opportunity to learn something new. It’s also okay to sprint and rest. In fact, giving yourself breaks is the best way to recharge and nurture curiosity. Breaks give your brain space to integrate your learning, developing connections between seemingly unrelated areas.

Become A Lifelong Learner

Lifelong learning isn’t just about preparing for the future of work. Lifelong learning also brings joy and a deep sense of empowerment and fulfillment — making life more meaningful. Grow and succeed professionally and personally by embracing lifelong learning.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

How Organizations Can Become Project-Based In The Future Of Work

The nature of work is changing: Companies are increasingly thinking of work as project-based rather than role-based. We’re moving toward a project-based economy, and this shift toward the future of work is accelerating due to the pandemic. The more you can think of work as project-based versus role-based, the more agile your team and organization will be.

What Is Project-Based Work?

Project-based work has clear goals, milestones, and deliverables, and a defined start and end date. Projects may take hours or months or longer — the duration varies with every project and business need. But the work is aligned against business needs and objectives, not specific roles.

The Benefits Of Project-Based Work

As business leaders, we all want our teams to be agile and nimble, and embracing a project-based work mindset helps you increase speed and agility. A recent MIT and Deloitte report found that executives are increasingly thinking of their workforce as an ecosystem — drawing on the diverse skill sets of their universes of full-time workers and freelancers to meet business challenges.

With a project-based approach, you can innovate faster, quickly pulling skills internally and externally as needed. You can also operate more efficiently, dialing up and down skill-based resources by drawing on your workforce ecosystem.

How To Shift From A Role-Based To A Project-Based Organization

So, increasing agility, innovating more quickly, operating more efficiently, etc. — it all sounds ideal, but how do you evolve from a traditional, role-based organization to one that is project-based? There are a few critical steps to support success in this journey.

1. Change work definitions: First, you have to redefine the work. And this is an ongoing effort, not a one-time fix. Consider your immediate, short-term, and long-term objectives. How do you define these objectives in terms of projects? What skill sets do these projects need? Consider how your current workforce maps against these opportunities. Which skills do you need to source from freelancers and contractors? By developing what Deloitte calls “an adaptable network of teams,” you can build the flexible organization you need. Using a consulting firm that is experienced in project-based work can help you shift away from role-based work.

2. Focus on planning: For this model to work well, you must put an ongoing emphasis on planning. One of the advantages of working with on-demand talent is that you can pull in resources at short notice. However, when shifting to an overall project-based work approach, you need to plan ahead and have a project road map. Your road map will continually evolve to adapt to business strategy and needs, but you should always be thinking about the next project(s), particularly for your full-time employees.

3. Evaluate your processes: A flexible, on-demand workforce will not function well without robust processes and communications. The probability of redundancies, missed handoffs and other unforced errors will only increase when some or most of the team delivering the work includes freelancers, contractors, and consultants. Also, consider how you can improve the connections and communications with your team.

4. Build your talent bench: As you map the skills of your full-time employees against project-based work, you’ll find areas where you may need additional resources or different skill sets. Developing a bench of external talent makes it easy to pull in the right skill sets when and where you need them. I’ve shared my tips for building and integrating your on-demand workforce — this advice can help you scale your flexible workforce.

5. Hire and train for critical thinking skills: Soft skills, like adaptability and self-motivation, are essential in the future of work. Critical thinking is one of the keys to success with project-based work. Asking the right questions is critical. Employees and freelancers need to ensure they have the right level of clarity and detail so costs and effectiveness aren’t compromised.

Project-Based Work Is The Future Of Work

Not only how we work is shifting toward project-based work, but also how we hire team members and promote our own experiences. In the future of work, roles and buzzword-filled online profiles will become less important while project-based identities become more meaningful.

A project-based work model can help your team be more nimble and innovative. It’s time to start thinking about your team’s skill ecosystem and how you can organize and deliver in a project-based environment.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Hiring For Skills Of The Future: Part Two

Whether you’re hiring employees or freelancers, some of the same fundamentals apply. Work has changed and will continue to change. Today, the shelf life of a hard skill — content-based knowledge — is very short. Over half of today’s job activities could become automated by 2055. To succeed in a continuously evolving and changing economy requires highly adaptable workers. Your people are your best asset, and it is crucial to understand each person’s future potential for roles they’ve never done before — instead of hiring them only for what you need today.

In addition to soft skills, here are three additional skills of the future, how to hire for them, and how to teach and/or acquire these skills.

Lifelong Learning And Coachability

A 2017 Deloitte report states that professionals in software engineering, marketing, sales, manufacturing, law, finance, and accounting must update their skills every 12 to 18 months. Time is a scarce commodity, and you don’t have time to hire and train new people with this frequency. One way around this is to hire on-demand workers for specific projects as needed. However, I would argue that even when working with independent contractors, it’s best to work with people who love to learn, who love to receive feedback, and who can quickly get up to speed in changing circumstances.

For workers, I recommend that you ask for feedback from colleagues and supervisors and take action on that feedback. Also, take advantage of the many platforms available to update your skills continuously.

For hirers, there are a few questions I like to ask potential employees and freelance consultants:

  • Are there skills you are working to acquire?
  • Are there random things you would like to learn about?
  • Tell me about the most impactful feedback/constructive criticism you’ve gotten.

These questions help evaluate the degree to which someone is open to feedback and an eager lifelong learner.

Written And Oral Communication Skills

As the world has shifted to remote work during our current crisis, we’ve all seen for ourselves the importance of clear and effective communication. When communicating over Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, or email, it’s necessary to be able to infer what someone’s unspoken concerns are and to respond appropriately. Listening skills are an essential component of successful communication.

As machine learning and artificial intelligence begin taking over more job functions, skills that are harder for computers to complete effectively become more important. While some AI are capable of writing — and even effective copy for content and ads — effective written and oral communication skills are currently beyond the reach of machines.

For workers, the best things you can do are write more memos instead of having more meetings and practice being aware of how you communicate. Your words, tone, and method of communication affect the outcome you desire.

When hiring potential employees and freelance consultants, I recommend requiring several writing samples. In addition, conduct interviews through short, written messages to mimic communication over Slack as well as interviews over Zoom to evaluate both written and oral communication. I like to ask them the following question: “Can you think of a time you were communicating with someone and they did not understand you? What did you do?” How they respond shows the degree to which they are aware that how we communicate is important and can shift communication styles when appropriate.

Computational Thinking Skills

Computational thinking (or algorithmic thinking) is a phrase that became more widely used since 2006 when computer scientist Jeannette Wing published an essay suggesting that computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists. I think of computational thinking as the ability to think logically and strategically, work with uncertainty (and a lack of complete data), break down complex issues into smaller pieces, quickly recognize patterns, use patterns to think through potential solutions, manipulate and use data to gain insights and iterate when appropriate. As the world has become increasingly interconnected and complex, this skill has become ever more important.

I’ve found that consultants who lack computational thinking skills require more supervision, generally due to the lack of creativity to complete tasks. A computational thinker is agile, is adaptable, and generally learns quickly.

An example of a question to ask a potential hire might be something like: “How many tennis balls does it take to fill an SUV? And how did you arrive at your answer?” There’s no “right” answer, but asking a question like this allows you to evaluate how a candidate breaks down a complicated problem, makes assumptions, works through potential solutions, gut-checks their answer, and iterates if necessary.

Real-World, Project-Based Learning Experiences

Apprenticeships, internships, fellowships, course work or independent work focused on complex real-world problem-solving are a few ways to gain experience. Experiential learning is the surest way to gain the skills needed for success. When hiring employees or freelancers right out of school, I look for people who have had real-world, project-based learning experiences.

Prepare Your Team For The Future Of Work

As companies work to become more agile and adaptable in their business strategies, it’s essential that they are hiring workers with the skills needed for the ever-changing future of work. HR leaders are rethinking their roles and talent strategies as they prepare for the future of work with a blended workforce model. Building and growing a team able to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead requires life-long learners who embrace feedback, communicate effectively, and fuel creativity with computational thinking skills. By hiring workers with these three critical skills (and with soft skills), your team will be ready for the future of work.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Soft Skills Are Essential To The Future Of Work: Hiring for Skills of the Future, Part One

Whether you are hiring employees, independent contractors, or a blended workforce, we all know that the world is changing rapidly and how work gets done is evolving. As a result, how we screen and hire employees and freelancers has changed too. Soft skills — such as empathy, emotional intelligence, kindness, mindfulness, adaptability, integrity, optimism, self-motivation, grit, and resilience — have become crucial success factors.

Why Soft Skills Have Become More Important

As more and more job activities become automated, soft skills, which cannot yet be replicated by machines, have become more important. In 2017, Deloitte also reported that “soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030” and that hiring employees with more soft skills could increase revenue by more than $90,000.

Empathy And Emotional Intelligence

The importance of empathy and social-emotional skills cannot be overstated. Emotionally intelligent teams have a competitive advantage, and I have found that empathy is one of the most important skills to hire for. Caring about how your teammates and customers feel and sensing their unspoken feelings is a true skill that I believe increases productivity and revenue. Empathy and emotional intelligence require self-awareness and enable better listening, leading to improved communication.

When screening potential employees and freelancers, I like to ask if there are charities or causes they care about. This gives me insight into whether they care enough about others to take action. I also like to ask this question: “Can you think of a time when you worked with someone difficult to get along with — how did you handle interactions with that person?” This shows me whether their empathy and emotional intelligence enabled them to not only defuse a challenging situation but turn it into a win.

Integrity And Ethical Responsibility

Billionaire Warren Buffett is famously credited with calling integrity the most important trait to look for when hiring. I agree that this character trait is critical to long-term success. I’ve found that my most successful employees and contractors are those who are ethical, take responsibility for their successes and mistakes, have humility, respect other people’s time, give others credit and take full ownership of their work — especially for losses. When someone tells me they’ve made a mistake and how they intend to fix it, I know I can trust them. In today’s fast-paced world, integrity is even more critical. It’s easy to take shortcuts and show short-term gains, but it’s harder to do things right to set yourself up for long-term success.

In the days of in-person interviews, I liked to ask the receptionist how applicants treated them (and if a meal was involved, how the applicant treated the wait staff). In our remote work world, ask admin assistants how applicants treat them over email. How people treat others reflects their true character.

To encourage a culture of integrity, I own up to mistakes and encourage others to do the same. To screen for this, ask potential workers to explain an incident that occurred in their life that didn’t go as expected and how they resolved it. How they respond usually shows whether they are capable of taking responsibility when things go wrong.

Adaptability And Resilience

As technological advances come more rapidly, hiring for adaptability and resilience is critical. You need open-minded people who can shift gears and take on different responsibilities as needed, adapt their behaviors to their teammates’ needs, manage uncertainty and find the positive when things go wrong. Agility and flexibility — which go hand in hand with adaptability — allow workers to bring and implement fresh ideas.

One question I like to ask potential employees and independent contractors to look for adaptability is, “What’s the most stressful situation you have handled, and what was the outcome?” I also look for people who have combined working part-time during college or graduate school or taken on different roles and responsibilities. To build adaptability and resilience, challenge yourself to be comfortable in unfamiliar environments and situations.

Self-Motivated And Self-Directed

Self-motivated workers, people who have intrinsic motivation, need less oversight and management. Self-motivation and self-direction enables people to take initiative and ownership of their work, set achievable goals against a schedule and take steps accordingly and adapt their plans as necessary. In a future where things are constantly changing, these skills are paramount to success. While I’ve found these skills difficult to develop, helping connect employees to find intrinsic motivation in their work can help.

One question I like to ask potential employees and freelancers is “Tell me about a time when you set a goal for yourself and what you did about it.”


Mindfulness is a soft skill that builds on other skills. Those who are mindful tend to be more emotionally intelligent, adaptable, and forthright. Mindful people stay more focused during difficult situations. Mindfulness is the amplifier of all other soft skills as it cultivates the awareness and discretion to know how to respond in a centered, balanced way across diverse situations.

While I don’t have a secret for hiring for mindfulness, I believe in mindfulness training. Companies can support developing mindfulness by offering perks like a subscription to Headspace or Calm. Or, if you want to maximize the benefits of mindfulness, a subscription to Yoga Ed. so your employees and their families can benefit from on-demand mindfulness and yoga practice. (Full disclosure, I’m an investor in Yoga. Ed.)

Hiring For The Future Of Work

Assessing soft skills should be an essential part of your hiring process for potential employees and contractors. Soft skills strengthen other skills and abilities, and teams with these skills will be equipped to adapt more quickly and easily as the future of work continues to evolve.

Next time, I’ll share additional skills required for success in the future of work, how to hire employees and freelancers with these skills, and to develop these skills with your teams.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Five Ways The Pandemic Has Accelerated The Future Of Work

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, few of us had any understanding of how a global pandemic would drastically alter our lives — from curfews and lockdowns to an increase in remote work and an evolving workforce. What we’re seeing is an acceleration of the future of work.

Here’s how the COVID-19 pandemic has and will permanently change how we work.

Soft skills enable adaptability in the future of work.

This year has upended almost everything. It’s become increasingly clear that you can’t just hire for knowledge, content, and hard skills. Hiring adaptable, self-motivated people with soft skills such as mindfulness and emotional intelligence is paying off as these kinds of employees are more adept at adapting to changing circumstances, and learning new skills as necessary.

I’ve found this holds true for employees as well as independent contractors. While some circumstances are well suited for hiring a freelancer to do exactly what he or she has done for another client, I’ve found that looking for soft skills in freelancers results in more successful outcomes, too. This shift has been on the horizon for some time, but the pandemic has accelerated the importance of hiring for soft skills. This should also result in more diverse workplaces, as hiring for soft skills is more equitable across racial, socioeconomic, and gender inequities.

Remote work is here to stay.

With all its benefits and downsides, remote work and telepresence are here to stay. Companies will need to continue to offer remote work as an option to retain top talent, but offices aren’t going away. Working from home has shown us how efficient remote work can be while also highlighting how important face-to-face meetings are for more creative and collaborative work.

What we’ll see post-pandemic is a reexamination of when telepresence is sufficient and when in-person meetings are needed. Companies will choose to reduce office space’s size (and expense), but we’re likely to see most employers land on some hybrid work schedule. Many employees will be able to work from home while being expected to come in from time to time — but executives may be expected to mostly work from the office.

More workers are switching to freelancing; companies are increasingly engaging a global, liquid workforce.

Now that most companies have gone remote, leaders have been forced to focus on outcomes rather than time in the office. This puts freelancers on an ever more equal footing with traditional employees.

Moreover, many of those laid off during this pandemic are choosing to join the gig economy instead of looking for traditional full-time employment during challenging times. People are reevaluating whether employment provides “job security” and more people are concluding that self-employment — with multiple sources of income — may be more secure than a traditional job.

Your company’s workforce of the future will include a greater percentage of 1099 workers. More workers will choose to freelance and work with multiple clients on clearly defined projects — to work only on interesting, challenging projects that suit them. Working in this way allows these freelancers to keep their skills sharper than traditional employees. And so the shift from a blended workforce toward a liquid workforce will accelerate faster.

Also, companies using a liquid workforce can more quickly adjust to changing trends. As executives come to see the advantages of working with a liquid workforce, the gap between companies that activate a liquid workforce and those that choose to rely on a traditional workforce will widen. Agile companies will see greater economic gains and be better positioned for post-pandemic recovery and success.

The expansion of benefits will further accelerate the shift to a liquid workforce.

Moreover, the pandemic has led to freelancers finally gaining eligibility for unemployment benefits due to the CARES Act. With millions left uninsured due to pandemic-induced layoffs, the pressure to disassociate health benefits from the employer-employee relationship has increased. As freelancers’ benefits expand and as health insurance becomes portable, we can expect to see even greater shifts to a liquid workforce.

Software innovation will serve an interconnected workforce.

As work continues to change, so too will the software we use. While the pandemic led to a dramatic increase in video meetings, we are seeing a gradual shift toward a combination of video meetings, memos in lieu of meetings (or as preparation for meetings), and asynchronous video communication via software such as Loom, mmhmm, and Vimeo.

In addition, working remotely has deprived us of serendipitous conversations at the water cooler or break room. Expect to see software innovation to help facilitate these unplanned conversations that often lead to new ideas (and new lines of revenue) — particularly when those conversations are between employees in different teams or departments.

As reliance on freelance workers increases, companies are finding they need software specifically built for contracting, managing, and paying their global liquid workforce. Working with freelancers is very different from hiring employees or managing inventory; companies shouldn’t be managing and paying freelancers via payroll or ERP software. We created Liquid to solve this growing demand.

We need to prepare for the future.

The pandemic has accelerated the progression of trends that were already underway, including shifting skill sets, more remote work, a growing freelance workforce, and collaboration through innovative software. Now it’s time to prepare for a resilient post-pandemic future. Start by thinking about how the nature of work, work styles, skills, and the workplace have changed over the last year. Focus on the areas that have positively impacted your business and workforce and use this to reevaluate your hiring processes and software solutions. It’s time to embrace a modern business strategy that includes the liquid workforce as an integral part of your talent management. Get ready — the future of work is now.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Nine Tips For Leading With Grace And Compassion

With many companies forecasting a sharp decrease in revenue and profits due to these uncertain times, CEOs and other leaders are under significant pressure. Not only do they have to lead themselves through these challenging times, but they are also responsible for managing and guiding their organizations and executives — and their respective teams — to succeed in stressful times. Leaders must cultivate and promote healthy and resilient mindsets on the current crisis and future crises to come.

By cultivating the following habits and behaviors, CEOs, executives and heads of HR can lead with grace and compassion to create a productive and mindful work atmosphere while positioning their companies for sustainable long-term growth and success.

1. Embrace self-awareness and self-compassion.

Start by being aware that the events of the world have affected you, and give yourself compassion for how you have reacted. Working 80-hour weeks is not sustainable for you or for your team. Deciding to furlough and/or lay off employees is emotionally draining, especially when these are people whom you’ve worked with for a long time who have become like family. Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself the gift of grace. Be kind to yourself. Practicing self-compassion is the first step to compassionate leadership.

2. Develop a gratitude practice.

I believe gratitude makes for more effective leadership. Developing an attitude of gratitude gives leaders the focus needed to quickly pivot in stressful environments and challenging situations, such as those we are all experiencing today. When you pause to practice gratitude, you give your mind, emotions and even your body a moment to recalibrate and become more resilient. This helps clear your mind of distractions, allowing you to more clearly focus on the present and uncover hidden opportunities. In addition, practicing gratitude can contribute to a more positive work environment, allowing your team to work more effectively.

3. Practice and hone emotional intelligence.

Develop your emotional intelligence and encourage your executives to bring their emotions to work. In turn, your executives will encourage their respective teams to fine-tune their emotional intelligence. As a leader, you must manage how you present your emotions while also encouraging the spreading of emotions that can spur higher productivity, increased job satisfaction and better financial performance.

4. Embrace curiosity, open-mindedness and innovation.

Encouraging diversity of thought is critical, especially during a crisis. Being curious allows you to explore challenges and find innovative solutions and opportunities. Encourage teams to think outside the box and be open-minded. This allows you to identify and quickly address new opportunities being created as a result of this crisis. More importantly, this lays a strong foundation for agile growth, positioning your company for future success.

5. Promote mindfulness.

Like emotional intelligence, mindfulness at work starts from compassionate leadership and trickles down through the organization. Learn to be mindful and present in all of your interactions, encouraging your teams to do the same. Leading with mindfulness can help improve overall productivity, decrease stress, lead to increased innovation and create a healthier workplace for all.

6. Practice active, compassionate listening.

Practice active, compassionate listening, especially with your team and direct reports. Listen attentively when your employees speak, taking care to defer judgment. Ask pertinent, open-ended questions and paraphrase when appropriate to show your genuine desire to come to a mutually beneficial understanding. Active listening can build strong relationships and help employees feel less isolated. While many of us are working remotely and decreasing our social interactions, many of us need to feel more connected to others. In addition, during challenging times, it’s more important than ever to insist on regular one-to-one meetings.

7. Encourage asking for help.

There’s a looming mental health crisis coming as a result of these uncertain times. Everyone needs help right now, but it can be challenging for high achievers to ask for help. Start by checking in with employees. Find out how they are doing and encourage them to ask for what they need. Encourage departments to engage a liquid workforce, especially if you have enacted a hiring freeze due to budgetary concerns. Getting your team the on-demand help that they need can help increase productivity and morale.

8. Focus on the present, while keeping an eye on the future.

The goal isn’t to predict the future, but to bolster your company to be better prepared for whatever may come. Make the changes you need to position your company to weather future challenges while staying present and mindful. This too shall pass, just as many other challenges before it has. Focus on positioning your company to become agile so that you can quickly adapt and pivot as the future becomes more clear.

9. Commit to leading with grace and compassion.

You may not feel comfortable demonstrating vulnerabilities, but leaders need to be aware that your team is always modeling the behavior they see. Your employees are looking to you and other leadership to understand what is appropriate. If you appear to be close-minded or insist on doing it all yourself, executives and employees will follow suit. Ineffective leadership can very quickly negatively impact productivity, morale and eventually the bottom line.

However, leaders who are compassionate, mindful and emotionally intelligent active listeners are better equipped to lead their companies through uncertainty and are well-positioned for post-crisis growth and success. When you commit yourself to lead with grace and compassion, you give yourself and your organization the mindset and tools to succeed during any circumstances.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Increasing Mindfulness In The Workplace

Mindfulness matters. The ability to be present and mindful — to stay focused intentionally without passing judgment — is a 21st-century skill. Businesses with mindful teams are better equipped to compete in today’s ever-changing environment.

Mindfulness At Work

As most of us have experienced firsthand, stress and anxiety can take a significant toll on the mind and body. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 40% of Americans feel that the stress of the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Not only is stress taxing, but it also increases inflammation and can lead to chronic diseases of the brain and heart.

On the other hand, research at companies like Google, Aetna and Intel have shown that increasing mindfulness in the workplace can decrease stress levels while improving focus, thoughtfulness, decision-making abilities, and overall well-being. Mindfulness gives employees permission and space to think — to be present — leading to mental agility, resilience, and self-awareness. In addition, mindfulness can reduce emotional exhaustion, increase openness to new ideas, and develop compassion and empathy.

In this day and age, being able to stay calm and rapidly adapt to shifting circumstances with an open mind is and will continue to be a competitive advantage. Moreover, a mindful workplace can be a powerful tool for recruiting purposes. After all, if given a choice between a company that invests in its employees’ well-being and one that doesn’t, which would you choose? Similarly, increasing mindfulness at work may lead to higher levels of commitment at work and increased engagement, ultimately reducing costly turnover.

Here are a few (perhaps unconventional) tips for increasing mindfulness and wellness in the workplace.

Yoga And Meditation For Mindfulness

In 2018, the “Employer-Sponsored Health and Well-Being Survey” of 163 companies by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments found that 52% of companies offered mindfulness training that year. While there are many ways to offer mindfulness training, yoga and meditation are some of the more cost-effective methods. Yoga (which I’ve practiced for 25 years) and meditation are good for your mind and body, with benefits including stress management, concentration and focus, self-confidence, and overall fitness.

The past five years have seen an explosion of apps and programs for meditation and yoga: Shine, Meditation Studio, Headspace, Yoga Ed., and Calm are just some of the apps and training programs available for improving wellness and mindfulness. What I particularly like about Yoga Ed. is that it not only equips individuals with yoga and mindfulness tools to enhance their own wellness, but it also improves the lifelong health of the children and teens in their lives.

Moreover, workout apps like Nike Training Club, ClassPass, and Peloton also offer on-demand yoga and/or meditation classes. Most of these apps and programs listed above are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement via corporate partnerships — and certainly cheaper than hiring Jon Kabat-Zinn himself, who pioneered formal mindfulness training in the workplace, to run a corporate mindfulness seminar.

Brain Breaks And Unscheduled Time For Mindfulness

You probably think that long (boring) meditation sessions are necessary to achieve mindfulness. But research out of Wharton has found that even short — seven- or eight-minute — bursts of mindfulness results in more productive, helpful and pleasant employees. Even these short brain breaks have been found to increase rational decision-making skills and may improve attention and focus. Just a few minutes of mindfulness can increase “divergent thinking” to generate new ideas, an extremely valuable skill during times of uncertainty (and also a skill necessary for succeeding in the future of work).

I also recommend purposefully scheduling blocks of unscheduled time. These moments of planned solitude provide the silence needed to focus on higher-level thinking and stimulate creativity while increasing mindfulness. With the frenetic pace of our modern lives, it’s become harder to find quiet moments, hence the need to schedule them into our busy calendars.

Create Time For Mindfulness By Leveraging Automation

To make time for mindfulness, I’ve been relying heavily on automation. Technology is rapidly changing the nature of work, especially as artificial intelligence and machine learning become more sophisticated. These technologies are paving the way for automation of repetitive tasks — a little known cause of employee burnout. Research out of McGill University suggests that repetitive tasks impair judgment, aptitude for goal planning, capacity to focus, and risk assessment abilities.

I recommend taking advantage of the myriad of companies and services that increase automation, allowing your employees to focus on innovative thinking and other work that cannot be replicated by software. In particular, Zapier makes it possible for anyone to create automated workflows without code. I use this service to help automate marketing “busy work,” but there are thousands of use cases for every role and industry.

For example, services such as Coupa,, and Liquid streamline accounting through automated payment approvals. Automating your accounts payable processes will not only reduce errors but also increase productivity and the overall well-being of your employees. The more you empower employees to automate their repetitive tasks, the more mindful they can be about the work that matters.

Leading With Mindfulness

Similar to emotional intelligence, increasing mindfulness in the workplace starts from the top down. Lead by example by taking brain breaks and blocking out unscheduled time. Invest in automation software or services. Start with yourself and your executive team and the effects will trickle down.

Bringing mindfulness to the workplace is advantageous on several levels. After all, investing in the well-being and resilience of all employees is simply the right thing to do. But mindfulness is also a sound business investment that pays dividends. It allows businesses to decrease stress, reduce turnover, improve productivity, recruit top talent, and increase innovation.

The future of work is more than remote work. It is human-centered, where workers thrive and mindfulness, wellness, and well-being become more than just buzz words. The human-centered future of work is a movement and it starts with each of us.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Secrets Of Developing A Digitally Ready Workforce

Before 2020 started, remote and virtual work had already grown 159% since 2005. This growth has been driven in part by the rise of the liquid workforce. Freelancers and independent consultants have long been shaping the future of work and making a digitally ready and virtual workforce a reality.

The work that we do and how we do it is also transforming. The World Economic Forum has predicted that over the next 10 years, digital skills will be required for 9 out of 10 jobs, and automation will change 5 out of 10 jobs. Freelancers are also at the forefront of this skills transformation.

Rethinking The Workforce

The current environment is rapidly accelerating these trends. So how can we develop a digitally ready workforce that can scale and grow a business? Insights from working with executive-level freelancers and consultants can help provide the answers.

The liquid workforce has steadily grown over the last decade, with over 57 million people freelancing in the US last year. This growth has been driven in part by the shift to more project-based workflows in companies. One of the fastest-growing segments of the gig economy is knowledge workers due to the demand for a digitally ready workforce. Knowledge workers serve as on-demand consultants and advisors, helping companies to take advantage of business and technology trends.

Redesigning Work Styles And Workspaces

Increasingly, companies are moving toward a blended workforce, with a strategic talent pool of full-time workers for long-term needs and liquid workers for dynamic, short-term needs. This strategic approach increases flexibility, agility and diversity while fluidly scaling digital readiness.

The events of 2020 are likely to result in fundamental changes to our workspaces, accelerating the shift to virtual and flexible work and making it increasingly important to communicate effectively with fewer meetings. The new digital workspace will require managers to embrace flexibility and autonomy. Freelancers have learned how to build trust virtually. A key enabler to building that trust is having shared, clear goals and objectives. Combined with proactive, open and transparent communication through modern communication channels, freelancers can establish effective working relationships despite never interacting in-person.

Developing An Agile Mindset

The accelerated shift to digital and virtual interaction in our workspaces will put pressure on soft skills, with communication, collaboration and emotional intelligence all increasingly essential. The importance of emotional intelligence, also referred to as EQ, is often underestimated but is directly related to not only great leadership, but also the ability to learn from experiences. We all need to learn to adapt our work styles to match the fluidity of our workspace with a more versatile approach. For example, we need to easily pivot between multiple internal communication channels, adapting our communication style and tone to each for effective virtual and in-real-life collaboration.

Core to any digitally ready workforce is the ability to handle and seek change. Individuals need to be agile, flexible, and willing to learn. Successful freelancers are entrepreneurs and, as such, must be nimble, ready to take risks, and look for opportunities. These freelancers are curious and take the initiative to continue to advance their knowledge and skills. When hiring freelancers, you can use trial projects to gauge fit. Similarly, you can task employees with small projects to assess their agile potential.

Investing In Continuous Learning

To develop the necessary agile mindset, individuals must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. According to research by McKinsey, the key traits to seek among individuals are the ability to handle ambiguity, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Agile thinkers embrace change and adaptability and strive to keep improving their skills and knowledge.

Successful freelancers continually assess and develop their skills, following personalized pathways of development. Seventy-eight percent of freelancers surveyed by Upwork responded that soft skills were at least equally important as technical skills to their success. These development pathways are pursued by combining online courses, mentoring, coaching, and experiential learning. For freelancers, proficiency in using collaboration and productivity tools is a minimum standard to achieve. They also require strong technical skills in their areas of specialty, combined with cognitive and soft skills.

Developing a digitally ready workforce requires assessing your company’s current talent in terms of both hard and soft skills. You also need to understand their passion for learning and curiosity — key traits that the best freelancers share. Support continuous, ongoing learning within your team, and help individuals develop the best personal learning pathway. Developing digitally ready talent isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey.

Identifying and developing digitally ready talent sets the foundation for an agile business that is ready to adapt and scale. While half of jobs may change due to automation, creative and critical thinking, thoughtful communication skills and emotional intelligence will be essential strengths to develop, regardless of how technology evolves over the next decade and beyond.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

From Paradise to Progress: AI’s Potential for Hawaii

Growing up in Honolulu, I’ve always been in awe of our islands’ history and its potential. Hawai‘i is my home, my inspiration, and the place that taught me the importance of community, resilience, and embracing change. It’s with this spirit that I’m thrilled to announce my role as a Founding Board Member for the newly established Hawai‘i Center for AI (HCAI).

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the transformative power of technology. As an entrepreneur and advisor, I truly believe that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to be a game-changer for our island community.

AI: A Double-Edged Sword?

AI is an exponential technology that has the potential to transform every industry, sector, and job function. On an individual level, it will likely change how we live, work, learn, and play.

According to a recent report by ResumeBuilder, 37% of companies using AI say they replaced workers with the technology in 2023 — and 44% report there will be additional layoffs resulting from AI efficiency. While AI could lead to increased inequality, it also has tremendous potential for good. Recent studies suggest AI could potentially benefit lower-skilled workers more than higher-skilled ones, potentially reversing the trend of increasing inequality. Moreover, AI could make elite expertise more accessible and increase the value of middle-skill workers. Experts think that workers in 80% of occupations will save time with AI — as much as 20% of their time.

This is especially relevant for Hawai‘i, where our dependence on tourism has left our economy vulnerable. With daily arrivals to our islands continuing a downward trend in 2024, we must diversify our economy. And with most of our food arriving as imports, our islands are susceptible to supply chain disruptions. Having recently visited West Maui, I am reminded of how climate change and our colonial history have put us at risk. But I see AI as a powerful tool to help diversify and strengthen our economy.

Fortunately, there are several organizations working hard to diversify Hawaii‘s economy. Accelerators like Elemental Excelerator, Mana Up, Blue Startups — providing mentorship and funding to local entrepreneurs — and other organizations (like Purple Mai‘a) are fostering innovation and creating new business opportunities across various sectors. HCAI joins these efforts by focusing on the transformative power of AI.

Leveling the Playing Field: AI for Everyone

The beauty of AI is it creates a level playing field. Powerful AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Anthropic’s Claude, Microsoft Copilot, and Google’s Gemini are now available to everyone. Whether you’re a CEO of a big corporation or a small business owner, we all have access to the same powerful AI tools. Stop and think about that for a minute. You can access the same cutting edge technology that is available to the world’s billionaires. This means AI has the potential to be a great equalizer, providing everyone with the tools they need to succeed, regardless of background or resources.

But access is just one piece of the puzzle. We need to use AI thoughtfully to truly benefit our communities. Generative AI can streamline tedious tasks, freeing us to focus on creative, meaningful work. Predictive AI can empower businesses to optimize operations and reduce waste. These are just a few examples of how AI can be harnessed for good.

Building a Thriving, Sustainable Hawai‘i

Some worry AI will take jobs away. But I believe AI, if leveraged responsibly, will actually create new opportunities for Hawai‘i’s workers. By automating repetitive tasks, AI frees us up to focus on more meaningful, uniquely human work. Plus, organizations are looking for people with AI skills. By embracing AI, we can position our workforce for the jobs of the future.

Working with HCAI Co-Founder and Board President Nam Vu and Founding Director Peter Dresslar, I’m excited to shape HCAI’s mission, vision, and programs. Our goal is to promote the beneficial use of AI to empower our people, communities and industries. Through education, research and innovation, we’re working to make sure our islands benefit from AI in a way that aligns with our values and culture.


  • AI helping local farmers increase yields and get more fresh produce to our markets and tables, reducing our reliance on imported foods.
  • Our hotels leveraging AI for sustainable resource management.
  • Small businesses leveraging AI to streamline operations and compete effectively.
  • More of our keiki getting AI literacy education to prepare them for the careers of tomorrow.

This is just the start — there’s so much more we can do with AI to lift up our islands’ economy and our people. This is the future we’re working towards at HCAI, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Empowering Our Community With Responsible AI

Like any new technology, AI requires thoughtful implementation. With the right approach, AI can help build a more sustainable, resilient and prosperous Hawai‘i. One that honors our past while positioning us for the future.

That’s why HCAI is committed to ensuring AI is used for good — for Responsible AI. This means AI that:

  • Empowers individuals: Every local business owner should have access to AI to automate tasks, freeing them to focus on what truly matters.
  • Strengthens our economy: AI can help us diversify our economy, revolutionize our agricultural industry, increase local food production, and reduce waste. It can also help our sustainable tourism sector personalize experiences and minimize environmental impact.
  • Protects our environment: AI can be used to monitor environmental conditions, predict and mitigate natural disasters, and optimize energy usage.
  • Fosters cultural preservation: AI can be used along with traditional knowledge to document, analyze, and share Native Hawaiian language, traditions, historical artifacts, and mo‘olelo (stories) passed down through generations.
  • Bridges the digital divide: HCAI offers resources and training to ensure everyone in Hawai‘i has the skills and knowledge to benefit from AI.

Join Us in Building a Brighter Future

We are a unique community, deeply connected to our land and each other. This makes us perfectly positioned to be global leaders in Responsible AI. We can create a model for the world, one that fosters innovation, equity, and a deep respect for our cultures.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting our important work. HCAI isn’t just for techies — it’s for everyone who wants to see Hawai‘i thrive. Whether you’re a business owner, an educator, a farmer, a student, or simply a concerned citizen curious about AI, there’s a place for you at our Hawai‘i Center for AI. Get involved, ask questions, and explore volunteer opportunities to ensure AI serves our island community.

Together, let’s build a Hawai‘i where AI uplifts and empowers us all, honoring our past while positioning us for a brighter future.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Yolanda is also a Founding Board Member of the Hawai’i Center for AI (HCAI), a non-profit organization. HCAI envisions a future in which all of Hawaiʻi’s residents have access to AI technology that effectively and safely serves their individual and collective well-being. Hawai’i Center for AI promotes the beneficial use of AI to empower individuals, communities, and industries throughout Hawai’i. HCAI is committed to understanding the ways AI will help grow the state’s economy, help our institutions evolve, and transform our society. Through collaboration, education, and service, HCAI drives research, innovation, and community partnerships to build a sustainable, prosperous, and policy-driven future for Hawai’i.

Fast Start: 9 Tips to Onboard Yourself at Your New Job

Starting a new job can be exciting, but also overwhelming. There’s so much to learn and do, and you want to make a good impression from day one. While many companies have formal onboarding processes to help integrate new hires, the reality is that these programs are often lacking, especially in smaller or rapidly growing organizations. 

Whether you’re coming onboard as an employee, on-demand consultant, or fractional executive, you can take charge and ensure a smooth transition by onboarding yourself. 

Here’s how:

1. Do your research

Before your first day, learn as much as you can about your new company. Learn about their mission, values, culture, products, services, and industry. Familiarize yourself with their social media accounts, blog, and website. This will give you a head start on understanding the company’s priorities and how you can contribute. Look up your new employer in the news – find out if there have been any recent developments about the company.

2. Take charge of the process 

Don’t wait for information to fall into your lap – go out and proactively seek what you need to start contributing meaningfully. Ask questions to understand priorities, gather essential resources, and identify quick wins you can achieve in your first 30-60-90 days. Taking control shows initiative and positions you to have an immediate positive impact. No one is more invested in your success than you are.

3. Develop your own perspective 

As a fresh set of eyes, one of the most valuable things you bring to the table is a new perspective. Observe, analyze, and form your own opinions about the organization – what’s working well, what could be improved, key opportunities and challenges. Don’t be afraid to respectfully share your thoughts, hunches and ideas, even if they diverge from the status quo. Fresh viewpoints, grounded in curiosity and good faith, can spark productive discussions. 

4. Dive in and add value 

New hires often get bombarded with information – documents, decks, demos, org charts. Don’t get bogged down. Do make time to absorb the material, but look for ways to add value immediately, even in small ways. High-performing teams expect you to quickly translate knowledge into action. Volunteer for projects, share relevant articles, offer to take meeting notes. Active engagement shows you’re there to contribute, not just learn.

5. Identify priorities and early wins 

While there’s a lot to learn, focus on the most critical areas first – certain information will be more important than others, depending on upcoming projects and decisions. Identify knowledge gaps and areas where your skills can have the biggest impact. What knowledge gaps need to be filled most urgently? Where can your skills move the needle? Aim for some early quick wins to build credibility and momentum. Having a prioritized learning plan creates structure and accelerates your ability to make meaningful contributions.

6. Embrace a leadership mindset 

Even as a new hire, approach your role with a leadership mindset. Imagine yourself running meetings, making decisions, and driving projects forward. This proactive attitude empowers you to shape your experience and contribute more from the beginning.

7. Understand decision-making frameworks 

Understand how decisions are made at your new company. What are the key metrics, priorities and frameworks used? Knowing how and when important decisions get made allows you to focus your onboarding on the most relevant information and stakeholders.

8. Build key relationships

 Relationships are key. Invest time in getting to know your manager, colleagues, and collaborators. Schedule one-on-one meetings, ask about their roles, and seek feedback. Building strong connections helps you navigate the organization, feel included, and collaborate more effectively. Growing your network internally provides a web of support as you get up to speed.

9. Embrace continuous learning 

 Learning is continuous. Embrace an attitude of constant growth.   Ask questions, seek feedback, and be open to new ideas. Adopt a mindset of humility and curiosity. A commitment to lifelong learning keeps you nimble and adaptable as the company evolves. 

By following these nine strategies, you’ll take control of your onboarding and quickly become a valuable asset.  You’ll demonstrate the very qualities that make you a great fit for the long haul – initiative, curiosity, humility, and a willingness to take action. By proactively onboarding yourself, you’ll gain a running start, become a high-value team member faster, and showcase the skills that make you a perfect fit for the company’s culture.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Tips For Scaling Customer Success

If you’re building a startup, you’re probably wondering how to start and scale customer success (CS). While the first step is to hire the right first customer success lead, the next step is scaling customer success to increase the impact and turn CS into a profit center that increases revenue. Here are my top tips to help you scale customer success at your startup. Hopefully, your first CS hire has already created a culture of operational excellence and started accelerating your one-to-many strategy, as most of my tips for scaling customer success rely heavily on customer success ops.

Meet customers where they are.

Scaling customer success means you’ll need to make it more effective and efficient. At Liquid, we’ve found that it’s imperative to meet customers where they are and where they prefer to engage. While some customers enjoy talking to a customer success manager, others prefer to get help on their own online. Some users prefer emailing, while others like chat. Some prefer personalized meetings, while others find more value in attending group office hours or webinars. Offering one-to-many experiences increases CS productivity — but more importantly, offering a multitude of options allows your customers to get help in ways that they perceive to be most valuable and efficient. Add new initiatives prudently; do so only when you have confidence that it fills a need. In addition, you should be analyzing the metrics of each new initiative to assess effectiveness. Experiment and iterate.

Build a knowledge base.

At Liquid, we recently released a customer-facing knowledge base (KB) based on customer requests for a dedicated help center to help themselves and to direct their additional users to train themselves up. Since its launch, KB usage has grown rapidly while also decreasing the volume of communications from customers. To be clear, our KB doesn’t prevent users from contacting humans — it simply helps users help themselves before asking for help.

When building out your KB, start with the most complex features and sticking points — get feedback from CSMs and support staff about what needs to be covered. As new support requests come in, support staff should create new KB articles. Similarly, as new features get released, work with your product team to add new KB articles at each release. Always include images and videos to be inclusive of different learning preferences. Don’t wait to put out your KB; in my experience, it’s better to put out a 60% completed solution and iterate and add to it.

Lastly, look at KB metrics to gather additional insight. For example, what are people clicking on? This might give you insight into problem areas. Who is looking? A customer with lots of KB views might need extra attention; a customer with a sudden drop in views might be at risk of churning out. What are people searching for? Repeat searches might mean your product team needs to resolve some underlying issues.

Create (and automate) repeatable systems and processes.

Scaling customer success also means dealing with an increasing number of customers. To manage volume, you need repeatable systems and processes. Operationalizing processes by creating playbooks and other documentation helps your team provide consistent service quickly and efficiently. When done properly, this also allows you to provide pooled CS where customers are not assigned a single CSM but instead get help from whoever is available. Start working on this early and iterate often.

As you work on this, also segment your customers and determine how your approach will differ for each segment. For some companies, it may make sense to segment by account value but for others, segmenting by behavior may be more suitable. Growth potential should also be considered in segmentation, along with other factors specific to your industry, company and product.

Another way to improve the efficiency of your CS department is to take your repeatable processes and systems one step further and automate where possible. Be strategic in your use of automation. At Liquid, we use Zapier to automate a few customer success emails and have a few other automations to provide more value to our customers at scale.

Separate customer support and customer success.

While customer success is meant to be proactive, customer support or customer service is reactive by nature. When the same team members manage both support/service and success, the most urgent requests (typically service requests) get worked on first. Unfortunately, this means the proactive work — of managing customer health and actively reaching out to customers who may be at risk of churning — sometimes falls lower down the list. In addition, the skills needed for customer service are different from those for customer success. From my experience, companies achieve better results when separating the reactive customer service team from the proactive customer success team early on.

Know when to grow your customer success team.

Dave Blake, CEO of Client Success, has some great tips on when to add additional staff to your customer success team. Specifically, he recommends looking at three factors:

• Annual Contract Value (ACV) Target Per CSM: Each CSM should be handling about $2 million in ACV.

• Product Complexity: The more complex your product, the fewer accounts each CSM can handle.

• Volume Of Customers Per CSM: Each CSM can generally only create meaningful relationships with about 50 customers (sometimes a bit more if automation is used).

Assess these factors against your own product to determine when it’s time to grow your customer success team. I’ve found that about 30 customers is the sweet spot — with automation required to manage more than that.

Scaling customer success will allow you to deliver more value to your customers, keep them happy and ultimately get them to grow their business with you. Whether you start with operationalizing processes, adding automations, building out a knowledge base, or separating customer service from customer success, be sure to meet customers where they are. Deliver more value in their preferred channels and your customers will eagerly turn into advocates, referring new customers.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

How To Give Feedback To Freelancers, Contractors, And Remote Workers

Communication is key to building strong working relationships, whether with employees or with freelancers. While most organizations have built-in methods and procedures for giving feedback to employees, such as regular 1:1 meetings, I’ve found that many companies lack processes for giving feedback to freelancers, contractors, or other members of their virtual talent bench. Given that working with freelancers tends to be temporary, it’s too easy to skip over providing feedback to your liquid workforce.

Understand When To Give Feedback

During each project, review the scope of work frequently to make sure milestones are met. If your freelancers or consultants are falling flat, say so. Most freelancers crave feedback, as they know feedback helps them improve their work product and increases the likelihood of a successful outcome for both parties. If they’re providing valuable contributions, be sure to thank them.

At the end of each project, spend some time going over what went well during the engagement and also what could have been improved. These retrospective meetings help ensure future engagements run smoothly.

Whenever possible, critique in private and praise in public. No one likes to be publicly called out for failures or mistakes. Critique publicly, and you’re likely to be met with defensiveness. This should go without saying, but if you’re in a bad mood, give yourself some time to clear your head — when giving feedback while upset, your tone will likely make more of an impact than the actual content of the message.

Set Expectations

The first step in giving feedback to your freelancers, contractors, and other remote workers is setting expectations. Make sure you’ve got a clear scope of work with detailed milestones and timelines. The scope should be detailed enough so that all parties understand what is expected and when items are due.

Once you’re ready to give feedback, Daniel Coyle, author of several books on talent, suggests starting each feedback conversation with one magical 19-word phrase: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them.”

This statement helps your freelancers, contractors, and virtual talent bench — and even your employees — feel valued and connected to your business.

Skip The Compliment Sandwich

In my career advising startup founders and small business owners, I’ve known all too many managers whose preferred method of providing feedback was the compliment sandwich. This is when you sandwich a negative piece of feedback between two positive pieces. The idea is that you don’t want to get anyone down and that focusing on the positive helps blunt the negative.

I’ve found that the feedback sandwich both undermines the constructive (negative) feedback being conveyed while also making people suspicious of positive feedback. Instead, follow these steps to give clear, concise, specific, and constructive feedback after asking for permission.

Ask For Permission

Before you start with Coyle’s magical 19 words, ask for permission to have a feedback conversation. This can, and should, be as simple as asking a question like: Do you have 20 minutes to talk about X? If the answer is yes, then you can move on to those magical 19 words. If the answer is no, then ask when a good time to talk about X is and schedule a time on the calendar. Asking for permission allows the person to prepare mentally for receiving feedback, making the conversation more likely to lead to actionable results.

Start With Statements, Then Ask Questions

Start by stating what you observed, what impact it did or could have, and then ask questions. Try to be objective and refrain from judging or inferring what happened, giving the freelancer, consultant, or contractor time and space to explain. For example: I noticed X, and that could have impacted Y, and I was hoping you could give me your thoughts. This framing can help you uncover additional issues that you may have overlooked. In addition, asking questions can encourage self-reflection — allowing the freelancer, consultant, or contractor to come up with creative solutions for addressing your concerns. Make sure you listen to what they have to say.

Be Specific And Clear

Be specific with your critique as well as your praise. The more specific your feedback, the more likely it is to be actionable and useful. Aim for concise clarity — using too many words to blunt the emotional impact of negative feedback will make your message fuzzy. Be intentional with your words and tone. Avoid overgeneralizing, being judgmental, or making assumptions about intent. When providing negative feedback, make sure the conversation ends with clearly defined next steps for improvement — this is what separates criticism from constructive feedback.

Don’t shy away from giving negative feedback, but strive to give positive feedback more often. Increasing the ratio of positive to negative feedback creates a culture where feedback is valued, not feared. When giving positive feedback, do so with explicit information about what was done well — this helps to reinforce positive behavior. In contrast, vague positive feedback simply makes the receiver feel good.

Ask For Feedback

If you don’t ask for feedback, you’re unlikely to get it. Don’t forget to also ask for feedback from your freelancers, consultants, and independent contractors. Being external to your organization gives them a valuable vantage point. Their outside perspective can help them notice things that employees might miss. In addition, working with many clients means that your liquid workforce may have gleaned insights from working with similar organizations. Prioritize asking for feedback, as this builds the relationships you have with your virtual talent bench. When they start to see you as a partner — and not just a client — they’ll be more likely to make time for your projects.

Create A Culture Of Feedback

Providing candid, thoughtful, and positive feedback is essential to building strong relationships. Plus, having two-way feedback loops builds trust. Creating a culture of feedback generates a high-performing culture, boosting your team’s performance.

Start taking your relationships with freelancers, contractors, and remote workers to the next level.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Hiring Your Startup’s First Customer Success Lead

Customer success (CS) is one of the most critical functions of a startup, especially a business-to-business (B2B) software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup. Your startup’s success depends on educating and keeping customers — exactly what CS professionals are equipped to do. Moreover, when your CS team does its job well, customers turn into advocates, each referring new customers to your business.

If you have the budget, you’ll want to hire someone who has scaled CS at a company similar to yours (in terms of product, sales model, implementation strategy, expansion strategy, etc), from your company’s stage all the way through the initial public offering (IPO). In truth, it’s easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find this mythical ideal hire.

Instead, let’s focus on finding you the best first customer success hire for your startup, starting with the basics.

Generalists: At early-stage startups, you need a jack-of-all-trades who can do whatever is needed, whenever it’s needed. You need someone adaptable and resilient to put out fires while thinking strategically and working proactively. You need someone who can build relationships with customers while also analyzing customer data and trends, turn customer thoughts into focused feedback for the product, scale support, and much more. As your CS department grows, you’ll want folks to specialize: dedicated onboarding specialists, expansion specialists, customer success managers (CSMs) for different customer segments, etc. But at an early-stage startup, hire a generalist.

Coachable, Lifelong Learners: When you work in customer success, you’re constantly learning on your feet. You’ve got to be naturally curious about customers and your product. At an early-stage startup, you must experiment and try different tactics, particularly while working toward finding product-market fit. In addition to hiring for lifelong learners, I recommend hiring for coachability to ensure you hire someone who can grow with your company.

Emotional Intelligence: Every successful CS leader I’ve known exhibits strong emotional intelligence; this is no surprise, given how important it is for CS to have empathy and be able to control their emotions and read customers’ emotions. Since CS often manages angry customers, I also recommend hiring for mindfulness. The ability to stay intentionally focused without passing judgment helps ensure appropriate reactions to defuse charged situations.

Leadership: Your first CS hire won’t be your last. Hire someone who can lead your future CS department — a leader with grace and compassion. Speaking of leading a department, you’ll need your CS lead to have a documentation-first mindset to take what they do, turn it into scaleable processes and teach that to others.

Now that we’ve established the overall traits, let’s go over some factors to keep in mind as you hire your first CS lead.


How complicated is your product? Is specialized knowledge required to understand your product? At Liquid, I’ve found that while no specific expertise is necessary, experience with how businesses contract with freelancers and vendors makes the steep product learning curve much more manageable.


Do your customers speak their own lingo? For example, many of our customers are finance leaders, so it’s beneficial to hire folks knowledgeable about accounting as it pertains to working with contractors and vendors. However, since operations leaders also use our product, finance and bookkeeping expertise are purely optional. Additionally, since many of our customers are agencies or social enterprises, it’d be helpful to hire folks with backgrounds in those industries.

Sales And Pricing Model

Very expensive products with a high-touch sales model will probably require high-touch customer success. “Freemium” products relying on product-led growth, self-service education, and low-touch sales will likely require someone who can more quickly operationalize and scale CS.

Implementation Strategy

How complicated is your product implementation? How quickly do customers see value? Is onboarding straightforward and the same for everyone, or does it vary depending on the specific needs/circumstances of each customer? If it varies, you’ll need someone who asks the right questions to craft customized onboarding/implementation plans for customers. In this case, look for past experience in consulting (or a consultative mindset).

At Liquid, we’ve found that implementation can differ quite a bit between customers depending on a variety of factors — including whether the main users have finance or operations backgrounds, whether they use work orders, how much they care about compliance, whether they are moving from existing tools versus hiring their first freelancer, how many vendors they have, and whether they think of their vendors as a virtual talent bench — but not so much so that custom onboarding plans are needed for each customer. In our case, CS needs to provide high-touch customized onboarding when appropriate, while also operationalizing, scaling, and improving onboarding in general.

Expansion Strategy

What does expansion mean to your company? Is it about selling more licenses? Selling on professional services? Upselling on additional features or higher-level plans? Different expansion strategies require different skill sets. No matter what the expansion strategy, I recommend hiring someone data-savvy enough to segment customers appropriately to identify and pursue potential expansion opportunities.

Company Structure

Who will your first CS hire report to? While I recommend having a customer success lead report to the CEO, I’ve also seen a CS lead report to the chief operating officer (COO), head of sales, and even the chief of staff. No matter how you decide to structure your organization, be intentional about this. Where CS sits in your company says a lot to your employees (and to your customers) about how you view your customers. Choose thoughtfully.

Don’t Delay Hiring Your First Customer Success Lead

As I said at the start, customer success is one of the most important pieces to building a successful company. It’s never too early to hire your first CS lead.

And once your CS lead has created repeatable processes and you’re ready to scale, empower that person to hire a team. I’ve found that non-traditional backgrounds like hospitality, retail, and education lay an excellent foundation of soft skills for CS excellence. If you have the time and resources to train someone (and a product that doesn’t require subject matter expertise), you’re likely to get excellent value hiring folks new to the technology industry.

Are you ready to start building your customer success department?

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an entrepreneurship and small business consultant and a co-founder and partner of Lau Labs. She loves to read. Since 2010, she has been focused on “solving” the “problem” of ambitious, educated, talented women and men “opting out” of the traditional workforce for personal reasons. In 2015, she joined forces with two other MIT alumnae to start FlexTeam — a mission-based micro-consulting firm that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors and their most requested projects are market research / analysis, competitor research, financial models / analysis, and business strategy. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Let’s Go Liquid: One Million Liquid Businesses

Today, we launched a new website for Liquid, the operating system for agile businesses. I’m so excited to share what we’ve been working on, and so proud of how far we’ve come from when we first started our consulting firm together many years ago.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts on our vision for Liquid and the future of work, how we got here, and why I believe we’re building something important.

Shifting from role-based work to project-based work

For years, I had seen my friends — fellow MIT alums — leaving their careers behind because they couldn’t find a way to make work fit into their lives. Whether it was making more time for their children or parents (or not wanting to be tied to a job and an office), highly educated women were leaving the workforce in droves. I had long found project-based work to be a means of finding work-life fit and I wanted to build a way to make it easier for anyone to do project-based work. And as a long-time consultant, I had seen for myself how tapping into on-demand talent enable businesses to scale quickly and efficiently. I realized project-based work was a win-win for all parties involved.

Project-based work and the future of work

I’ve been a big proponent of project-based work as a critical component of the future of work. Project-based work allows small business owners, entrepreneurs, creators, and enterprises to grow and scale their businesses while also expanding opportunities to bring in diverse talent. Working with on-demand talent is a good business decision for agile businesses. On the talent side, project-based work is a means to find work-life fit, particularly for lifelong learners eager to strengthen and develop their capabilities.

Starting FlexTeam

It was with that goal in mind that I co-founded FlexTeam — we wanted to build a world where previously sidelined professionals could engage in challenging, meaningful work when it fit into their lives. In addition, we envisioned a world where anyone could build an agile business, bringing on just-in-time talent to complete only the specific work that needed to be done.

Building FlexTeam’s platform

As we built FlexTeam, we initially used half a dozen different platforms to get signatures, manage contracts, agree to scopes of work, make payments, etc. We realized a tech platform was needed to manage this. Bringing on a CTO, we built an operating system for our modern consulting firm. Our proprietary platform allowed us to vet, onboard, manage, and pay FlexTeam’s consultants, while also enabling our clients to approve scopes of work, communicate with our team, and make payments.

Going Liquid

Liquid @ Techstars LA

FlexTeam grew to over 700+ independent contractors working on strategy projects with hundreds of clients, from SMBs to Fortune 500 companies. But we realized that to accelerate our vision for the future — to help more businesses Go Liquid — we needed to reduce the friction for every business to work with on-demand talent.

We saw several main trends: workforce was becoming more flexible and global and agile companies succeed by tapping into the best non full-time workers. But working with on-demand talent can be really difficult because it’s not a regular recurring expense like payroll — and there are additional compliance issues and challenges with controlling costs / work.

So we created and spun out Liquid — joined Techstars LA, and raised venture capital. Today, the Liquid platform streamlines the way a business’ finance, operations and talent management teams work with its vendor and supplier networks in the U.S. and abroad. We simplify contracting and global payments while ensuring financial controls and compliance.

The Future of Work

It’s widely accepted that COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to the future of work. In 2020 alone, wages and workforce participation of independent workers rose by 33%. In 2021, we’ve seen the “ Great Resignation” / “ Big Quit” — which has led to further growth in the percentage of independent workers — and businesses becoming more comfortable with remote work, asynchronous work, hybrid work, and project-based work.

While others talk about the future of work being remote, I believe it’s much bigger than that. The future of work is about everyone and every business working together in a way that works for all parties involved. It’s a distributed hybrid world where some folks will remain employees, but more and more people will become independent contractors — some working through agencies, and others working directly with companies (with some growing to build their own agency and hiring their own subcontractors). The companies that thrive in the future of work are those that Go Liquid, embracing on-demand talent and virtual talent benches.

Liquid and the Future of Work

At Liquid, we are building the operating system for agile businesses to enable everyone and every business to succeed in the future of work — project-centric contracting, work orders, purchase orders, and payments for agile businesses and their global vendor networks. In addition, our platform allows businesses to quickly understand and control their variable non-employee costs. We want to help every company Go Liquid, and we want to make it easier for people to Go Liquid.

Every day, I wake up excited to build Liquid because I know we are changing how work gets done; we are building the future of work. I love our hectic startup life (for example, I previously led Marketing for Liquid on an interim basis) but I primarily spend my days leading Customer Experience and Customer Success at Liquid. With a consulting background and experience as a trusted advisor, I’m thrilled to be building this critical (and growing) department. I love partnering with startup founders, finance leaders, HR leaders, COOs, Chiefs of Staff, and other operations leaders to help them scale their businesses while saving them (and their teams) time and money. It’s been a joy to connect with our customers and ensure they are getting exactly what they need from our platform. I’ve seen our customers take their businesses from idea to Series A and from seed to Series B — and I love knowing that our platform has supported their rapid agile growth.

Today, hundreds of businesses spanning marketing agencies, startups, production companies, social enterprises, and SMBs are using our platform. These businesses use Liquid to contract, onboard, manage, and pay their on-demand talent and vendors in the U.S. and in 175+ countries across the globe. Thousands more are #GoingLiquid and engaging the liquid workforce in ever growing numbers. In just the last year, Liquid has securely processed millions of dollars in global payments. Our customers love our platform, rave about our helpful customer support team, and rely on Liquid on a daily basis. Liquid is becoming the operating system for agile businesses.

And we’re just getting started.

If you’re as excited as I am about what we’re building and our vision for the future, read more from our CEO. Then, visit our new website ( to learn more about Going Liquid or subscribe to our newsletter to follow our journey.

Are you ready to Go Liquid?

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Best Practices For Manager/Employee 1:1 Meetings

As more companies switch to remote work, it becomes ever more critical to intentionally connect with our co-workers and employees. While we are all trying to clear our calendars, scheduling weekly one-to-one meetings with every direct report continues to be essential. Even when working with the freelancers and contractors who comprise the liquid workforce, I have found that one-to-one meetings are crucial to a successful working relationship. Consistently great one-to-one meetings are the secret to improving team performance, morale, and company culture.

Emotionally intelligent managers know that people need to feel cared for and valued — people are happiest when they are learning, working on challenging projects, given room to make decisions, and encouraged to use their judgment to do their job. Your goal in one-to-one meetings is to discover how your direct reports are feeling and growing so that you can improve how you coach/mentor/sponsor/support them.

Managers should have a weekly one-to-one scheduled with each direct report. It is understandable if it needs to be rescheduled in a specific week, or if it doesn’t happen from time to time. But in my experience, managers should aim to have one-to-one meetings at least three out of every four weeks. It’s important to have regular check-ins to prevent larger issues from festering, allow for immediate and regular feedback and promote open communication.

Structure And Prompts

Start your one-to-ones with open-ended questions to help you understand how employees are doing, what is on their minds and how you might be able to help.

Check in on the employee’s current progress. Are there big or small successes to celebrate? How is progress tracking versus goals? What resources does the employee need? Ongoing reviews of progress ensure that nothing on a performance review comes as a surprise.

Every few weeks, be sure to dedicate some time to discuss long-term goals and ambitions. For example, ask employees what they view as the next step in their career path and how they see themselves in their roles. This helps you develop your people so that you can promote from within.

Here are some questions you may want to incorporate into your one-to-one agendas. These questions can help you understand how employees are motivated by their work, self-assess their skills, and view their control over their work.

1. Prompts To Understand Purpose/Relatedness

  • What are you most proud of?
  • Where do you see your job linked to our company’s goals?
  • When have your contributions to our company’s overall goals inspired you?
  • What can I do to make you feel that your work is meaningful and crucial to our company’s overall goals?
  • What feedback is the most meaningful/impactful that you have received?
  • What challenges/barriers are you facing, and how can I help remove them?
  • What part of your daily activities do you feel wastes your time?

2. Prompts To Grow Mastery/Competence

  • What is something you learned this week?
  • If you reflect on one piece of work product, where are you most proud of that work?
  • What is something you will do differently next time?
  • If you were to critique a recent project you completed, what grade would you give yourself? Why?
  • Are you celebrating the things you did well?
  • Are you avoiding anything you didn’t do well?
  • How can you become even better at…?
  • What can I, as a leader, do to help you to become even better?

3. Prompts To Support Autonomy

  • Do you have enough space to perform?
  • Are you able to make decisions that help use your experience and move your work forward?
  • Are you able to use your experience/expertise to help the company make good decisions?
  • Do you have the right level of influence to feel you are having an impact/adding value?
  • Are there things we should change so you feel like you have more ownership of your work?
  • What types of decisions do you feel comfortable making yourself? When do you hesitate to decide on your own?

As you start to wrap up your one-to-ones, make sure to ask questions that confirm any discussed actions and identify follow-ups for the next meeting. For example:

  • What are you committing to between now and the next time we meet?
  • What can I help you with between now and the next time we meet?
  • Is there anything we didn’t cover that you’d like to discuss next time?

As a manager, it’s your job to create environments and conditions that put employees where their intrinsic motivations are and let them be productive. Committing to regular weekly one-to-one meetings — with employees as well as freelancers — will help you develop your workforce and support their success. Investing this time in discussions with your employees will not only enable them to achieve their goals but is also essential for you to be successful as a leader and manager of people.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Time For HR To Manage The On-Demand Workforce

In many companies, freelancers are often the “hidden” workforce. The human resources (HR) team is not always involved in the hiring and management of freelancers. But as organizations shift to being project-based versus role-based, HR must take the lead in managing the on-demand workforce. We must rethink the role of HR in enabling the future of work.

I find there are five key areas that HR leaders should first focus on as they take the lead on managing the on-demand workforce.

Establish Hiring Practices

The HR team has the best expertise for hiring and engaging freelancers. Your recruiting resources are experts at sourcing and assessing talent — managers should be leveraging these recruiters to find the best freelance talent.

And just as your company has defined practices for hiring employees, hiring practices also must be defined for engaging freelancers and independent contractors. It’s just as critical when working with freelancers.

Set the minimum standards for what needs to be completed before a freelancer can be engaged for the first time. For example, specify that at least two interviewers should speak to the freelancer to assess qualifications and fit. Always require background and reference checks. Decide whether a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is mandatory or define the conditions that trigger this requirement. Establish benchmarks for hourly rate ranges for the types of freelancers your company will most frequently engage.

Provide Internal Training

The HR department should also provide training for managers on best practices for working with freelancers and independent contractors. This training is important for boosting project success rates and ensuring that managers understand compliance requirements.

When working with freelancers and independent contractors, managers need to be aware of local, state, and federal regulations regarding engaging freelancers. For example, the IRS considers the behavioral control, financial control, and relationship of the parties when evaluating worker classification. Understanding the regulations is critical to ensure workers are not misclassified as freelancers instead of employees, which exposes your company to legal penalties and liabilities.

Standardize The Onboarding Process

It’s a best practice for companies to have standardized onboarding processes for their employees. The HR team should establish a standard onboarding process for freelancers and independent contractors. This process will be distinct from the employee onboarding process and reflect the different needs and requirements related to freelancers.

For example, rather than collecting a W-2 during onboarding, your company will need to collect a W-9 from U.S. freelancers or a W-8 from foreign freelancers. Your onboarding process should include all the essential documents for a freelance engagement, like an executed contract, NDA, etc. Onboarding should also include the critical “welcome” elements, such as information on any tools that the freelancer will need to access.

Standardizing the freelancer onboarding process ensures that all the essential documents are completed for every engagement and saves your company significant time.

Set Performance Evaluation Guidelines

Establishing performance evaluation processes and standards is a key element of any HR team’s responsibilities. Performance evaluations with on-demand workers are both similar and different from evaluating employees.

Performance assessments should be done on a project-by-project basis and should include a recommendation as to whether the worker should be considered for future projects. In addition to the project evaluations, the skill sets of each worker should also be tracked. Insights into skill sets help hiring managers source the best fit for upcoming projects from already vetted on-demand talent.

Determine Supporting Tools And Systems

Many companies manage their freelance engagements through a hodgepodge of tools. For example, some companies manage freelancers entirely manually, tracking information in various spreadsheets. Manual management of freelancers can become time-consuming and is prone to errors. And with an assortment of tools, it’s hard to have complete visibility of all freelancer and independent contractor activity and expenses.

The human resources team should take the lead on defining the central tool or system for the company, making it easy for finance, legal, HR, and line managers to collaborate and have complete visibility of on-demand workforce engagements. Freelance and vendor management systems, like the solutions my company offers, provide the integrated capabilities critical for on-demand workforce management.

With a central tool or system, you can more readily develop an external talent bench to support your company. An on-demand talent bench can help your company be much more agile as well as digitally ready.

Leading The Development Of The On-Demand Workforce

HR should be leading the sourcing and development of all talent, not just internal talent. HR leaders have the expertise and the right skills and resources on their teams to develop an on-demand workforce successfully. A blended talent strategy will supplement and complement internal teams. It’s time for HR to lead the transition to the future of work.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.