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.

Four Breaths to Stay Calm During Challenging Times

By Yolanda Lau

For many of us, it feels like we woke up to a world unrecognizable. With so much uncertainty, it’s not unusual to be feeling a range of negative emotions.

Here’s a quick tip for managing the additional stress and anxiety of our new normal.

Slowly take 4 deep breaths, while silently thinking these 8 words:

  • [breathing in] “in”
  • [breathing out] “out”
  • [breathing in] “deep”
  • [breathing out] “slow”
  • [breathing in] “calm”
  • [breathing out] “ease”
  • [breathing in] “smile”
  • [breathing out] “release”

And one more optional breath with these phrases:

  • [breathing in] “Present moment.”
  • [breathing out] “Wonderful moment.”

This is a well known meditation poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, peace activist and Buddhist monk. I find that with 4 to 5 mindful breaths, I can quickly reduce my elevated heart rate and ease my stress.

My other trick is to count my blessings. I stop and think about all the things I have to be thankful for — my kids, my husband, my parents and siblings, my friends, my business partners, my co-workers, my health, the roof over my head, plenty of food, lots of books, and a world-class education (providing a solid foundation in social studies, history, science, microbiology, infectious diseases, systems thinking, and communication skills). There is always something to be grateful for and I have found that a daily gratitude practice helps to improve my mood and outlook.

What are your secrets to staying mindful, keeping calm, and managing your emotions during these challenging times?

Please share your tips below to help us all get through this together. ❤️

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.