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How the Pandemic Gave Rise to the "Chief Future of Work Officer"

By Alexandra Frost

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

"Chief Future of Work Officer" is a consultant role the pandemic necessitated.

Hinterhaus Productions for Getty Images.
Hinterhaus Productions for Getty Images.

Just two years ago, the “future of work” looked much like the previous decades of work — mostly 9-to-5 employees working in an office, with their coworkers, collaborating around the water cooler, and trying to increase profits. But in a swift and unprecedented change of events, the pandemic twisted tradition on its head, forcing companies to pivot, rethink their staff structures, some with just 24 hours' notice.

Since those trying weeks in March 2020, companies have used the pandemic to step back and analyze the future of work — will it be all remote? A hybrid model? Will employees have increased flexibility and control of their schedules?

And with those considerations came an onslaught of others. How will we monitor productivity from afar? Will people nap through their afternoon meetings or show up to 5 PM end of workday calls a few drinks in? Or, will they be more productive than other workers, increasing profits while balancing family obligations at home?

Human resources departments scrambled to allocate resources and leaders to handle these questions, and many more. In some cases organizations dedicated a specific position just to facilitating best practices as the workscape evolves. It goes by many names, but in some companies, the “Chief Future of Work Officer” (CFWO) is now not only necessary, but essential to setting best practices through the pandemic and beyond.

Mo Cayer, University of New Haven lecturer and coordinator of the M.S. Human Resources program and consultant to Fortune 100 companies on HR, tells The Org that organizations might have a “high potential leader” waiting in the wings now who can take on this role. This is especially true for companies who have had higher rates of resignation — many organizations that have been affected by the Great Resignation or Great Reshuffling can consider hiring a CFWO. He suggests looking at resignees’ exit interviews to see what the major issues were, or if they are just moving on to other opportunities. This can help a company decide if it’s time to hire a CFWO.

How companies knew they needed a Chief Future of Work Officer

At first, a company looking into adding this position might wonder what someone in that role will do all day, and how it will benefit their bottom line. But anyone in this role will tell you that it’s been nothing but adjusting, analyzing and restrategizing throughout the pandemic, as strains spike and wane, impacting work.

Ryan Yount, the founder of LuckLuckGo, a software company for GPS protection tools, hired a Chief Future Officer (CFO) recently. “One of the main reasons behind hiring one was to ensure that our business remains strong in the future regardless of unexpected events such as the pandemic,” he told The Org. His CFO — not to be confused with a Chief Finance Officer — is in charge of “managing cost-efficient methods to facilitate the growth and expansion of the organization and secure its future from disruptive events such as the ongoing COVD-19 pandemic.”

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JustAnswer Vice President of Operations Pamela Webber chose to hire a “Vice President of Talent and People Operations,” Kimberly Nerpouni, in April 2021, as the online question and answer platform was “growing significantly.” The company needed help with recruiting, manager training, improving onboarding and updating policies that had “outlived their usefulness” and automating workflows, she explained. “The added complication is that we suspected remote work was here to stay and needed to reinvent the way we worked.”

Both yount and Webber knew their companies needed to allocate the time and money to handle the pandemic changes specifically, and well.

The Chief Future of Work Officer as an antidote to the Great Resignation

A complicating factor in the pandemic wasn’t just that workers went remote and consumer and client habits changed instantly, but also that it led to the Great Resignation — record-breaking numbers of U.S. workers across sectors quitting their jobs. So, in some cases, the CFWO not only handles productivity and process for remote workers, but also retention and recruiting concerns in a new age of employee mindset.

Casey Christopher, Chief Empowerment Officer at the digital-only Quontic Bank, designed her role early in the pandemic as Quontic's last brick-and-mortar bank branch closed in 2020, and to beat signs of the “Great Resignation” that was coming. She saw her mission clearly: “to reshape the bank’s innovative remote hiring efforts, lead the company’s permanent future of work strategy, and continue building Quontic’s cutting edge culture in alignment with the new era of remote work.”

Christopher says she's into “ditching formalities and doubling down on Key Performance Indicators.” For example, she doesn’t care if an amazing future employee has “dogs barking, kids screaming and everything in between” as the future of work is noisy, and not an indicator of success or ability. She seeks to beat the Great Resignation with exceptional employees onboarding, as well as career coaching for those who are already there.

JustAnswer's Nerpouni says that her innovative role differs greatly from enticements pre-pandemic: “Expensed meals, stocked break rooms, upgraded employee lounges, ping pong tables, in-office massages and yoga sessions, etc. A lot of energy and money was spent towards making being the office comfortable if not ‘fun.’” But now, the focus is on allowing for a flexible work-life balance “while not losing our ‘Smart, Fun, Get Things Done’ culture…if done thoughtfully, employee happiness does not come at the expense of company profitability,” she said.

What Chief Future of Work Officers have accomplished, and where they are headed next

As we ease into the beginning of our third year of work-from-home culture for many companies, CFWOs examine both how far they’ve come and what still needs to be done.

Nerpouni began in her new role with JustAnswer doing lots of learning and surveying. “We learned that people wanted flexibility and one work model does not fit all,” she said. She has helped implement new and improved tools and processes for review, real-time feedback, one on one meetings, team channels, and others. JustAnswer has also hired a “Head of Employee Happiness” and “Head of Employee Growth” in a continued effort to pour into employees as mental health issues spike nationally. Going forward, she hopes these new hires and herself will “expand learning and professional development and retool our benefits strategy.”

As employees continue to grow within their companies, those who are analyzing productivity will have the clearest “big picture.” “Before the pandemic, organizations frequently dealt with challenges of remote work, the fairness of it, the technology required of it, how do we manage pay and assure that people who are working remotely are still going to be considered daily for promotion opportunities,” Cayer said. “But now this is way beyond that. It’s on steroids, right? It doesn’t sound like it’s going to dissipate in the next 6 months.”

CFWOs and similar roles have uncharted territory ahead of them, as the pandemic isn’t over and it’s unclear what the future holds for the working world. Yount says the right time to hire for this role is “when the future seems bleak and unpredictable for companies.” If this is that moment for you, it might to time to realize that the future of work is now.

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