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Liz Presson, Founder & Chief Strategist of Pursuit and Creator of WorkingRemote.ly

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This week we had a chance to chat with Liz Presson, a thought leader in the future of work. She works at the intersection of company culture, marketing and technology to help organizations engage a new era of employees and customers. She’s consulted with startups like Skillshare, The Muse and Seth Godin’s The Domino Project and has worked with organizations like Ford, Nissan and Oticon.

How did you start learning and writing about the topic of “office freedom” and “flexible work?”

When I started looking for jobs after the company I worked for sold to Vocus in 2012, I knew I didn’t want to sit in a regular office at a cubical. After turning down what I thought was my dream job at Edelman to stay at my job at a startup, I’d grown accustomed to doing things differently—and that was the way I wanted to take my career. There’s a great quote by Brian Doll, who works at GitHub. He says, “We work on the Internet and that doesn’t care where you are.” I’ve always believed that, and it became a key factor in the types of organizations I looked at working with. In my first position as a fully distributed employee at a large tech company, I started writing about what I was learning and began WorkingRemote.ly.

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I can’t say that I’ve never looked back since. I took a position as a marketing director at that same tech company and being physically present was part of the deal. I move to a new city and state for the job, and settling into an office at the company headquarters. That experience made me realize how much I’d come to appreciate distributed work and the lifestyle that comes along with it.

It reinforced everything I believed about work and what work can be like today. If I wouldn’t have had that experience, I wouldn’t be as passionate as I am today about building my own distributing company, Pursuit. My personal experience told me that things could be done differently and that really great—sometimes even better—work can happen outside of four walls.

Today, my mission is to help other people experience office freedom and all of the great things that come along with being a part of the distributed team. We also help business leaders understand how they can run their companies in a distributed fashion and curate culture within the organization when you don’t physically see your team every day.

Why do you believe the shift in the workplace, away from a corporate office to a more collaborative economy, is fundamentally occurring?

The relationship between people and organizations is changing. I truly believe that organizations have less access to the world’s top talent than ever before. A lot of this has to do with the fact that leadership and/or managers don’t feel comfortable with it. Distributed work often feel like a loss of control for those in charge, and rightfully so. But that’s something that has to change if organizations want to work with the best people in the marketplace.

The companies that are able to think outside the box, understand how to run and foster will be the ones with the people who are most engaged in their work.

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Some younger organizations, like Lullabot, Automattic, WAKA, and many others, have noticed that they don’t need an office that all. They realized from day one that the distributed way suits them the best. Companies that have been around longer—and in some cases have had a harder time adapting—often realize after testing remote work that there’s little loss of control with great employees, but an increase in employee engagement and loyalty. Employees who were already good produce even better work and work longer hours. They don’t have to worry about a commute, and they feel loyal to the business that lets them live their life and be where they want to be.

One article you wrote for Fast Company talked about how flexible work and giving employees more freedom was a solution for age-old problems. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

Unfortunately, work for a lot of people has become a source of depression, of sadness—even a bane of existence. That’s because work has not evolved with the rest of society.

Today, people crave autonomy, freedom and ownership—not only of their own lives but of their work. The way of doing that is respecting people and trusting them enough to work from wherever they need to be.

You talk about how a change in mindset is required when working remotely. What do you see as these fundamental changes mobile workers need to adjust to or keep in mind?

The biggest mindset change for moving to a remote or distributed work model from an employee’s perspective is holding yourself accountable. With autonomy comes self accountability, and making sure that you’re making productive use out of it instead of what we call in a distributed world “submarining.” It is a lot easier to hide behind a virtual curtain when you work remotely, so it’s up to you to make yourself visible. In the past, it’s been up to you to show up and your manager’s job to “see” you.

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From a leadership perspective, the biggest change is being able to trust people without physically seeing them in person. It’s a mindset shift between looking at a time clock and looking at output. Work is no longer measured in hours of the day, but the tangible value a person brings to the table. This value-based work system can be a hard pill to swallow— it’s just so different than what we’ve done in the past.

What do you think the biggest obstacle is that businesses will need to overcome as more and more workers choose to work remotely and from collaborative office spaces?

The biggest obstacle that businesses will need to overcome is not just adapting to the idea of a distributed workforce but also being open to other work arrangements outside of full time work. So today, we see people asking to work remotely when they don’t have a job where they need to physically be in the office or in a physical space. Tomorrow, we’ll see more and more people asking to be treated as contractors or independent workers for organizations. Today’s workers are moving towards freedom. Many of the most talented people want to work for more than one organization. Great companies need to learn how to have open relationships with the people that they want most.

About the ShareDesk Blog Series ‘The Future of Work With…’

‘The Future of Work With…’ is a blog series profiling members of the ShareDesk community. We are speaking with our diverse network of entrepreneurs, business travellers, industry thought leaders, freelancers, and flexible workplace operators, and sharing their stories and experiences on how they dream up a more flexible future for work.

Are you part of the ShareDesk community and have an interesting story to share? Contact us.