The future of work; 5 tips for students

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Ville-Veikko Laukkanen, executive vice president at Varma, about the future of work.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background, and how you ended up here

I joined Varma about five years ago. It is very interesting to work and have networks in a company that invests 45 billion euros and has a very interesting client base, ranging from major customers to very small entrepreneurs.

I have been an executive here for about three years. Previously I was responsible for household customers at Nordea in Finland. In about three years’ time we carried out three strategic actions and implementations. It was a lot of work; things changed a lot in terms of the business environment, customer behaviour and requirements from the authorities. Prior to that, for about seven years I was the CEO and country manager for an insurance company; building a new business from scratch, it was all about cross selling between a bank and an insurance company.

What is your vision for the future of workplaces? How will the way we work change 20 years from now?

I’m quite optimistic about the future. Work will definitely not disappear, but instead will open up a lot of new possibilities. There are three things that I believe will happen and which we should pay attention to:

1. We will see changes in workplace cultures. The culture of each workplace and the right cultural fit between workers and the company will become a much stronger focus than before.

2. Traditional businesses will develop and open up a lot more opportunities for new skills, some of which might not even exist yet.

3. Mid-size companies will become an increasingly interesting choice. Although joining a big company or starting your own business is appealing, existing mid-size companies hold hidden potential and opportunities. They are under pressure to change their business in order to raise their competitiveness and, as a result, they need new skills to be implemented into their businesses. Medium-sized companies are usually flexible enough to scale, which is the main reason behind their great potential. Outsiders can help these companies to go global by following megatrends and finding the right marketplace.

Do you think the way we work will blend more into our everyday life and become more “self-supervised”?

Yes, definitely. I see this as an opportunity to master your own day and time. It has long been a point of discussion that it’s more about the result, not the hours. It’s about being curious about the possibilities and putting yourself into play. This requires a more open environment; trust between the worker and the company is the most essential thing here. I think that, at the moment, we are way too bureaucratic for this.

This is also linked to the workplace culture; nowadays, it is more about fitting into the workplace than about what you did previously. It’s not about bringing what you learned at your last workplace to your new workplace, but about how much of a team player you are, how creative you are in solving problems or how quick you can learn new things.

Do you think this cultural shift at workplaces will have an effect on universities and teaching?

I think they will change, and we are already seeing signs of it. The changes that will happen in working life will also be seen in schools, as they are the basis for future careers.

Proactive and creative problem-solving skills and teamwork skills will be highlighted even more in the future. When you face a problem, you need to seek answers and work together to find them. This cultural change will drive learning away from books and more towards understanding changes and problems, having communication skills and empathy, and learning to solve problems together. We need fresh thinking and I think we are heading in that direction.

One of the most important elements is trust: trusting your customers, the ecosystem, your business partner. If you just push your agenda, you will get nowhere. Instead of only focusing on your own goals, you must pinpoint the needs of your customer, your friend or business partner, help them succeed and trust that they will help you in return. If you selfishly focus only on your own goals, you might have an immediate win, but not a long-lasting one.

Will the cultural shift be seen also on the consumer side?

Customer values will mean more in the future. Customers will choose the companies they want to work with and whose services they want to buy based on their values. Providers and companies need to take this much more seriously than before. I believe that consumer values, behaviour and changes will be the core of business in the future. Companies must understand these changes and know how to turn them into a service.

What five tips for the future would you give university students?

Young people especially should trust that having a more holistic view in learning is key. People should not be surprised if, in the future, it is no longer the “best students” who are on top. How you communicate, the trust you reflect and how you work to create value will be the most important skills. These are totally new dimensions compared to what we have today.

1. Develop skills related to the cultural change. It is important in today’s world to master the skills of co-working and problem-solving.

2. Everything is changing very rapidly and all too often we forget to be patient enough. I can’t highlight enough the importance of patience. People give up too easily. We need more patience and commitment; this will give you a lot more payback.

3. Don’t try to do everything at once. There are so many cases where people’s lives just fall apart. For example, let’s take a young, talented person who wants to be successful in business, build an ecological house, have three kids and do a doctoral thesis all at once. This is too much for one person. Remember that life balance is very important.

4. Find an interest in traditional businesses: banking, retail etc. These are the fields that will develop in the near future and, for example, focus group searches, analytics modelling and business intelligence will be the driving factors behind these businesses.

5. Consider mid-sized companies. Truly fine businesses and platforms already exist, and they need to be modernised, digitalised and taken outside of Finland’s borders. I think this area has been neglected for many years, but it holds huge potential.