Wesley Faulkner spends his time divided between developer relations, community management for AWS, speaking engagements, and the occasional run for city council in Texas (although these days, he resides in Virginia).
“My story is that I am a tech and person geek. I've learned that I love both in different forms, titles, and incantations throughout my whole entire life,” he says.
Wesley, who also co-hosts the Just Work podcast, is uniquely positioned to bring his array of experiences into a conversation around the “future of work” as we know it broadly today. More specifically, how the ways we interact online and off are impacting us and our decisions – whether it is to start a new side project or become more vocal in our various communities.
The future of work [read: everything] is unwritten
Therefore, we thought there could be few better people to ask the most loaded questions possible around the future of, well, everything: from the ways we work to racial equity and how we build more inclusive communities. Wesley, true to form, was more than fair game to indulge us.
Below, we asked, and Wesley more than answered the call for your reading enjoyment.
Ok, first loaded question incoming: What does “the future of work” mean to you these days?
To me, the future of work is creating a structure that reflects an organization's values and culture. I think we'll get into D&I later, but when we hear, at least from a company, what they said that their core pillars or principles are, it's kind of stated but not codified in a system.
So if they're interested, let's say, in making sure that people feel safe, how are they measuring that? How are they monitoring that? How can they ensure that people who feel unsafe are protected when they speak up? Even if you're talking about efficiency, if you're saying, we want to be a lean, mean company, how are they tracking that? What is the metric? And I think some of those things are really biased depending on where each individual's personal experience comes from.
There is a leadership principle at Amazon, where I work, about being frugal. Growing up, at one point on food stamps, being frugal in the sense of going out to dinner would be seeing what’s on sale, what is the cheapest on the menu, not getting a dessert, drinking water, and being super bare bones. But someone else's being frugal could look like getting a burger, shake, and a dessert instead of getting the filet mignon or some other higher-end dish.
So, there are a lot of different ways of looking through the same terms and coming out with a different outcome. And so when I think about people and work being more explicit and more intentional about the actual values and principles of the company, that’s what I mean.
What do you think that means for the future of companies conveying — and honoring — values and principles?
There's a saying that if you shine a light on something, that is the best disinfectant to kill the bad parts of a company. And I think having a strong channel and protocol for communicating and disseminating information is part of the core ideal.
For instance, if I'm abusing an employee and all the employees kind of know what's going on, it becomes one of those unspoken secrets. Then the grapevine or the whisper network knows this, but there's no formal channel because formal channels would not sanction that type of discussion, and it would be considered a violation and get shut down quickly. So if you bring all this stuff to light and allow it to be part of the discourse that is shared, then in that situation, I would not be able to continue abusing that employee, and I would be disciplined or removed from the company because now everybody knows.
"In order to really be accountable and also beholden to what you say you are, you have to have this level of transparency that needs to be built by making sure communication is seamless from the C-suite all the way down to the IC level and making sure that there are thorough and thick connections passing bi-directionally between those two."
Removing that plausible deniability is a big part of it, and it's the same with efficiency. Let’s say I took a limo or a private jet somewhere. People are going to talk, and I know people are going to talk, and then I know it's going to eventually get to the place or the people that can do something about it. If I find out I’m being underpaid through a discussion with my coworker, then we can share that information, and that gets disseminated and then I can get my salary put on par with people in my department.
I think everything falls into that same thread. In order to really be accountable and also beholden to what you say you are, you have to have this level of transparency that needs to be built by making sure communication is seamless from the C-suite all the way down to the IC level and making sure that there are thorough and thick connections passing bi-directionally between those two.
The future of workplace equity is...what to you?
Equity also goes into ensuring that there is a thread of individuality that people can maintain. I can bring my whole self and bringing my whole self doesn't mean I just bring the good parts, but I'm bringing the things that maybe aren't so good. Doing the work to put in place mitigations for those downsides so they are built into the system is critical. I mentioned that I have dyslexia. I don't read very well. I also do not communicate well in the written word, but I'm awesome orally.
"[Workplace equity means] I can bring my whole self and bringing my whole self doesn't mean I just bring the good parts, but I'm bringing the things that maybe aren't so good."
So I would love it if instead of writing my monthly report, I could just tell you what we've done, how we're going to do next month or next quarter, and the places where we see challenges and opportunities and be able to express that verbally. That is a way of accommodating that plays into my strengths and does not force me into a system where I have to lean on my weaknesses to get ahead or fit in through the current stream.
Talking about the very nature of the purpose of why we give reports rather than the form it takes to deliver them is where I see equity. It's the same, for instance, if have an elderly parent that I need to take care of and they have a certain schedule and a need to work around that schedule. Or if I had a newborn and returning to work, and wanted to gradually up my hours from something that is minimal to something that's meatier as I transition from leaving my “home work” and moving into the “work workplace”. So think of it as taking all of the good but mitigating the things that could be a detractor.
Do you think inertia is one of the greatest threats to workplace equity?
I think it is. If I had to be 100% truthful, it’s also white supremacy. Because when we're talking specifically about equity, inclusion, all that stuff, companies that are more diverse make more money, but that's not enough incentive for people to move into that system.
So if it's not money, what is it? It's also not only inertia because new companies are formed all the time knowing this information, but they choose not to, by default, go in the direction of equity. So even for brand new startup companies, inertia isn’t the primary factor, but there is the typical founder who gets VC money, and where the VC thinking defaults to is usually in line with white supremacy.
At the heart of it, I know it feels like they're two separate things, but if you dig deep enough and look at the underlying traits, that's where we are.
What is the future of work when it comes to social and racial justice?
When it comes to social justice, it’s being able to make sure that is one of the topline goals of a company.
If you are a person who is a CFO, you look at how many people you're hiring, you look at what the margins are on the products that you're selling, and you touch every part of the company. When you’re a CMO, you look at what's on the website, and you look at what's on the mailers, you're looking at what's on the booth stalls at conventions, you look at messaging, you're basically touching every part of the company.
"I think that would be the next form of corporate inclusion to make sure that the person who is elevated to the role on the C-suite, who focuses on diversity, also has the authority to actually oversee and influence all these other parts of the company."
But if you look at D&I, it's almost entirely inward-facing without an outward touch. Are we looking at the D&I of the vendors we're using, and how that aligns with what we think is right? Are we looking at the type of people in the interview process, whether or not they have any bigoted thoughts or anything like that? Is that part of the interview at all? Are we making sure those people aren't in our company, even if we're bringing in customers, are the people we're selling to aligned with our value system?
When you think of the members of the C-suite, they touch all the parts of the company, but D&I is not one that has that same kind of downward force and outward reach, verbally saying what we believe in, what we stand for, this is who we want to with, and who we want in terms of community.
I think that would be the next form of corporate inclusion to make sure that the person who is elevated to the role on the C-suite, who focuses on diversity, also has the authority to actually oversee and influence all these other parts of the company.
What's the future of customer service?
I like to measure success as the delta between how close expectations are to reality.
For example, if you bought a computer for 5 cents and it lasted for three months, you might be really happy. Now if you bought a computer for $3,000 and it lasts for only five months, you probably would not be happy because your expectation is that the item at the higher price will give you higher quality, more durability, and so on.
So for me, the future of customer service is radical transparency and honesty, and to make sure that the product matches with the needs of the individual. A common analogy I’ve heard in the past is the salesperson selling ice to an Eskimo. The thought was that the salesperson is really good at their job, but from a customer service perspective, it feels like that is a horrible thing to deal with when the person who purchased the ice and doesn't need it calls and complains.
"The future of customer service is really doing the due diligence of understanding the individual you're selling to and making sure you interrogate them on the ways that the product doesn't work for them, and also while explaining how it will work for them. Making sure they do both and not just one."
They would be extremely unhappy because the salesperson in this example is only interested in the initial purchase and not the support and is certainly not invested in the person's ability to be better, do better, or live a more prosperous life. However, the customer service person is interested in that alignment of the product and the person and their needs.
The future of customer service is really doing the due diligence of understanding the individual you're selling to and making sure you interrogate them on the ways that the product doesn't work for them, and also while explaining how it will work for them. Making sure they do both and not just one.
Complete this sentence: The future of communities is…
First off, we need to make sure that nuance [around communities] is able to be fully expressed. I think we had this conversation about representation, like in the zeitgeist about being able to see someone on the screen who looks like you, and there is a level of commonality from things being routine, where some of those significant differences fall by the wayside. So if you're watching, I don't know, like an Avengers movie, you might see that they're all superheroes. But some of the nuance between Captain America and his alignment with justice and peace and what is right, and Thor's alignment with being honorable and able to show someone their own worth and how they're worthy.
"...I think that there could be some different structures under, of course, a better system that they have right now that allow people to be able to bring their whole self. I think [the definition of] community will be expanded to recognize all the different parts of yourself."
I think when we talk about community, we need to bring in the nuance so that community becomes more niche. So instead of just being Black and in tech, it's Black and, let's say, cloud technologies or Black and DevOps and so on and so forth so that we can have that breakdown, so that I can find a community of Black men who are dyslexic, who are in technology, maybe in the state of Virginia, who are also parents—being able to have those shades of gray instead of being very black and white by making sure that we're extremely niche.
I think Reddit has done some of this, and I think that there could be some different structures under, of course, a better system that they have right now that allow people to be able to bring their whole self. I think [the definition of] community will be expanded to recognize all the different parts of yourself.
Let's keep this going. The future of corporate hierarchy and power structures is…
The future of hierarchy and corporate structures is one of vulnerability. I think a misconception about leadership is that leaders have to have the answers. And leaders need to make the decisions. I would love the future of hierarchy to be one where they can be vulnerable to the point of saying, I am the expert in this, but not an expert in this area. So I'd love to hear from people who do have expertise and use that to make a decision.
So in a place where there is a void that is expressed where ideas can flow means that the hierarchy doesn't need to give up power to make decisions, but does need to have a place where information can fill those gaps so that the best decision could be made. I do think that you do not need to be an expert in everything to be able to make those decisions, but you should be able to be an expert in yourself, know where the information is lacking on your part, and be able to seek that out.
I don’t know how to phrase this in terms of the future of work, but we did talk about the idea that whether it's from the marketing personas down to the production, making things for people who have been traditionally marginalized is not really happening in any sort of scalable way. What's the future of that being more of a reality than it is today?
"Just because you may not directly relate to a story doesn't mean it's less impactful."
So it's almost like talking about bespoke manufacturing, right? Being able to find the small group that is being ignored, but at the same time, how do you raise the visibility to let them know that they're there? I think we're all moving in that direction when we're talking about some of the democratization of the tools to allow you to do this. Like 3D printers, for instance, what we have with AI and different tools to be able to feed in some information to get a custom response back. I think the combination of all these things allows us to be able to make some of the things to go to those communities.
There's a company (Wander.ly) that was launched by Laura Holmes…where you put in your child's name, your child's pet, and then some other information, and they can make a bedtime story for them where they get to be the hero of the adventure and see themselves as a form of inclusion and representation for underrepresented groups.
Those two ideas come together by being able to share that information with the company to get back a product for ourselves. Hopefully, that should be the future of inclusion where these stories, once they're made and if they really resonate, can also be distributed. Just because you may not directly relate to a story doesn't mean it's less impactful.
There is a misconception that if the main actor is Black and the movie cast is Black, it's only going to be relevant to that audience. Black Panther is a shining example of how it can be a blockbuster for multiple groups and cultures. Just because it's really centered around one specific demographic doesn't mean that it actually alienates others at the same time. In short, corporate hierarchy and power structures will be shifted to those who traditionally didn’t have a say.
The future of the way we work is…
To me, the future is like everything you said altogether (fractional, remote, hybrid) and being able to have a four-day work week and have someone who also has a six-day work week, depending on what they want and what they need. Working with someone who works remotely and working with someone who works in an office, I think all of those can coincide as long as you don't treat them as a number and treat them as people, making sure that the thing that they do is highly matched with the thing that they love and that they're good at.
If I am a great graphic designer, I can come in one day and just knock out everything that's in my queue, and everyone would still be happy if I did that one day or if I did that in five. It all depends on how crucial the activity is and how good you are, and how efficient you are.
And if I do things in one day as opposed to someone who does it in five, am I one-fifth of the validity of that employee? Or am I five times the other employee because I'm able to do the same workload in one day as someone who can do it in five? So it depends on how your value system is created and made, but also what trade-offs someone might want. For instance, I might want to work six days a week but only three hours a day. If that's fine because depending on my schedule, like whether I have kids in school, whether I'm taking classes at the local university, that type of schedule and the way it's spread apart doesn't need to be linked in with some sort of structure. I think it all can coincide with each other as long as you're fulfilling the needs of the company.
So the future of our personal brands online is…
I think the future is leaning on the transparency that I mentioned and also being able to be the same person in the same place, no matter what network you're part of. I think there's a LinkedIn persona where it's work-related. I'm sure you've seen the meme saying, "this is how I show up on Tinder, this is how I show up on Facebook, this is how I show up on Instagram."
There are all these different places where you kind of show different parts of yourself, but we're moving into hopefully a place where we're moving into decentralized networks where networks can commingle, and you can tag or flag things depending on how you want them to be seen or interpreted, but it's all the same person. So, I think if I had to describe the future of personas online, I would say unified.
The future of knowledge sharing is…
I would say the future of knowledge selling and sharing is context. There are things that are considered accurate and things that are kind of untrue, depending on the context.
I can say the Fourth of July is a holiday that most people recognize in the context of the U.S. If I change that context to some other country that is less influenced by American media, that may not be true. I think that there are some people who are cemented in their beliefs because they know it's right, but with the removal of context, they're unable or closed off to contrary information. And in order to move to a knowledge-seeking instead of a knowledge-knowing kind of framework, I think that context is needed.
The future of work-life balance is…
I think instead of “balance” it is more of an average. I think that the “you can have it all” myth is something that really makes people feel down on themselves when they're not able to fulfill it.
There's no such thing as normal. There's no such thing as perfect. And I think the whole work/life balance thinking is in that whole category. Sometimes, I have to be on the road and travel for three weeks straight. Sometimes I could take an extended vacation for two weeks or even take a sabbatical for a month. I wouldn't call that balanced, but I would call it that, on average, hopefully, it's closer to where I want it to be.
So what's a better way of characterizing it? What's the subtext of work-life balance? Is it work/life? Is it work/disclosure? Or is it checking all of the boxes that you can when you can — and sometimes you can't do that — but making sure you're keeping track of the things that you need and the things that you want and fulfilling them as much as you can.
Ok now let's go back to the beginning. What's the future of work? Has your answer changed at all since we started this Q&A?
I think I'm still steadfast in my thought of [the future of work]. Being able to recognize individuals, being able to accommodate individuals, making sure that there's a strong communication throughout a company and there's accountability to making sure that people adhere to those standards.
I think that all of those are still unchanged after going through those questions.
Do you think tech is in the best position to lead this sea change?
I would say there's nothing inherent about tech, but the pace in which companies are created and grow in tech will probably be the best environment where this could come out of and be successful.