Businesses have a responsibility to contribute to the communities around them. Existence is relationship and the ability to contribute to the local and global landscape creates an abundance of value as information and experiences are shared. Both staff and customers alike increasingly want to know where their time and money is going and it’s this creativity and collaboration that acts as an incredible tool to help foster relationships and break down social barriers.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview James Burke.
James Burke is an international artist and Chief Creative Officer of Acrylicize, the art and design studio he founded out of art school which he describes as being as much a ‘living breathing sculpture’ as it is a business. The studio, based in both London and New York, sits at the intersection of art, design, and brand, and harnesses the power of art to express the essence of identity within the built environment. The studio designs pieces in-house as well as works with a global network of artists and designers, and counts firms such as Coca-Cola, Spotify, Netflix, and Wimbledon Tennis Club amongst their prestigious client base. Their work can also be found in public spaces around the world as they fulfill one of their aims to bring art outside the gallery space. Through his personal work, Burke is represented by galleries in London, Miami, and Montreal, and exhibits around the world. (Burke is married with 3 children, plays drums, and is a dedicated meditator.)
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
Certainly, learning to play the drums was crucial for me. I remember waking up to find a drum kit at the end of my bed on my sixth birthday. My father taught me how to play Sgt Peppers by the Beatles, and that first feeling of creative expression was intoxicating for me. It was my first taste of being in flow, and I honestly think everything I’ve done since that moment has been about chasing that feeling. It shaped my creative identity and got me on the path that I’m delighted to be on now.
I would also mention learning to meditate — something I did just before the pandemic hit. Of course, I had no idea what was coming just around the corner, but this addition to my life was a huge help through those uncertain times. The benefits of meditation stretch far and wide and really impact every part of your life, from your fundamental understanding of who you are on the macro level, to helping with day-to-day energy levels, and clarity on the micro level. I spend an hour a day meditating (in two 30-minute chunks) and would highly recommend it to anyone — especially in business!
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
Haha, I think that the last few years have taught us that trying to predict anything is a futile endeavour, however, I still see humans as central to the story. With the rise of technology and the recent acceleration of this over the past two years, we are seeing both the adoption and simultaneous pushback as we all try to understand what is good for us and what doesn’t serve us well. Clearly, Web3 is coming and will present opportunities for more integrated and immersive experiences. At our core, we are social beings, and our desire to be around each other to be connected, inspired, and energised isn’t going away any time soon. In addition, the ability to go deep and do focused work will become more crucial than ever as we are constantly being distracted by all the inputs coming our way on a daily basis. I think we must learn to focus and develop deep work habits in order to create the output of real substance. The workplace of the future should provide for this type of deep work as well as provide the backdrop for the more social and cultural endeavours that will become essential for businesses that want to make a real impact. There are lots of challenges facing the world right now, and these should be high on industries’ agendas if we want to play a part in making a real difference.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Build your organisations around amazing people and pay real attention to what gets them in flow. Happy and energised employees equal a happy and energised organisation. The days of cookie-cutter, clock-in-clock-out standardisation are over, and people are waking up to the fact that happiness and flexibility are more important than going through the grind for the promise of a better future just around the corner that invariably never comes. I would also say that whoever pays attention to the present moment and remains focused, aware, and alert will be ready for anything that comes their way. I firmly believe that we have all the ideas we need right in front of us, we just need to see them. Everything around us is constantly in flux — sometimes accelerated, as we have seen over the past two years, and sometimes at a slower, steadier pace. Being able to dance with this change in whatever shape it comes is key to success in business as it is in life. This is, of course, easier said than done and requires humility, patience, and a sharp instinct to help guide the journey. Change equals opportunity, however, fear can often mask this. Be brave and make mistakes — what is perceived as a mistake in one moment will always hold valuable insights and lessons to help with your next step.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
I think flexibility is the key point here. I have seen it numerous times in interviews over the last few months. Candidates are quizzing firms on what their work from home policies are and how much flexibility they offer. Employees are demanding that work/life balance be taken seriously because mental health is key and burnout is real. I’ve mentioned it once, but I think it’s such an essential point: people need to find their flow, and organisations need to help them find it, not just for the good of their business, but for the good of society at large. We need more happy, energised, and motivated people whose essence and purpose are shining through. Whatever brings you the most joy should be the thing you value the most and I believe businesses have a key role to play in society with regards to the responsibility they hold with the lives of their employees, who give a huge chunk of their time to the cause. But, of course, it’s a two-way street, and staff need to complete the circle to create a relationship built on trust and generosity. People want to be seen for who they are, and employers will do well to foster great individuals that are tuned in on both an emotional and professional level to help facilitate innovation. I think this symbiosis between employer and employee will lead to some amazing relationships where anything is possible.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
I think people are incredibly flexible and adaptable by nature. When we were all told we had to work from home back in 2020, a large portion of people was worried about what this meant and how they would possibly make it work for any significant period of time. Fast forward to two years later, we’re seeing the same conversation just the other way round, with people struggling to fathom coming back in. Of course, it differs by industry and sector and it’s hard to talk about sectors I have little experience in. However, my personal view through the work I do is that whilst we can technically work in a remote and distributed manner, what we would lose if we did this exclusively would be the very essence of why a lot of us do what we do in the creative space. Yes, there are goals, targets, and objectives to meet, but it’s really the act of doing the work, being on a journey as a collective experience, and connecting on a human level that is where we get most of the nutritional value from the work we produce. If work becomes just a means to an end with some kind of abstract and detached goal, then I feel it pushes us further away from what it means to be human. That’s not to say technology is the enemy, of course, it is absolutely critical to our forward trajectory — however, how we use it and in what quantity is key. I think we’re still figuring it all out and as is the case with every technology we all have a part to play in working out why it’s here and what it’s for.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
Fundamentally, people need to move away from a culture of fear. It really is the driver for a huge amount of our behaviours and ultimately pushes us apart and into an in-group and out-group dynamic. I think the more people are incentivised to work for the collective good and understand that every action can be a conscious one, which can positively impact the planet, the more we can move beyond our current paradigm, which let’s face it isn’t yielding the best results on the individual or at the collective level.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I think people are a bit fed up with the way things are and want to take action to do something about it. We are seeing disruption across nearly every area that governs our lives, from Finance to Education, Technology to Politics. Institutions that were previously seen as solid and unbreakable suddenly look fragile and vulnerable as a huge sea of change is upon us. We can all feel it and see it in front of our eyes. Thankfully, we are seeing more and more conscious businesses being born in response to this, placing ethical and sustainable outlooks front and centre of their reason for being. Transparency is key and businesses that aren’t operating on this level will start to become outdated as a new generation of more ethically focused companies take their place with a view to leaving the world in a better state than they found it.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Finding flow at its core is about understanding what makes someone thrive, what inspires and motivates them, and how they best perform at any given task. This obviously differs from person to person, and so providing flexibility and variety to suit different needs is crucial. This can range from deep work to collaboration, from play to rest and revitalisation, and everything in-between. Understanding how to get an optimised team is crucial as everyone has inherently different stimuli, and creativity doesn’t just happen when you say ‘go.’ This is the first step — finding and nurturing your team’s rhythms. The next is to understand that we don’t need to be ‘on’ the whole time. In fact, we know this is ultimately detrimental to our productivity and wellbeing. I think the ubiquity of technology suggests that we need to be available 24/7, 365. Actually, downtime is not only crucial for our sense of balance and calm but also provides the space for ideas to generate within the subconscious leading to more chances for creativity and innovation. At Acrylicize, we have devised the ‘W.I.P’ metric which acts as a guide and marker for success across the business. This stands for Wellness, Impact, and Profit and these three principles place personal care and cultural impact alongside the standard metric of financial health as a guide for how we navigate business. This framework provides a sense of purpose beyond simply getting paid, which adds a deep layer of positive attachment to the work we produce, which in turn is intrinsically linked to our own sense of wellbeing and joy.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
I think we’re at a hugely transitional time, no doubt, but we also live in the era of the tweet and snappy soundbite, and we must resist the temptation to be pushed and pulled by headlines that can sometimes lack the nuisance of complex situations. As your question suggests — there is a new headline every day. I think the key is to use this time as an open invitation to experiment and provoke ingrained assumptions in order to provide a testing ground for the new opportunities that are presenting themselves in real time. Daring to ask yourself, “how do we turn our biggest challenges into our biggest advantages? How do we turn our biggest problems into our biggest opportunities that will yield some amazing insights at a time when nothing is off the table, and everything is there to be questioned?” Ultimately, purpose should drive decisions, and protecting your culture is the critical factor that a business should consider when navigating these times. Your business is your culture. It’s the fertile ground from which everything grows, your people, your product, and ultimately the energy of your business. And whilst your offering will change and evolve with the world around it — your culture provides the stability and a guiding force through which to navigate it.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
Here are five thoughts around our vision for the Hyper Evolved Workplace, a term we have coined to capture our vision for the future of the workspace.
1) Purpose facilitator
Create environments that not only articulate your reason for being but also encourage and promote practical actions that bring this purpose to life. Our new workplace — affectionately named The Art House — incorporates an art gallery as well as art studio spaces for both internal and external use. This means we will create a dynamic ecosystem of creative activity that will lead to cross-pollination, new connections, and growth potential by virtue of the facilities which we offer.
2) Empathy and Choice
Understand your people and what makes them tick. Then, design environments and experiences that really speak to these needs. Listen to every facet of your organisation and walk the course as if in their shoes. An intern with an objective viewpoint has just as much value to offer from their unique perspective as the executive with the big picture. The more flexibility and variety you offer, the more chance you have of providing for the flow of your employees at any given moment.
3) Community Driven
Businesses have a responsibility to contribute to the communities around them. Existence is a relationship and the ability to contribute to the local and global landscape creates an abundance of value as information and experiences are shared. Both staff and customers alike increasingly want to know where their time and money are going and it’s this creativity and collaboration that acts as an incredible tool to help foster relationships and break down social barriers.
4) Sustainably focused
Everything has a footprint and it’s been too convenient for too long to look the other way from the truths that confront us. Really, if we needed to pick the most important topic to concentrate on, this would be it as it underpins our very existence! We have a limited amount of resources and a huge appetite for consumption. This is not just about sustaining our current habits, but changing how we define our needs and wants as a society. Sustainability doesn’t just cover the climate crisis, but also should be viewed through a human lens. How do we sustain communities — especially those that are often under-represented? Technology provides a key solution here as through distributed working, employers can widen their reach and engage with candidates who aren’t able to live in major cities and commercial hubs.
5) Creativity optimised
The ability to be creative through changing times is essential and requires guts, trust, and an unwavering belief that there are lessons wrapped up in every activity, regardless of perceived ‘wins’ or ‘losses.’ Creativity requires a multidimensional framework to operate in as ideas and solutions come from every angle and often the least expected places. Giving your business and employees time and space to innovate is a tough balancing act when there are bottom lines to think about. However, in a time as volatile as now, you can’t really afford not to.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
I’ve always loved the TS Eliot quote, “Every moment is a fresh beginning.” It very practically helps you realise that there is no situation beyond recovery. It’s so simple and yet so powerful as it invites you at any given moment to let go of the past and enter the infinite possibility of the present moment. I find this incredibly empowering in the day-to-day.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I’ve been fascinated by the work of Charles Eisenstein who writes on a huge amount of topics around culture and society and who argues that we need a new collective ‘story’ to anchor us as we move through this current epoch into the next phase of the human journey. His ideas respond directly to the transition we are all seeing and experiencing across so many areas of society and form the basis of an alternative set of building blocks through which to move forward.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.