Diversity, Equity and Inclusive: People. Purchase. Philanthropy. Business diversity needs to go across all these areas in spending, with accountability from the top down and down top.

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 Karen Baker.

Karen Baker is the founder and president of the Washington, D.C., office of Boathouse Group, Inc., marketing and tech agency where she works with c-suite clients to coordinate internal strategy, marketing, branding, and national advertising campaigns. Karen has a Master’s in Design Thinking (a methodology used in business for creative problem solving that is empathetic and human-centered at the core) and is pursuing a Doctorate in Design at North Carolina State University. With more than 27 years of experience, Karen leverages creativity, innovation, and collaboration to foster a space that facilitates the development and delivery of actionable strategies and mission-critical solutions that support the project, program, and performance-related initiatives in the public and private sectors. Karen is currently leading the Boathouse team in marketing and communications for the American Diabetes Association as they tackle decreasing the number of people diagnosed with prediabetes and T2D.

Her solution for the Great Resignation: lean into the autonomy work model now.

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.

In 2011, after becoming a new mom, I returned to graduate school for my second Master’s degree at Savannah College of Art and Design, in an area I wasn’t familiar with, Design Thinking. You could not have told me that this methodology would have combined my “thinker and creator brain” together. Even 11 years later, Design thinking has shaped how I work with clients in strategy, branding, communication and marketing services–making a greater impact in communities.

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?

What won’t change in 10 to 15 years in corporate environments is the need for human interaction in the workplace. The difference is how we interact will shift. We won’t be required to do it every day in an office setting. The level of flexibility, whether hybrid or completely remote, is what will be normal, while understanding that productivity will not decrease. The autonomy model we offered at Boathouse hopefully will be the “norm” across corporate culture.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

As earth shattering as the pandemic has been in our lives, it has also offered a lifetime opportunity to radically redefine the way we work and design a more human-centered corporate culture. At Boathouse, we did our homework, surveying and talking to our hundreds of employees across our many offices about what was and was not working for them.

The results were conclusive, with 88 percent of our employees voicing support for a flexible working model. For certain, the results demonstrated that our workplace no longer needed to be defined as a physical space only. However, as we dug in deeper, we uncovered that this choice was about more than shifting hours or disappearing commutes. It was more about autonomy. This was the key: our employees wanted the autonomy to exercise flexibility in whichever way worked best for them.

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?

The biggest gap will be those who won’t move away from what was considered a cubicle nation to a deskless nation. The ability to have a 100% remote company or a hybrid mix will be required. Yet, employers must still be mindful of the burnout employees face when working way beyond the normal hours — not allowing for breaks that would normally take place in the office. Autonomy can be a key driver of happiness and trust in a performance culture workplace. It allows employees to work where they feel most productive, most innovative and produce high-quality work. Jennifer O’Connor, Principal at Boathouse, led our employee survey during the pandemic. The outcome: we have completely revamped our recruiting process to expand our searches more nationally — even sometimes globally — allowing us to find the absolute best-of-the-best.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

“Working From Home” has completely shifted corporate thinking that employees could not perform without being in the office; and it shifted behavior in my opinion. It changed the daily schedule of the employee, from reporting from 9 am — 5 pm to having a more flexible schedule, and how teams communicate within the typical office culture with fellow colleagues–the water cooler talk. We now spend time in the virtual space under private chat and virtual meetups. More than ever leadership will need to continue to exercise empathy for their team. Empathy is integral to implementing Design Thinking methodologies. Empathy allows employers to listen and learn what matters most to those who are the engine beyond driving their business. After understanding their needs and wants, employees will look for the follow up — seeing the culture shift to support their needs.

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?

No matter how many decades go by, childcare remains a thorn in the side. During the pandemic, parents experienced such a demand to balance work with new teacher responsibilities. Yet, the hustle of pick-up time and childcare costs being reduced was the bonus. At Boathouse, we allow for unlimited sick leave and personal time, which allows the team to not stress on a doctor’s appointment, self-care and attending to family. Even with this “amenity,” the team doesn’t work any less hard. We even added a professional development resource page with a stipend, along with a mentorship program — developing now.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

We learned that we are resilient, companies that can be nimble and flexible are the ones who were able to adapt easiest during a global crisis like a pandemic, and people need to be first. That sense of fearlessness to persevere and keep going makes me optimistic about the future of work.

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?

Some of the strategies are not innovative and have just been ignored. Simple 30-minute lunch breaks and mandatory 15 minutes between meetings to decompress is not happening. Simply remembering that in the in-person space it would have been physically impossible to move from a 2pm meeting ending to a 2pm meeting starting. This allows for no time to even get water or use the restroom. At Boathouse, our innovative strategy is a Betterment Conference. Three times a year, we get the team together in different locations for social, performance and personal development. We invite business/thought leaders from various industries to speak and network with our team; have social and community outings together; and provide a facilitated workshop under our culture of “thinkers and creators”. It has been the most amazing experience each time and brings our team closer together.

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?

Often when going in to evaluate a business, there is hesitancy to conduct a SWOT analysis and interview key stakeholders. We advise that companies do not leave out employees, so that they can understand the narrative that their company communicates in the marketplace and industry. At Boathouse, we have now added this as a narrative transformation and design to ensure brand, strategic communication, social and digital acquisition are reviewed in how you engage with clients, importantly those you want to hire and continue to employ.

10 Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. MAKING WORK BETTER (NOT SIMPLY BUILDING A BETTER WORKPLACE) The CEO of Boathouse, John Conners, believes that the Great Resignation is an opportunity to more aggressively advocate for new working models that enable new talent pools, improve company performance, and encourage people’s well-being.
  2. The Rise of the Deskless Workforce. 2.7 billion workers worldwide are deskless, 80% make up the global workforce and essential workers, but they remain underserved by technology.
  3. The Great Middle Management Migration. CHIEF noted that in 2021 female middle managers were 3x more likely to resign or find a new job because of stress related to leading and managing teams virtually without support and training.
  4. C-Suite Role in Well-Being. Deloitte’s recent research found that holistic health is being required by C-suite executives so much that 70% are headed to resignation. As we’re not completely out of the pandemic and without care during the pandemic, this has become more of a priority than moving up the ladder.
  5. Diversity, Equity and Inclusive: People. Purchase. Philanthropy. Business diversity needs to go across all these areas in spending, with accountability from the top down and down top.

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?

“If all think alike, then no one is thinking.” — Benjamin Franklin. As a business and design leader, this statement drives me to avoid putting anyone around me who works with me or provides a service for me in a box. It pushes me to always learn new things regardless of anyone’s age, culture, identity, ethnicity and the list goes one. I allow space to go beyond my comfort zone and explore.

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.

Mellody Hobson. From the 2021 creation of Project Black, Ariel Alternatives’ first private equity initiative–certifying minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs) of scale and forging a new class of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs–to becoming the first black woman part-owner in the NFL, Mellody Hobson has a “no box” mentality coupled with very good chess moves.

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?

Learn more about Boathouse and our services at www.boathouseinc.com and follow me on LinkedIn @krbaker

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.