Flexibility! In every sense of the word, flexibility feels really invigorating. By opening workspaces through more flexible work options, we are able to invite more people to our organizational tables.

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 Kathy Guis, Vice President, Investments at Kiva.

As Vice President, Investments, Kathy leads the global team that deploys Kiva’s crowdfunded and institutional capital toward microfinance institutions and social enterprises around the world. She joined Kiva in 2009 and was initially based in Dakar, Senegal, and Beirut, Lebanon working directly with Kiva’s investees to support their fundraising activities. She subsequently managed Kiva’s investments in Francophone Africa, then Kiva’s Europe and Asia, and Africa and the Middle East portfolios. Kathy is passionate about investing in people, both as an investor in financial inclusion, and as a manager leading a diverse and brilliant team of investment professionals.

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.

My mother was a reproductive rights activist in the nineties in Milwaukee, when large protests threatened the safety, privacy, and freedom of patients, doctors, nurses, and staff. My mother had been a lawyer at a large firm prior to my birth, worked through raising her first two children, and stopped working when I was born to stay home with me and my sister. She was exhausted. However, when she saw what was happening to women in her city, she was electrified. She started working on developing legal strategies to combat illegal and dangerous actions such as blocking clinic doors or intimidating women entering clinics, and also organized volunteers to protect women entering clinics. She got up at 4AM most days a week. As a grade-schooler, I got to see my mother perfectly in her flow: passionately committed to her work; fully engaged with her community. Though I was very young, this was formative for me. I knew I wanted to be as awake, as committed, as my mother was. It has been a privilege to find work that I really care about at Kiva, and my life is much richer for it. I hope that the urgency of the challenges we face today will allow more people than ever to embrace their moment, whatever it is, in the same way that my mother did.

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?

I think we will have remote workers as a significant portion of the workforce henceforward, and that will mean that parents, people with disabilities, and others who have struggled for inclusion in the workforce will find meaningful work. In the US, the role that the state plays in supporting individual welfare, specifically by providing health insurance, paid family leave, and childcare will determine the size and power of the middle class in this country and is the key to reducing inequality. For someone like me, a salaried worker with health insurance and access to financial services, I think the workplace will be increasingly flexible and digitally-enabled as employers embrace tools like Slack. However, if we as a country enable and allow the perpetuation of a parallel workforce in low-wage service jobs or the gig economy who struggle to meet their needs despite laboring as much or more than salaried workers do, this will stifle prosperity (and is also morally indefensible). If things keep going as they are, only the already rich will be able to innovate, to become entrepreneurs, and this will lead to stagnation and perpetuate poverty.

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

At Kiva, we strive to create maximum impact for global good through access to financial services, and that wouldn’t be possible without our talented team. We’ve found that hiring (and retaining) the best people means not limiting ourselves to geographic areas or business hubs. That means giving employees the flexibility and option to work remotely from home or out of one of our offices around the world, something we’ve taken to calling “location agnostic”. To reach a place where we can offer flexible and asynchronous work, we adopted a digital-first culture and optimized Slack for collaboration and connectivity. Our advice to employers who want to future-proof their organizations is to consider adopting a digital-first approach to work to attract and retain the best talent who value flexibility and freedom with responsibility.

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?

We’ve proven in the last few years that we’re able to produce great work while being remote and hybrid from around the world. The biggest gap between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward- especially with uncertain economic times looming — will likely be the flexibility to continue a hybrid or permanent remote work option. Our partners at Slack shared a study from their Future Forum which showed that more than a third of knowledge workers (34%) have reverted to working from the office five days a week. With this shift, they found that employee sentiment dropped to near-record lows, including a 28% worse score on work-related stress and anxiety. While every company has its own set of challenges, at Kiva, we’ve found that offering our employees flexibility and the freedom to choose when and where they work has worked best for us. As a global organization, that is essential.

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

In my own experience, it took time to not only adjust to the unexpected work shifts that 2020 brought, but also to just process what was happening in the world. For myself and many of my team members at Kiva, we’ve seen an increase in our productivity as time went on and we had space to restructure our approach to work. And that’s a universal experience, based on a study from Stanford University that found people who work remotely are reporting being more productive than they were early on in the pandemic. Now that we are more settled into hybrid and remote work environments at Kiva, we have shifted the way we perceive and vet prospective employers and company work culture and will continue to do so. If a company doesn’t employ a digital-first work culture that offers the flexibility we’ve experienced these past few years, they risk being left behind when they search for talent. The future of work is happening at Kiva, and in order to continue making a difference in the lives of our employees and those we provide loans to, we will continue to embrace change.

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?

We need to expand our ideas of productivity and professionalism. I’ll provide an example: I was on a call with a group of people. During the call, my 4 year old kid came into my office to ask me a question. He interrupted me once more during the call. I was annoyed, but it was 8AM and my husband was busy with our other child, so the interruption was unavoidable. After the call, I was surprised to note that one of the participants in the call commented that the interruption was unprofessional and insulting to the other people who were present. Before I could get angry, I was delighted to see another participant point out that I probably don’t have any childcare options at 8AM, and that during the pandemic, it has become normal to accidentally meet people’s children during work calls. The offended person apologized to the group for any offense caused. Through the past few years, I’ve come to really appreciate that our humanity is usually closer to the surface now. It is much harder not to bring your whole self to work when you’re working from home.

On the practical side, I think we need to continue to move away from norms that predate current working conditions. Most of our work environment norms and expectations were developed before the internet, let alone the pandemic, yet we are reinforcing the same expectations on a workforce that has drastically changed. I believe we need to shift from a quantity mindset — the hours worked in a day — to a quality mindset– the value an employee adds through their work on any given day. At Kiva, that means having relevant objectives and key results in place that clearly relate back or ladder up to our overall mission and measuring employee success in meeting those goals. We have a great opportunity as a society to reevaluate structures that have been in place for decades and that takes effort and flexibility from leaders. Reshaping workplaces into collaborative, inclusive, and fulfilling environments means being willing to leave behind some things that are comfortable because they are familiar.

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

Flexibility! In every sense of the word, flexibility feels really invigorating. By opening workspaces through more flexible work options, we are able to invite more people to our organizational tables. As a mother of two young children leading a team with many new parents, it has been wonderful to see how working from home eases the transition to parenthood, and the transition back to work after parental leave (and everyone, regardless of their job or income level, deserves paid parental leave). When members of my team have experienced family loss or health problems, I am struck by how much easier it is for them to manage their personal needs and family obligations while working from home versus needing to manage a commute and negotiate time off. While it is well documented that the pandemic has been very harmful, for working mothers in particular, I am hopeful that the remote work options that the pandemic has normalized will provide interesting and flexible work opportunities for parents in the future. I’m excited to see where this leads in the next 5, 10, 20 years, especially in terms of inclusion and diversity of people and ideas.

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?

I am assuming you mean collateral in the sense that employee mental health is key to organizational success, therefore employers are supporting employee mental health because it is good for their bottom line. I’ve seen a variety of strategies employed by companies intended to improve employees’ mental health and wellbeing; everything from allowing employees more flexibility, giving employees more control over how they do their work, to providing stipends for wellness programs. At Kiva, we offer access to behavioral healthcare through our insurance plans, as well as an Employee Assistance Program with 24/7 support. But it goes beyond standard policies. As we’ve seen recently, organizations and corporations are also realizing their collective power in pushing back on governmental policies that aren’t inclusive, and that’s also really exciting and ties to protecting employee wellbeing.

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?

The pandemic has caused workers to reevaluate their priorities and what they want for themselves and their future. The next chapter, “post-pandemic,” will be crucial for leaders to reflect on what did and didn’t work the past few years. It also presents an opportunity for them to reevaluate their current practices — like whether they have a sophisticated digital-first strategy in place, use Slack as their digital headquarters or offer compelling benefits, and make changes to help attract, hire, and retain talent. It is incumbent on companies to be or become places top talent migrates toward, not away from.

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?

Love is an action, never simply a feeling — bell hooks

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.

Sonia Sotomayor. I would like to thank her. I think she is probably too busy to have lunch with me so thanks for the opportunity to thank her in this forum!

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?

Come visit us at Kiva.org! I’ve worked at this organization for 12 years because I’ve witnessed first-hand how truly impactful our community can be when we work together to make a difference. We’re working to scale our efforts in order to reach more people around the world and empower them with financial services.

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