… People want to work in a positive environment — compassion, forgiveness and gratitude are a big part of this.

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 Kimberley Barker, a full-time lecturer at Eastern Michigan University.

Kimberley Barker received her doctorate in organization development from Benedictine University. She also has her MBA and BSBA from Hawai’i Pacific University. Barker has taught at the university level since 2010, along with five years in human resources and over 15 years in hospital administration. She may be reached on LinkedIn and YouTube at Kimberley Barker.

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?

One would be getting married very young-ish and moving 5,000 miles with my partner who was in the military. I grew up fast in a very inclusive, multi-cultural environment (Hawai’i).

I could not call home every time there was an issue or something didn’t work out as I wanted. This was when we had to pay for long-distance calls lol! I had to learn to become a strong independent thinker and believe I did through this experience.

The second experience would be returning to school (to get a PhD) after spending significant time in the corporate world. I had been working full-time and had three teenage children. We had a family meeting and we thought we were all on board with expectations, however, we had no idea what we were in for! Two children had significant health issues and there were some other big stressors along the way as well. We all worked together and succeeded! And, I believe, we have increased trust and respect for each other as a result of this experience.

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?

While automation will continue to expand, we will still need people in the workforce. We will remain working in a hybrid environment with part of our time in the office and the other part virtual. Workers will continue to be given more autonomy in their jobs, but they will want to know that their opinion and suggestions are meaningful and that they are making a difference in their organization.

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

Treat your employees well. Focus on their well-being. Trust them. Ask for their input. All they want to know is that their suggestions are being seriously considered and that the organization’s leaders will make the best decision for the organization. Make them feel part of the team and do not micromanage 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 greatest gaps for employers will be addressing the necessary skills and abilities to succeed and providing the training for these workforce needs. To bridge this gap, employers will need to create an environment where listening and communication take place. Those that do this will succeed, in addition, they will truly reconcile the gaps, and not superficially gloss them over. Putting in the work to create true inclusion where all can thrive is a very powerful thing, but it takes work and lots of communication. One of my favorite quotes is by Verna Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.”

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

Many will still continue to work remotely, that is not going to change. Team meetings will continue to be virtual. Managers will need to learn how to motivate and encourage their teams virtually, which should include some play and trust exercises, all with the goal of creating high-quality connections within your team.

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?

Societal changes must include a focus on the whole person and not just the person who does the work. Work-life integration, autonomy, bringing value to the organization and letting the employee know that they are making a contribution are all changes that need to be made.

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

That companies will encourage their employees to be leaders at all levels so that they can competently carry out their responsibilities with minimal interference from the C-suite. In other words, employers will take care of the employees, so the employees can appropriately take care of the customer!

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?

Employees do their best work when they are not stressed and there is work-life integration. Studies have shown that employees do their best work when they are valued and feel as if their work matters. In addition, employees experience more creativity, more adaptability, and greater physiological and psychological help when they are in an environment that promotes a positive work environment.

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?

Company cultures need to create synergy from diversity. Employees need to feel safe, trusted, and heard. And, American billionaire investor and hedge fund manager, Ray Dallio says that “Cooperation needs to be a new competition,” and this is so powerful. There’s nothing more fun than a little friendly competition, however, we accomplish so much more by working together and supporting each other’s ideas and endeavors.

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

1. People want to work in a positive environment — compassion, forgiveness and gratitude are a big part of this.

To Professor Kim Cameron, gratitude is one of the three attributes — along with compassion and forgiveness — that together provide a positive work environment.

Say someone you work with did something nice for you — helped with a new project by providing you with a contact of someone who had successfully done something similar or offered their time to help you get through a super busy week. Did they have to do it? Not necessarily, unless, of course, it was part of their job. Did you recognize their contribution? Maybe not, but you probably should have. It seems that people who feel gratitude actually experience life-changing benefits and have a better perspective on life as a whole.

2. People will continue to be encouraged to play to their strengths at work.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shares stories of many people who are unusual or different from society’s norms and yet make a big impact on our world.[i] In this brilliant and entertaining work, he questions not only what distinguishes these famous and successful people but also what makes the highest achievers different. The answer is not what you think; it turns out that continuous learning, getting creative, and diligence are a big part of success! Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Ina Garten, David Bromstad, and the many other successful people he describes all discovered what their strengths were and how to make them work in a unique way in our world today.

3. Change is the new normal and we need to seek the upside of change.

Edgar Schein and Peter Schein3 discuss the need to have a “spirit of inquiry” when problem solving and dealing with the need for change. Gone are the days of the heroic or mythical leader who alone has all the answers. It’s important to collaborate with employees at all levels (including frontline and essential staff) on the current situation and allow everyone to offer suggestions for improvement. This approach builds trust in an organization and provides an opportunity to hear employees. This “spirit of inquiry” allows employees to be part of the decision-making process. This does not take power and influence away from the leader. It gives the leader more power because the employees know that they have input into the decision that is being made. Everyone in the organization should be encouraged to ask for help, including every leader in the organization. The leaders should head up this initiative by example and become Chief Helping Officers (CHOs), both in asking for and helping whenever possible.

4. Those who are creative and innovative will thrive!

A former organization development colleague of Kimberley’s named Joan had two college-age daughters. Both girls were home from college on a break, and they ran into the kitchen, where Joan was doing some work. They both grabbed for the last orange in the fruit bowl. Sensing a looming disagreement, Joan defused the situation by asking a couple of questions. As it turned out, one daughter had just finished a workout and wanted to eat the orange to fuel her body. The other sister simply wanted to use the orange zest for a recipe that she was planning to make. What initially appeared to be a competing “one sister versus the other sister” dilemma quickly turned into a “both/and” situation where everyone was a winner. One sister used the zest of the orange for her recipe, and the other sister ate the inside of the fruit! Creative problem solving, including dilemma reconciliation, asking 5 Whys, looking at the positive opposite of a problem, are innovative examples that can help lead you to outcomes that are beneficial for all parties involved.

5. Relationships matter. In fact high-quality connections will be sought among peers, with the boss, and the teams people are a part of.

High-quality connections are the ties or interactions we have with one another that light us up. A more formal definition would be that they include mutual regard, trust, and respectful engagement. We have hundreds of these interactions every day. When we walk into a building from a parking lot, take local transportation, talk on the phone, or attend a meeting, we have opportunities to engage in these interactions. These interactions are not relationships, although it is possible for them to grow into relationships; they are brief encounters that can make us feel deeply connected, disconnected, or neutral. The more connected we feel, the more benefits there are to us. Research shows that these types of interactions increase our thinking and learning, build resilience, promote job satisfaction, and improve physiological and psychological health.[i] In other words, if you sincerely smile at someone when you walk past them, it causes positive health benefits to both of you. It is really that simple.

(***These illustrative examples are from our book, YOU Can Create Positive Change at Work! By Kimberley Barker and Mary Ceccanese (https://dynamicconnectionsllc.com/product1.html).

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?

This is one of my favorite leadership quotes and it is by Warren Bennis, from his book, On Becoming a Leader (1989). “No leader sets out to become a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely — all your skills, gifts, and energies — in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be and enjoy the process of becoming.”

So, we must set out not to be a leader, but to be the best version of ourselves. And, then, leadership will naturally follow.

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.

Oprah, Richard Branson, Ray Dallio, Tom Brady, Chip and Joanna Gaines, and Kara Goldin (CEO of Hint water) are my heroes. I’d like to learn more about their business models (including for my students).

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?

I may be reached on LinkedIn and YouTube at Kimberley Barker.

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