The pandemic has redefined how and where we work in ways we would never have imagined at the beginning of 2020. As we slowly return to the office over the coming months, one word we are hearing more often is flexibility. Hybrid work arrangements are designed to be flexible. But it’s more than flexibility that is needed, what truly matters is employee autonomy.
Flexibility may be the result, but it’s autonomy, having control over when, where, and how they work that drives productivity, engagement, and satisfaction. A new Harvard Business Review (HBR) article brings this to light. Nearly six in ten said that flexibility is more important than salary or benefits. Even more of the respondents said that they want to work from the office when they need to and work from home when they need to. In essence, they want autonomy over their hybrid work arrangement.
When asked if they would work for a company that required them to be in the office five days a week, 59% said they wouldn’t. Even a company as well regarded as Apple saw a number of resignations and an open letter from employees when they mandated that employees be in the office three days a week.
In addition to the desire to make their own decisions on how hybrid working suits them, is it wise to provide employees with autonomy? According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, two psychologists who developed the self-determination theory more than 35 years ago, states that human motivation is the foundational catalyst of human success and fulfillment.
So what does autonomous-led flexibility look like? The article lists a hierarchy that illustrates the various ways companies are handling hybrid work:
Low autonomy, low flexibility: Mandated to be in the office full time
Low autonomy, medium flexibility: Work at home, and the office, organization determines which days to be in which place
Medium autonomy, medium flexibility: Work from multiple locations, but with a minimum number of days required in the office each week
Medium autonomy, high flexibility: Mandated to work remotely full time, employees can choose where to work
High autonomy, high flexibility: Can work wherever, whenever, with full access to the office
If you want to build a culture of flexibility through autonomy, here are some ways HBR recommends to achieve this.
Establish Principles, Not Policies
Employees often interpret policies as mandates, which meets resistance from employees. Principles are more like best practices that can be just as effective as policies but with more autonomy for employees.
Invest in Competence and Relatedness
Deci and Ryan’s theory of self-determination is rooted in three principles, autonomy, competence, and relatedness. You can’t have one without the other two. Competence is the ability to complete and master tasks that are assigned. This can be enabled by continuing education, skills training, and retraining initiatives.
Relatedness refers to the social nature of work. This has been more difficult to manage over the past two years. According to HBR, “To reignite that sense of togetherness, leaders need to focus on building a virtual-first (but not virtual-only) organizational culture where employees have a clear line of sight to their role within the organization regardless of their physical location.”
Enable Employees To Work Effectively From Anywhere
Employees working remotely need to be just as productive as if they were in the office. Providing the right tools and technologies is critical. 85% of respondents to the HBR survey said that being confident with the tools they have at their fingertips helps them excel at work.
If you’re looking for an edge in hiring and keeping the best talent, following what everyone else is doing isn’t going to cut it. Creating a culture of employee autonomy will set you apart and create a competitive advantage. If you’re not sure how to do this or need help hiring the right executive talent to lead this type of shift, send us a note.