Almost everyone says they want flexibility these days. Some even demand it. But two researchers found what they say isn’t exactly what they want.
“What it seems they really want is autonomy,” say Holger Reisinger and Dane Fetterer, researchers at Jabra in their work published in Harvard Business Review.
“Within the context of hybrid work, this means having the ability to be the primary decision-maker of where and when they do their work.”
So it doesn’t matter if employees say they want to come into the office two days a week, work from home on Mondays or never step inside company walls. What almost all of them are saying is they want to feel like they call the shots on how, where and when they work.
The good news: You don’t have to hand over total control. Instead, Reisinger and Fetterer suggest these strategies to make autonomy the reality:
5 levels of autonomy, flexibility
First, let’s look at different degrees of autonomy and flexibility. Not all employees need the same balance to be happy and productive, so offering what’s appropriate for each can add to their job satisfaction.
- Low autonomy, low flexibility: must be in the office full time.
- Low autonomy, medium flexibility: work at both home and office, the company choosing which days where.
- Medium autonomy, medium flexibility: work from different locations with a minimum number of days in office weekly.
- Medium autonomy, high flexibility: work remotely full time, choosing where to work.
- High autonomy, high flexibility: work wherever, whenever and with full access to the company office space.
Create principles, not policies
For employees and roles that can be done with some flexibility, try creating principles rather than policies on where and when the work gets done.
The researchers give this example: “In a shift from policies to principles, ‘minimum three days in the office per week’ may become ‘there is inherent value in both the physical office and remote locations. We strongly encourage employees to consider which locations best enable them to most effectively carry out certain tasks.’”
This feels less restrictive. Just making employees feel like they have choices is more than enough to encourage them to make the best decisions for the company, their team and themselves.
Invest in competence
The more skilled employees are at their tasks, the more autonomous they’ll be.
So invest as much time and resources as you can into helping employees master their job skills. Then empower them to do their jobs without oversight. When you train employees to be better, they will be more confident and thrive no matter where they work.
Regardless of where and when employees work, researchers found they still accomplish more when they have a sense of belonging. Hybrid work can diminish that, especially when employees communicate less and worry about career advancement – the old out-of-sight-out-of-mind fear – more.
Researchers suggest you “focus on building a virtual-first, but not virtual-only, culture where employees have a clear line of sight to their role within the organization.”
Invest in tech
Bottom line: Employees must have the same technology capabilities any where they work.