A perhaps unexpected outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is a current global trend, popularly known as ‘The Great Resignation’. Some commonly-cited reasons are that people are reorienting towards better work-life balance, mental well-being, physical health, and time with loved ones as priorities for the present and future.

The proof is in the pudding, too.

Apple, in forcing its employees to return to the workplace, suffered a flurry of resignations where employees wanted Apple to “leave working decisions up to individual teams.” Some of the trends shared in Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2021 also highlight a steady degree of worker frustration. For instance, business leaders seem to be thriving during the pandemic, compared to employees without decision-making capabilities who, as per the study, are struggling.

The new face of autonomy

Autonomy in a physical workplace is cushioned with the safety net of immediate oversight when needed. But, in a hybrid workplace, where remote and physical workers meld and must collaborate to achieve business targets, the definition of autonomy morphs.

In a physical office, for example, autonomy could mean giving employees the choice of how to decorate their workspace. In a hybrid world, the choices go deeper. Employees want the flexibility to choose when and where they work. Another survey of nearly 12,000 employees shows that nearly 60% of them resonate with this view.

What does autonomy look like in a hybrid world? Here’s how we visualize it:

  • Employees get the flexibility to choose how to manage their daily workflows.
  • Employees use internal dashboards to smoothen self-management.
  • Employees create flexi-schedules whereby in-office hours are structured to promote collaboration.
  • Employees access virtual up-skilling trainings for continuous professional development. 

Balancing autonomy with isolation

In enabling autonomy, leaders face a crucial question: how to equip both on-site as well as remote workers with adequate autonomy and connectivity. Crafting this balance is crucial. Microsoft’s study talks about how employees are experiencing greater levels of isolation as companies become increasingly siloed in operations. So, connection should not be sacrificed for the sake of autonomy.

Here are a few questions that teams can consider when thinking about creating autonomy in a hybrid world:

  • How can we better map skills to targets so it is easier to give employees control over their work, based on their skill proficiencies?
  • What kind of communication strategies do we put in place to ensure that each employee’s autonomy is respected by other team members, particularly those in-office?
  • What counter-measures do we institute to protect abuse of autonomy in a flexible world?

A question of ‘how’ more than ‘if’

Autonomy is already a popular demand for incumbent employees. But now, it is also a sought-after benefit for candidates choosing prospective employers! The question then for businesses is: how to enable autonomy for the hybrid workspace, and not ‘whether’ to do so.

A final thought: before rushing to empower autonomous workers, managers ought to first lay the foundation of a culture of trust. Agree or disagree?

Leave a Reply