More and more, “work” is becoming an activity, not a physical place. Companies are implementing “autonomous” workstyles where employees get stuff done where they are most productive—at home, at a café, park or in the office. Additionally, many organizations let employees choose when they take time off. Some allot a certain number of days off per-year. Others leave the ratio of on-the-clock to off-the-clock time up the employee, meaning you work when you want, taking as many holidays and vacations that fit your lifestyle as long as you meet your employee goals. The theory being, as long as you get your work done, does it matter where, when, and how much time you spend doing it.
But how does this really work in real life? I have worked with several organizations on implementing and setting ground rules for autonomous work environments. I found a few critical components to a successful autonomous workplace.
1). There are times when working together is more productive, and times when it is best to work alone. “Autonomy” does not mean you’re given a free pass not to work as a team. Brainstorming, decision-making, planning and strategizing tend to be behaviors that work best in in-person group environments. Writing, designing, thinking and building are great independent tasks that can be done wherever an employee finds they’re most productive.
2). Ground rules must be set. Every employee must be given a set of specific expectations—goals of achievement and mutually agreed between supervisor and employee.
3). Communication must increase when you have a dispersed work environment. It’s easy to keep your team informed when you are sitting in the same room with them. It becomes harder when the team is working in different work environment. “Use your words” to keep everyone up to date on what you’re doing using whatever means necessary—text, email, phone calls, etc.
4). Autonomy works only for people who are self-motivated. Many people work best when they identify the triggers that motivate them to do a good job. Sometimes it is pay; sometimes it is personal achievement (a personal pat on the back); sometimes it is sheer enjoyment of a task; sometimes it is fear. Some people don’t like unstructured environments and like being told to show up at a certain place, at a certain time, and get a certain list of specific tasks to complete. These folks can still work in an autonomous environment—they just need a little more structure than someone who is more self-motivated.
5). There’s a difference between working “remotely” and working “autonomously.” A remote worker is “on-call” during set working hors—whether they are in the office or not. An autonomous working manages their own schedule—being in the right place at the right time for in-person meetings, and getting their independent work done when they are motivated to do it—whether that be at 3pm or 3am.
Autonomy is not a free pass to an easier job. Some employees may take advantage of not being “watched” by their boss, and see autonomy as a way not to work as hard as if they were “on-the-clock.” These “bad apples” shouldn’t ruin the whole organization’s opportunity to create an autonomous workplace. Bad apples should be caught, and adjusted for (i.e. coached or fired). Autonomy doesn’t work for everyone. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t work for an autonomous workplace.
Autonomy is a way to use all of the mobile technology—iPads, iPhones, Pebble Watches, etc. to allow us the freedom to work where we are most needed, when we are most needed, and how we are best motivated to produce great work. It’s great for employee lifestyles, and employer work productivity—as long as structure is set, and managed carefully.
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