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Guided Autonomy & Team Dynamics in the Hybrid Workplace

20 September 2021

The long shutdown brought rapid and radical changes to “normal” business functions, and it gave workers and company leadership new perspectives on the way work works. After months of remote work, most employees prefer to continue working from home or to combine remote and on-site work in a hybrid model suitable to their needs and your company’s success. And almost half of employees surveyed indicate they will seek new opportunities if they are not allowed to work remotely at least part of the time.

What does this mean to business leaders? The concept of forcing employees to bend to the preferences of leadership — particularly without good reason — is dead. Millions of employees have proven themselves capable of functioning — and flourishing — in remote or hybrid models. Employers now have an opportunity to lead the way  with empathy, resilience, and adaptability. Smart leadership will understand this simple truth: Guided autonomy is now the key to employee, team, and organizational success.

Guided Autonomy: Freedom with structure

The word “autonomy” may send shivers down the spines of seasoned managers accustomed to closer supervision. In knowledge industries, which rely on new ideas, innovation, and close community, “autonomy” is often misinterpreted as complete disconnection from the hierarchy or lack of transparency in the workplace. But guided autonomy means employer and employees share the responsibilities and benefits of an autonomous working environment. Employee autonomy does not mean free license to do as they please. Employers are responsible for providing structure, goals, and a roadmap to help employees prioritize their work and envision exactly how it will contribute to the purpose and strategy of your organization.

But beyond this, employees should have the flexibility to be optimally productive in ways that work best for them. They should be empowered with the freedom to try new ideas and decide how their work gets done. If intended outcomes are clear, work processes are transparent, and results are achieved on time, everything in the middle is flexible. Companies with successful virtual and hybrid work models fully embrace the principles of guided autonomy.

Benefits of a hybrid work model

Companies and their employees stand to gain from exploring a hybrid work dynamic. Allowing your employees autonomy to work from home expands their ability to be productive on their own terms — while meeting work deadlines and fulfilling company obligations. Over half of employees surveyed voiced concerns about exposure to illness in the workplace; a hybrid model reduces exposure and supports those who need to limit risk. We’ve been talking about work-life balance for years, but recent events have raised its profile and proven the possibilities. Flexible work models acknowledge the universal need to prioritize family, physical and mental health, and emotional wellbeing.

What does your company gain from a hybrid work model? More flexibility accompanies higher productivity and lower overhead. Remote work models expand your potential talent pool to candidates all over the world. Flexibility attracts the quality talent who demand it — and will be quick to move on if their needs are not met.

Traits of a successful hybrid dynamic

The hybrid workplace encourages autonomy, but it also requires stability, structure, and the tools remote workers need to do their jobs well. To successfully reimagine the conventional business model, consider the five traits of a healthy hybrid workplace:

Teamwork in a hybrid workplace

Guided autonomy is the key to successful workplace flexibility, and it doesn’t just apply to individual employees. Intentional leadership should focus on employee wellbeing, promoting equity, and supporting employees as they become more autonomous in their jobs. But leaders can also support autonomy by allowing teams to establish their own parameters for success. Provided company goals are met, allow teams to work out their own schedules, means and frequency of communication, and methods of collaboration. Let your team determine their most effective dynamic for completing tasks and managing their time.

Leadership is responsible for establishing boundaries — such as reasonable off-the-clock hours — setting deadlines and project expectations, and providing the necessary tools for employee success. But in an aligned, flexible work environment, leadership’s primary role in managing team dynamics lies in defining broad goals and making space for employees to accomplish them the way they work best. Team leaders must prioritize employee wellbeing by actively listening to concerns, offering empathy and support, and optimizing collaboration between in-person and remote workers.

A flexible work environment may not resemble the conventional workplace some employers are rushing to reinstate, but organizational success depends on employee productivity. And productive employees value their autonomy.

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