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November 1, 2021

What your hybrid employees actually need. (Hint: It isn't 'flexibility.')

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    Writing for Harvard Business Review, Holger Reisinger and Dane Fetterer explain three ways managers and business leaders can give their employees autonomy in their hybrid work options—and why this will help organizations be more effective and productive going forward.

    A roadmap for creating an environment that supports resilient, adaptive leaders

      Employees want flexibility—on their own terms

      According to a Jabra study, which surveyed over 5,000 workers, 77% of employees would prefer to work for a company that gave them the flexibility to work anywhere, and 59% feel that flexibility in their working options is more important than salary or other benefits.

      In particular, Reisinger and Fetterer note that this desire for flexibility is based on employees' autonomy to decide what working options are best suited for them. For example, 61% of the study's respondents said they would prefer being allowed to choose when to come into the office and when to work from home.

      In fact, some companies have already faced pushback for mandating strict hybrid work policies for their employees, Reisinger and Fetterer write. For example, after Apple said employees had to work in the office at least three days a week, employees sent an open letter to the company's management requesting that "remote and location-flexible work decisions ... be as autonomous for a team to decide as are hiring decisions."

      Overall, Reisinger and Fetterer write that "autonomy is an indispensable component of motivation and a key driver of performance and well-being" for employees. They added that worker autonomy is "a necessary element to remaining competitive and relevant as an organization."

      To help organizations develop their own hybrid work guidelines, Reisinger and Fetterer outline three steps for providing employees the autonomy they need to work flexibly.

      1. Create principles instead of policies.

      According to Reisinger and Fetterer, "[I]mplementing granular policies on where and when to work [is] likely to be suboptimal or flat out rejected by the majority of workers."

      Instead, they recommend organizations develop general principles instead of policies about hybrid work. For example, instead of creating a policy of a "minimum three days in the office per week," organizations can tell their employees that "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 principle and others like it will help set guidelines for best practices without restricting employees or making it impossible for them to balance their other obligations.

      "If communicated correctly, principles can be just as effective as policies, while creating room to explore new ways of working," Reisinger and Fetterer write.

      2. Invest in competence and relatedness.

      "[T]o get the full benefit of autonomy, both competence and relatedness should also receive due attention and investment," Reisinger and Fetterer write.

      According to Reisinger and Fetterer, it is important for managers to invest in developing their employees' skills and competencies because it will let them "be empowered and [enable them to] own the results of their work and thrive in a hybrid environment that requires a high level of autonomy."

      Relatedness refers to a sense of belonging and social cohesiveness with others, and hybrid work has made fostering social ties more difficult for many organizations. To encourage a sense of togetherness among employees, Reisinger and Fetterer recommend leaders build a "virtual-first (but not virtual-only)" work culture that allows employees to clearly understand their role in an organization regardless of their physical location.

      3. Provide employees with the tools they need to work autonomously.

      According to Reisinger and Fetterer, 71% of the global workforce now sees physical offices as social amenities rather than a necessary component of work—meaning that appropriate tools and technologies are more important for working effectively.

      Going forward, technology, including laptops, headsets, and video cameras, needs to be "flexible, wireless, and dynamic" to allow employees to "be effective, autonomous, and connected from anywhere," Reisinger and Fetterer write.

      Ultimately, it is up to each organization to decide which approach to hybrid work makes the most sense for them, Reisinger and Fetterer write. But for organizations whose employees have asked for more flexibility, allowing autonomy will be more important than requiring a specific number of days in the office.

      "Organizations that give employees the autonomy to choose their ideal way of working and support them with the right principles, training, and tools will result in a more flexible, more motivated, and higher performing workforce," Reisinger and Fetterer conclude. (Reisinger/Fetterer, Harvard Business Review, 10/29)

      Learn more: Manager's guide to leading remotely through Covid-19


      Covid-19 has introduced unprecedented challenges for managers who may now be managing a remote team or a team adapting to ever-changing circumstances amidst the pandemic. This toolkit is for leaders who need new tools to keep their team productive, engaged, and aligned.

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