Worker Autonomy: The Key to an Agile Remote Workplace
In the past, the office was the place to be when it came to making company decisions. Today, with powerful technology always at our fingertips, managers can stay in constant contact with their teams while making decisions remotely. But still, some managers remain reluctant to let go of the control.
In the remote and hybrid workplace, autonomy is a must. Seattle-based Amazon decided to give authority to individual team leaders to decide how and when employees would be allowed to work remotely. The idea is that they'll be able to streamline decision-making and empower remote and hybrid workers to become more accountable for their actions.
But for some companies used to the top-down model, autonomy is still not a given. With companies implementing remote and hybrid work policies permanently, workers and managers will have to figure out new processes to maintain efficiency and agility in decision making. Enterprise remote leaders will have to get comfortable with allowing employees to act without them being directly involved.
The Challenges of Reduced Workplace Autonomy
The fact remains that many enterprises are still hesitant to provide greater autonomy to regional branches or teams. For instance, how do you know if an employee has completed their tasks? Are they focused? Are they chipping away at other projects while on company time? One solution is to give a team more autonomy with their time and space to get things done, but how do you ensure everyone stays accountable without micromanaging them or asking?
“The reality is that leaders and managers, both regional or not, will not always be available to take charge, remote or not, and holding off on responding or acting on time-sensitive matters can lead to losses for the businesses or even repercussions," said Job van der Voort, CEO at San Francisco-based Remote. "This is especially true as the workforce becomes increasingly distributed across different zones as it is impractical and sometimes counterproductive.”
For example, if an urgent decision must be made and it's 3 a.m. where the leader is located, not only will they be forced to make a decision with little rest but they will need time to take in information and that will delay a response even further.
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Why the Push for Workplace Autonomy?
In enterprise settings, it isn't practical to have all decisions or even most decisions be approved by the C-suite and senior management. For global companies with remote or hybrid models operating in a variety of time zones, it wouldn't make sense to always be waiting on someone to wake up in a different time zone.
The second reason is that, to build a functional and growing organization, you need to make sure you are providing your team with an environment that allows them to grow and function. This requires an environment that empowers employees. Companies that want to empower remote workers to feel comfortable and confident to make decisions independently need to look at their workplace culture.
This means collecting feedback from employees, holding discussions with managers, and identifying ways to streamline the decision-making process. Workplaces with rigid hierarchy structures could have the most challenges so leadership buy-in is incredibly important to making the transition a success.
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5 Tips to Empower Remote Workers
- Create a Culture of Transparency: Companies must be transparent. Leaders should not have a secret agenda or plans that employees are not aware of. Leaders should share information with employees in order to create trust and make them feel more connected with the company.
- Bridge the Power Distance Gaps: "Remote working creates a distance, and that distance impacts our communication, and in certain cases, leads to misunderstandings and misalignments," said Magda Chelly, CISO at Singapore-based Responsible Cyber. Therefore, employees need to be reminded that they should reach out and discuss matters, and they don't need to work in their corner and deal with the pressure by themselves.
- Hold People Accountable: Of course, if leaders delegate authority to others, they must hold them accountable for their actions if something goes wrong. However, it's critical not to disgrace someone who fell short in his or her job. Leaders can keep them accountable, but unlike in politics, they do not have to snub them.
- Write Your Processes: Set up the decision-making process in writing, this will allow leaders to know and decide how employees will approach particular challenges. Adopting asynchronous work is a great way to slowly build up employee confidence and comfort with working independently.
- Instill Independence: Akram Assaf, chief technology officer at Dubai-based Bayt shares his advice by saying that “to empower remote workers to make better decisions, encourage independence. Provide as much data and guidance as you can for your employees, so that they feel comfortable and prepared to be on their own. Keep communication channels open and accessible for all employees, so that should a question come up, there is easy access to answers.”