The future of work is flexible and adaptable. Not only do employees want to be able to work remotely, they also want to be able to choose when they do so. In short: employees value and want autonomy at work. They want to be able to work when, where, and how they want—as long as the work gets done, the details shouldn’t matter.
At the reLead Summit at CitizenM’s Capitol Hill hotel in August, I joined fellow remote work advocates to discuss how enabling autonomy is one of the most critical issues companies currently face when it comes to the future of work. As more organizations adopt hybrid-remote work structures, especially with teams spanning multiple time zones, increasing the effectiveness of asynchronous communication is critical to maintaining business continuity and fulfilling the promises of workplace flexibility that employees demand.
The Business Case for Autonomy
Employees don’t seek autonomy simply for the convenience it offers. When employees have high levels of autonomy at work, they report positive effects on their overall well-being and higher levels of job satisfaction, leading them to stay at organizations longer. With 75% of companies reporting talent shortages, and business leaders citing the talent shortage as the number one threat to business, organizations need to focus on building workplaces that attract and retain top talent. That means facilitating autonomous work.
Risks of Failing to Enable Autonomous Work
Here are some of the major risks that businesses take when ignoring the push for autonomous work:
Employees cite too many synchronous meetings as a major contributor to burnout. Companies that fail to address virtual meeting overload risk increasing the levels of burnout their employees experience, lowering employee engagement and satisfaction.
Distance Bias and Exclusion
Processes, rituals, and habits that are office-centric ignore the experiences of employees who are working remotely. Failing to change sync-based processes will result in the exclusion of remote employees and lead to inequitable outcomes for employees based on where they work.
Loss of Top Talent
Employees are moving to companies that align with their values, and employees increasingly value flexibility and autonomy. Seven out of ten employees would choose greater flexibility and autonomy over a promotion, and 64% of employees would consider quitting if required to come back into the office full-time. Companies that fail to provide the flexibility and autonomy that employees demand won’t be able to attract or retain top talent in an increasingly competitive talent market.
Employees are wasting time on ineffective virtual meetings, inefficient sync-based processes, and interruptions. This lost time is a waste of valuable resources.
Wasting valuable resources on inefficient processes decreases productivity. When schedules are packed with unnecessary meetings, employees can’t spend time on work that requires deep focus.
Disruptions in Times of Change and Crisis
Thorough documentation of institutional knowledge prevents a decline in productivity when there are shifts in personnel, business structure, or operations. Companies that fail to fully empower autonomous work wherever possible risk disrupting business operations and continuity in times of change and crisis.
Leadership’s Role in Facilitating Autonomy
When teams improve the balance of synchronous and asynchronous communication, they reduce meeting overload and burnout while improving efficiency, enabling autonomy, and increasing inclusion across the organization.
Enabling autonomous work with async-first communication is a business imperative. So how can leaders facilitate autonomous work?
Align on Goals
Organization leaders should align on their goals for developing and supporting autonomous work and communicate them to their teams in a consistent and compelling way. Why do you care about autonomous work? Why should employees and other stakeholders care?
Assign Ownership and Create Accountability
While everyone in an organization plays a part in shifting to async strategies, the companies that are most successful doing so assign ownership of async-first practices to a specific role. Whether it makes sense to create a new role, like head of remote, or to expand responsibilities for an existing role depends on the organization, but making sure that a person or team owns the change is critical to its success.
Upskill Yourself and Your Team
Implement a learning program that has been specifically designed to improve skills and change behaviors in order to empower autonomy, like Async at Work. Completing a training program together indicates your commitment to shifting behaviors team-wide, and it provides a common language and framework that ensures alignment and consistent implementation.
Commit to Modeling Mindset and Behavior Change
Among the most common barriers to adopting more asynchronous work is the difficulty in shifting sync-centered mindsets and habits. When leaders openly shift their mindset and model async-first behaviors, they send a powerful message of commitment to their entire organization and avoid derailing change initiatives.
As employee values and technological capabilities continue to evolve, people and companies alike will need to be able to adapt to the increasing flexibility of the ways we work. By enabling autonomous work, leaders can fully realize the benefits of remote and hybrid structures that their employees demand.
This article has been sponsored by RemotelyOne.