3 reasons autonomy is more important than flexibility

More than flexibility, an autonomous work model benefits employees in ways that ultimately help grow business. Consider these three key examples
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As companies switched to a remote work model at the start of the pandemic, some began experimenting with an asynchronous and autonomous work style. Since then, employees have grown accustomed to a certain level of flexibility while working from home – they have priorities outside of work and want a schedule that enables them to balance these priorities with work.

More than flexibility, however, autonomy empowers employees to make decisions independent of immediate input from supervisors. It is essential to switch a team to an asynchronous work model successfully.

Autonomous and asynchronous workstyles offer many benefits, primarily increased productivity, a better work/life balance, a stronger sense of ownership over schedules, and improved trust between the organization and the employee.

3 benefits of an autonomous workstyle

Let’s look more closely at each of these benefits and why they matter for both happy employees and a healthy business.

1. Increased productivity

Many companies saw higher productivity levels during the quarantine stages of the pandemic because there were few distractions. It’s critical to communicate to your teams that you don’t expect them to maintain those same productivity levels now that the world is opening up and work is no longer their sole priority. However, one of the many lessons learned during the height of the pandemic was that the ability to work remotely, on their own work schedule, resulted in more productive and content teams.

[Also read Burnout busters: 5 tips to give your team motivation and purpose.]

There are, of course, some downfalls of not having everyone in the office. For example, you can’t easily pop over to someone’s desk when you have a question or need a quick stamp of approval to move forward with a project. This is where empowering employees with autonomy really comes into play.

Consider this: When an employee is waiting on a supervisor’s decision, it disrupts the natural flow of their work and delays progress. When an employee is empowered to make a decision independently, without their superior’s input, they can avoid any lost time.

There is certainly always a chance that they’ll make an incorrect decision, but this would likely only waste a day at most – the same amount of time that would have been lost waiting for a decision to be made for them.

Over time, employees will become more confident, make better decisions and fewer mistakes in the decision-making process, and ultimately become more self-sufficient and competent.

2. Better work/life balance

One of the biggest negative impacts of the pandemic has been its effect on mental health. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that work-related concerns left over 40 percent of employees feeling hopeless, burned out, or exhausted as they also grappled with their altered personal lives. Company leaders need to be mindful of this as we move to a new normal, and employees should be equipped to live their lives outside of work as their personal schedule requires.

To avoid risks such as burnout and depression, empower your employees to determine a routine that works best for them. Encourage them to make time for their lives outside of work to connect with family and friends, run errands, and help children with schoolwork. While meeting deadlines and delivering high-quality work is paramount to the business, you need healthy and happy employees who feel empowered to step away from the computer throughout the day. An autonomous, asynchronous, and flexible work style can help give them the best of both worlds.

The key is allowing each employee to find the rhythm that works best for them. In this way, they can attend to their personal needs while also finding the times they are able to perform their best.

Routines will look a little bit different for each person. For example, I’m a morning person and start my workday with gusto at 6 am. My spouse, on the other hand, is a night owl and is much happier ending her day several hours later than I do. Some employees may choose to split their workday – for example, they might work from 5 am to 9 am, supervise some homeschooling or take a class until noon, fit in a workout, and then work from the late afternoon into the evening.

The key is allowing each employee to find the rhythm that works best for them. In this way, they can attend to their personal needs while also finding the times they are able to perform their best.

3. A feeling of empowerment and trust

Everyone wants to feel that they and their work are valued. Offering an autonomous and asynchronous work model that enables more time with friends and family and authority to make decisions demonstrates that you trust our employees and value them and their contributions.

At Actian, our developers can structure their day however they choose, except for one daily team call to share progress updates. We call these “stand-up calls” because they are intended to be done standing up to keep the call short. Otherwise, they are free to manage their schedule as they see fit.

Help your team members make the most of their new freedom by encouraging them to mark out their personal time on their calendars. By building that time into their schedule, they won’t feel guilty about time spent away from work projects because they know that an appropriate amount of work time is also built-in. When they are marked “out of office,” their colleagues know that they’re not available during that period.

Whether your team is fully remote, back in the office, or a combination of the two, remember that an autonomous workflow can provide them with a kind of freedom that didn’t exist pre-pandemic. Committing to practices that make employees happier and help them feel more empowered with an increased sense of ownership over their work will make them more likely to stay with your organization. This isn’t a “nice to have;” it’s a “need to have” – and there’s no easier way to start than by simply asking your employees, “How do you work best?”

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

As SVP of Engineering at Actian, Emma McGrattan leads research and development for Actian’s Portfolio. Emma has over two decades of experience leading a global software development organization focused on innovation in high-performance analytics, data management, integration, and application development technologies.