Promoting Autonomy In The Workplace – The Proven Way To Improve Wellbeing and Productivity

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Studies have found that employees with flexible working arrangements take greater pride in and are more emotionally attached to their work. These flexible arrangements improve work–life balance, job satisfaction, engagement and productivity, while decreasing stress, turnover intentions and exhaustion. Efficiency also increases as people are able to choose optimal working conditions, save time and energy by reducing commuting time, and are compelled to communicate more effectively.

The impact of autonomy on workplace wellbeing

Studies investigating the impact of these new ways of working have found that it is autonomy that is key to unlocking the benefits. This means giving workers control over the when and where of work. At Hoxby they call this workstyle.

Hoxby is a community-based business and B-Corp that has no offices and no working hours. It has been the test environment for workstyle since 2015, during which time its highly diverse teams have come together to deliver impact-based projects for clients including Unilever, AIA, Merck and AWS. Other companies are following suit in the wake of the Covid pandemic and a realisation of what is now possible.

It isn’t surprising. For the last 4 years, Hoxby has also conducted research into the impact of autonomy on business performance. Their conclusion is that when people have autonomy to decide when and where they work (workstyle) they are more productive as a result of an increased state of wellbeing.

The research also concluded that for this to happen, there are two things that are required for the benefits of workstyle to be enjoyed:

1. Autonomy must be a voluntary choice of working style by the individual involved

While an employee may have the autonomy to work outside of the traditional 9-5 structure to improve their work–life balance they may also feel compelled to work all the time, even at the cost of work–life balance. Therefore, the culture of a workplace must encourage individuals to stick to their preferred style of working, so that they can enjoy true autonomy.

Hoxby understands that with autonomy must come accountability; this is achieved in a number of ways. The community operates as a meritocracy where members are judged on the quality of their work, rather than time spent, promoting a culture that eliminates the pressure to be ‘always on’.

One of their values is #respecttheworkstyle. This culture is self-policed by all Hoxbies. For example, when booking a video call or requesting information on a deadline, it’s not uncommon for an individual to end their Slack message by saying ‘please let me know a day or time that fits with your #workstyle’.

Hoxbies are also diligent about turning off their notifications when not working. In addition, they use post-project reviews to highlight any issues where #workstyle has been compromised due to client or project requirements, so that they can make adjustments in the future.

Lastly, for work where more traditional coverage is required, for example an Account Director who needs to support a client during their office hours, the work will often be delivered by multiple individuals who can cover the required hours together.

2. Autonomy must not be unwittingly restricted by the organisation

Autonomy won’t work if the workstyle is not representative of the person’s choice. For example, a full-time employee having to work remotely as a result of cost-cutting measures that has led to closure of an office location, or an independent worker working in a freelance capacity as a result of their inability to secure a permanent role.

At Hoxby they know that everyone is working in their preferred way as they have opted-in by joining Hoxby-and their application process sets very clear expectations of this.

Hoxby also provides a structure that counters many of the drawbacks reported by independent workers. Members of the business enjoy support from their peers, connection to a purpose, extensive mental health and community engagement initiatives, and improved (although not guaranteed) financial security through their profit-share scheme and access to a wider network of work opportunities, all of which focus on the wellbeing that is so important to both productivity and to their vision of creating a happier, more fulfilled society.

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So, the research proves a link between autonomy and productivity that we have seen first hand but data isn’t enough to change behaviour.

Over the course of history, we have witnessed seismic human behaviour changes arising simply through the introduction of new words. You only have to appraise your post-pandemic understanding of what it means to be part of a bubble or on a zoom to see just how influential our language can be.

Workstyle can be the word we all use to bring about the inevitable, autonomous future of work that is better for our wellbeing, our productivity and also for society.

About the authors:

Lizzie and Alex are friends, entrepreneurs, inspiring speakers and changemakers. Together they came up with the concept of workstyle, to refresh the world of work and change it for the better. They have been leading the Workstyle Revolution for a decade, founding a social enterprise, Hoxby, to prove the concept.
They have helped thousands of workstylers around the world to set, project and respect their own workstyles, and are conducting pioneering research into the link between autonomy, productivity and wellbeing. Their business has delivered projects in a workstyle way for some of the biggest brands in the world.

You can read all about Hoxby’s approach in Hoxby co-founders Lizzie and Alex’s new book – Workstyle; A revolution for wellbeing, productivity and society. Available now to pre-order on Amazon.

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