Studies tend to agree that autonomy is one of the key pillars of happiness in the workplace, but this can be hard to achieve unless you work for yourself or secretly read the Beano behind your boss’s onerous report.
But a growing number of businesses are wising up to the idea that a happy workforce equals a productive workforce and are giving increasing agency to their workforce.
GetMyBoat.com is a boat rental marketplace with hubs all over the world. Kira Maixner, head of digital communications, says, "In addition to our San Francisco headquarters, our team is spread out across South Africa, Canada, and Nicaragua. Last year, a colleague and I were allowed to work remote from Italy and Nicaragua, respectively."
The team works using tools such as Slack, video, and phone conferencing, and even shared Google docs. Sure, scheduling can be a bit difficult, says Maixner, "but it always works out in the end. Since 2013, we’ve thrived with a remote team, growing our marketplace to 64,000 boats in 171 countries. We are able to hire some of the best talent in the industry because of the flexibility afforded by our COO, Bryan Petro." For Maixner, "Having the ability to work remote from another country gives me the best of both worlds, it's 'bleisure' at its finest. By day I have the stability and routine that having a full-time position allows, yet, in my spare time, I am able to explore different cultures and countries."
Of course autonomy means that Maixner has to be diligent about managing her schedule to complete projects but, she says, "it also gives me a sense of self-management and independence that I don't necessarily feel while working in a traditional workplace".
Luke Hughes is co-founder of personal training course provider Origym. He says, "In my experience staff are at their happiest when they are not micro managed or have a very ridged set of tasks that they must adhere to on a daily basis. Every employee wants to feel valued and feel like they are making a difference, which is why placing overall goals rather than breaking every single task down and enforcing time-based objectives is important."
Origym has certain fixed days for staff but for the most part they come in any time between 8am and 8pm. Says Hughes, "We all function differently. Some people are early risers and other prefer a lie-in, whatever makes them more productive".
Adrian Harvey, founder of learning and development company Elephants Don’t Forget, works on the assumption that his staff know what has to be done and when the client deadlines are. "They are all smart and all adults and we tell them to work their life around work and work their work around their life. So our account director won't travel on Monday or Friday as she has better things to do than sit in traffic for hours. So long as the work gets done and the customers are happy, I'm happy."
Harvey adds, "If somebody needs a haircut or wants to hit the gym at 10.30 then do, but take responsibility and make sure service delivery is still excellent and that you as an individual get your work done." He applies this to his own work too: "I went to see my kids play rugby one Friday afternoon instead of completing a client report due for Monday. I did the report Saturday morning instead."
It’s almost a no-brainer for a business owner as it results in better employee engagement: "Everybody on the team puts in more hours than we directly compensate them for because they want to and they care, but at the same time, we are really generous with holiday and give six weeks and the directors man the phones over Christmas."
It works at Elephants Don’t Forget, says Harvey, because everyone is on board with what’s expected. Thus, insightful recruitment is key. However, he warns, "though it may sound cool and enviable, to be honest it takes a very disciplined person to work like this. It's not for everybody. Some people simply can't operate without clear and highly structured operating environments."