Feb 28, 2023

Autonomy + Accountability: Autonomy is great…when it’s paired with accountability.

Balancing Autonomy & Accountability: How Hybrid Organizations Can Offer Freedom While Expecting Results

As the pandemic took working from home from 0 to 60 in a blink, it became clear that employees really liked the idea of working from home. REALLY liked it.

For many (ok, most) it scratched the itch that we’d all felt over the years: long commutes, inflexible work schedules that required us to work our lives around our jobs, and weekends that felt far too short. All the sudden, employees in nearly every industry could work in their pajamas if they preferred. To a lesser degree, others could work when they felt more productive. Early mornings? Sure. Late nights? Why not.

But gradually the idea of flexibility became the end itself and not the means. Employees lost a sense of accountability. Employers found it harder to reach them when needed. In fact, Data show that 82% of managers feel they have “limited to no” ability to hold others accountable successfully; 91% of employees say “effectively holding others accountable” is one of their company’s top needs.

The pendulum began to swing back towards its pre-pandemic levels.

A long-term hybrid work strategy must balance accountability with autonomy. Because when accountability disappears, it erodes trust between team members and supervisors. Then the entire organization’s results begin to suffer. On one hand, micro-managing employees remotely leads to burnout. On the other, a laissez faire approach to autonomy leads to internal chaos and big productivity drop-offs. Here are three ideas to finding an effective middle ground.

Flexible and Effective: 3 Ways to Make Hybrid Work

1. Set Effective Objectives

Not all objectives are created equal. The best are easy to set, measure, and track. And they should all be simple to understand, so employees can put the objectives first when creating their own autonomous schedules.

2. Make Performance Measurable
Do employees know what you expect of them on a daily, quarterly, or yearly basis? Do they know how their performance is being measured? Creating a realistic performance roadmap can help employees feel accountable, even when nobody is watching.

3. Communicate Often and Transparently
Create a culture where accountability is discussed in the open. Managers shouldn’t wait for chaos to ensue and results to slip before speaking up. Making sure employees are putting their autonomy second to results shouldn’t be a banned topic. But remember, managers shouldn’t lean towards micromanagement. Simple reminders and early course corrections should do the trick.

A Better Balance. A Better Bottom Line.

Hybrid employees aren’t trying to game the system. Neither are they trying to see how much they can get away with. Autonomy run amok is usually a product of a hybrid environment where accountability isn’t baked into the strategy. By thinking about the concrete, measurable steps and objectives that build trust between employees, teams, and management, organizations can make hybrid work a success for everyone.

For more insights from our Living Lab, follow One Workplace on LinkedIn and see the research overview here.