When I hear of a company that creates policies for everything, I automatically think “low-trust organization.” Don’t get me wrong: policies are undoubtedly necessary for some organizational processes, such as invoicing or cybersecurity. But the transition to remote work has forced us to move to a trust-based setup in which leaders who police their employees have suffered. At the other end of the spectrum, leaders who have embraced flexible working have experienced large productivity gains in their teams.
Jabra’s recent Hybrid Ways of Working 2021 Global Report reveals what many employees want from their future hybrid working arrangements. One recurring trend throughout the report was that employees want the rigidities of work to intervene less and less into their lives. In other words, they want to be trusted to get their work done, without someone leaning over their shoulder.
What is the data telling us?
Flexibility and autonomy are kings. Of the 5,036 knowledge workers surveyed globally, 59% of all respondents reported that having the ability to work from wherever they want is more important to them than salary and other benefits. Similarly, 77% of Gen X respondents said they would prefer to work for a company that gives them the flexibility to work from anywhere rather than a fancy corporate headquarters. And when it comes to evaluating performance, 69% of all respondents said they would rather managers focus on employee output — that is, the actual work they deliver — over time spent in the office. These data points touch on some of the most basic elements of the employer-employee relationship and suggest a radical rethinking in the way companies organize work for the future.
The data also shows that workers’ top concerns about the return to the office are the result of unclear and inconsistent communication of hybrid working guidelines by leadership. They are concerns alleviated not necessarily by establishing whether to work at home or in the office but by clarifying how the decision to do either of those two things will affect their work-life and career trajectory.
They do not necessarily want to be told when to go into the office or how many times per week but rather why they should think about going into the office and how they can be assured of equal opportunities should they choose to work from home more often than others. In other words, they want to be able to work from wherever they want while being able to trust that they will receive fair recognition for their work.
So then, what is the alternative to policies?
Principles, guidelines, fundamentals: any of these terms will do. When I propose a principles-based alternative to policies in a hybrid working strategy, I am suggesting that leaders set a standard for how they expect their team to operate — a standard that is optimal and encouraged but not enforced by rigid policies on where and when they work. In lieu of enforcement, what must be abundantly present in these organizations is trust — trust that employees will get their job done well.
Luckily, hybrid work itself can be part of the solution to both the question of productivity and trust. In addition to the 81% of workers who believe that a hybrid work model will allow them to ultimately be more productive, the data suggests that it will also be a boon to trust in the workplace.
When asked how a hybrid work environment would affect workplace relationships, 89% of knowledge workers surveyed indicated that it would either increase or maintain their sense of trust in their team. And because hybrid will have a positive effect on trust, it is not a gamble to institute new principles-based hybrid work. What is a gamble — or perhaps outright foolish — is to jeopardize those gains in employee trust by excessively restricting their flexibility to do their work where and when they can do it best.
What does principles-based hybrid leadership look like?
For the better part of a year, much of the hybrid work discussion has centered around how many days employees should come into the office. As a result, many organizations have now landed on a minimum number and are beginning to require that employees be present at least three days a week. This is an example of a policy.
But to approach it this way misses the point of the discussion. Many leaders never needed to mandate a minimum number of days; they simply needed a way to reevaluate the long-standing practices that had been fundamentally challenged by the pandemic and understand how people saw the role of the workplace in their lives. What my team and I have learned is that the vast majority see it as an amenity and not necessarily as the cornerstone of work life. And for leaders, it has shown that most employees are highly competent and productive without constant supervision.
One key principle that drives my approach to hybrid work is that employees should work where and when they need to in order to do their best. In this light, the best practice is to acknowledge that work is not the only thing going on in their lives and that they are the master of their own schedule. This flexible approach to work is one that Jabra has been practicing for over a decade, and so far, leadership has found that teams always find ways to collaborate and organize their schedule without any form of intervention from general management.
Of course, the company still has offices, and leadership still wants teams to meet in person. To encourage this, we make the office a collaborative, social space and suggest that teams try their best to come together for activities that are collaborative and social in nature. To support those who can’t come into the office — and to live up to our principle of self-managed flexibility — it’s important to give them the tools, technologies and support necessary both in and out of the office to thrive. Delivering the right tools means no one is ever left out because of where and when they choose to work.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.