Radical autonomy

I have come across the concept of radical flexibility a few times now.  Gartner in particular have discussed this idea, talking about an approach whereby employers seek to provide employees with full choice over where, when and how much they work. 

Without wishing to be too critical, I’m really not sure why this is considered especially radical.  Choice rather than control or micromanagement, the ability to decide for yourself where you do your best work, determining an appropriate workload….  I am less sure this is radical flexibility, but simply being treated like a functioning adult.

I want to propose something else. 

Radical autonomy.

As Lynda Gratton says, flexible working is what you give, but autonomy is what people get.  And we know how much autonomy matters.  Just ask Dan Pink. 

Autonomy is good for engagement, for motivation, for wellbeing. 

When we frame ways of working as flexible, regrettably the biases kick in.  We see it as something that employee gains, and just maybe the organisation loses.  It brings with it stigma, a sneaking suspicion that maybe this person just doesn’t want to work very hard.  Flexible working needs a process, a policy.  Flexibility has a legislative framework. There are decisions to be made, contracts to change.

We need a mindset, not a framework.

I am beginning to believe that we need to shift to thinking in terms of autonomy, not flexibility.  Bounded, as it must be, by the nature of the work to be undertaken and the specific needs of the organisation, but outside of that, striving to provide the maximum possible autonomy to every single individual. 

Autonomy.  The ability to make your own decisions without being controlled by anyone else. 

It shouldn’t be radical.  And yet, in many of our workplaces, it most certainly is. 

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