hybrid workplace jargon

A is for Agency – Decoding Workplace Jargon Series

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A short series attempting to decode hybrid workplace jargon to foster a more nuanced discussion on future work capabilities, workstyles and workplace in a post-pandemic world.  Part 1 “A is for Agency” focuses on the choice vs control tug-of-war between employees and employers.


A is for Agency – Choice vs Control

Choice and control – or choice vs control?

I could also have called this “A is for Accountability” as its very related to my position on employee agency and access.  I first wrote about the socio-economic trends toward access to resources and services rather than ownership or control in 2017 in the final part of the series “Coworking – accessibility and agility is more important than control”.  I referred to the potential for workplaces to be provided ‘on demand’ through a mix of coworking, corporate and other places as part of a ‘work anywhere anytime’ portfolio approach to workstyles.

It’s great to see some Clients now seriously considering ‘hub and spoke’ (for want of a better word) strategies to better support portfolio agility, employee work-life blend and the environment.

However, what I find surprising is that despite the trust handed to employees during the enforced lockdowns, many companies do not trust employees and their managers to make sensible, coordinated decisions about when to work from home and when to come into ‘the office’.

The explosion in booking and rostering software platforms indicates to me that the desire to control is alive and well in many organisations, and that holding teams accountable for choosing to work in a way that enhances their performance is less palatable than dictating how many days people need to be in the office every week.

There is also a significant element of employee desire for control – the uncertainty we live with every day and a natural human fear of ‘missing out’ drives behaviours such as presenteeism and block booking of meeting rooms and desks.

These are not post-pandemic behaviours but have been intensified by the profoundly personal lockdown experience.

New workstyle awareness fuels a desire for choice

The lockdown experience has also given most people a new awareness of when they are most motivated, most creative, and most effective in their jobs.

Now is the time to harness this new-found workstyle-consciousness and demonstrate that as leaders we recognise and reward smart, responsible work choices.

Of course, there will be issues and office occupancy may be “lumpy” for a while, but I believe the benefits of reinforcing trust and extending agency and accountability to employees are significant.  What better way to allow high-functioning knowledge workers – the foundation of successful digital-era organisations – to perform and create value well beyond a mere job description?

Some of our Clients are considering just this approach, allowing people to come to the office when they need, use the spaces they want, connect with the colleagues they need to engage with, and hopefully have new experiences and interactions along the way.  They back this up with a range of utilisation data sources and analytics, a workplace governance process and engagement campaigns to share tips and best practices and gather feedback from people at all levels.  They have moved beyond workplace jargon to a deeper conversation around what choice and control should look like in their culture.

I appreciate this isn’t as easy as mandating rostered days in the office, but tight control gives a false sense of security.

This can end up causing more issues and requiring more direct management intervention than an office access policy of ‘agency and accountability’.