Autonomy And Flexibility Are Critical In Hybrid Workplace

In 1985, two psychologists, Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci published Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. In it, they described what they called the Self-Determination Theory of motivation. They showed that the best way to motivate others is not through external rewards but rather from intrinsic motivation. Ryan and Deci suggested that people are motivated when their basic psychological needs are met, and these needs are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Daniel Pink then built upon their thoughts in Drive.

The implication for the hybrid work is clear. It is not enough to allow people to work from home and believe you are done. You need to provide flexibility. And you need to provide flexibility in such a way that employees feel they have their life, how, when, and where they work, under their control. They need to feel autonomy.

Employees also need to have the opportunity to build strong connections with others. They need to feel related and that they belong. That isn’t easy to do when working fully from home.

And then, there is the need to feel they have the competence and the tools to get the job done. Lack of competence and tools leads to anxiety and feeling that one doesn’t have things under control, whether they have autonomy or not.


Competence is achieved through skill development that leads to mastery. Offering training and opportunities to be better at their job is not a benefit per se. It is a way to reach autonomy. For example, a fresh graduate who just joined the company and needs to learn everything to be able to perform their job has relatively low autonomy. They rely on more senior colleagues and need to learn and upskill. Sending them to work remotely significantly inhibits the speed and quality of their learning. It is going to take them much longer to achieve mastery and the freedom and autonomy it brings. And employees know it.


The same applies to relatedness and the feeling of belonging. When you join a new company, you must build new relationships to feel you belong. This is difficult to do remotely, especially if there are no proper tools in place and the culture is not really set to make remote employees feel like being part of the team. Such employees may prefer to spend more time in the office early on to build relationships and gradually shift more and more to work from home. Flexibility is essential here.


To provide flexibility and the required autonomy, consider promoting principles rather than setting policies. The moment you mandate everyone is in the office Monday to Wednesday and the rest work from home, you are taking away some of the employees’ flexibility, autonomy, and control.

It is much better to provide well-thought-out and well-communicated principles or guidelines of the advantages of working remotely and in the office and how each impacts the work and employee’s well-being. Then make sure everyone has the skills and the tools to work from wherever it makes sense for the particular type of job. When giving the employees the autonomy to work as they need to get the job done while feeling good about it, they will automatically choose the optimum work model. For some, it may mean they will show up in the office every day. For some, it may mean that they will come once or twice a week to meet with the team and build relationships.

Autonomy and trust

Autonomy is key to individual growth and job satisfaction, whether in the office or remote. Employees need to feel in control of their own work. When they can choose where, when, and how to work, they become much more committed to success, and their performance improves.

When the company provides this flexibility to its employees, treating them like adults, it signals trust. Trust is then rewarded by reliability. It leads to high confidence levels, a bigger willingness to go above and beyond, and better performance. Will someone try to abuse this trust? Sure. But the majority of the team will behave responsibly. Why take away the flexibility from all the great people you have only because of a couple of unreliable outliers?

The right environment

Working from home long-term only works when the conditions at home complement the work rather than diminish it. If employees can carve out a quiet space, have good technology, and be fully present at work, then working from home will feel good and productive. If there is constant interference, interruptions, and slow, unworkable Internet connection, their focus, productivity, and satisfaction with work will plummet.

“Work from home only when it complements your work and not diminishes it.”

The right time and place

Hybrid and remote work require a change in how work gets done. The work-from-home time needs to be spent on things that don’t require frequent interaction and on pre-work, so when the team meets face-to-face, they are ready for more intense collaboration. Preparation and sharing information as input into meetings becomes even more important than in the past.

“Hybrid workplace only works when you are doing the right type of work at the right time and the right place.”

Geographical isolation

Geographical isolation, maybe not surprisingly, leads to social isolation. Distributed teams where most of the team is in one location and only a tiny group is remote often create an imbalance. The majority regularly forgets to consider the needs of the remote minority, and that leads to the remote team members having lower identification with the team and the company, feeling excluded and isolated. This then impacts both their well-being as well as the overall productivity of the team.

Simply put, where people are located matters even in the hybrid world. Ignored differences in geographies, cultures, and the ability to meet face-to-face can create unhealthy social dynamics and toxic cultures if not appropriately managed.

“Where people are located matters even in the hybrid world. Ignored differences in geographies, cultures, and the ability to meet face-to-face creates unhealthy social dynamics and toxic cultures.”

Putting it all together

When creating your hybrid workplace policies, consider not creating them at all. Instead, provide a set of guidelines and training for the employees so they can make their own choices and get the work done to the best of their abilities.

Focus on flexibility and related autonomy to give people a feeling of control. Provide training and a chance to achieve mastery, so people build the necessary competence and confidence to get the job done. And lastly, ensure that people have the opportunity to interact in person in a more social setting, so they build relationships and trust and feel they belong.

What is your take on the topic? What are the keys to successful hybrid workplace? Do you believe that autonomy and flexibility are important? What roles does trust play? What are the examples of companies that do hybrid right?

Photo: bluehouseskis /

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Categories: Leadership

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