These days, companies must be agile, creative and super-responsive to survive. However, simply spouting the directive doesn’t work. This kind of culture must arise organically—and voluntarily—from satisfied employees who have been freed up and incentivized to do their very best work. And sometimes companies need to make radical changes to make that happen.
That being said, it’s no coincidence that many companies are experimenting with all sorts of new ways to work. Legacy companies that have been around for decades are taking cues from new-economy companies like—for example—Uber and Lyft. One of the things that attracts workers to the ridesharing companies is that drivers can work when and where they want to. They can turn on the app anytime they want, and then turn the app off and stop working when they decide.
So, why not allow an engineer to design a valve in a similar way? Pay the employee to design the valve; rather than for the hours they work. There are many employees who would appreciate this approach. A 2014 Citigroup and LinkedIn survey found that nearly half of employees would give up a 20% raise for greater control over how they work.
We’re all familiar with the five-day workweek, and most workers are expected to adhere to that schedule. But what if we treated employees more like responsible independent contractors? And what if we paid them by the project, instead of by the hour? And what if we allowed them to work whenever and wherever they decided to work, so long as they met required deadlines?
“Allowing new ways of working means instilling a culture that is more entrepreneurial, or offering tools that enable new ways for employees to connect and contribute.”
Although Zappos has attracted no small amount of controversy for its approach to doing business, one thing they do right is creating new ways for employees to work. Zappos employees have no titles and can “opt in” to self-organizing “circles” focused on certain projects and programs. Each employee can choose up to 10 different circles, pursuing what interests him or her most. Not only can employees select the projects they most want to work on, they can choose the role they want to play on each project. That role can be different from project to project. If you’re primarily a marketing professional, for example, but you think you might really enjoy project management, you could choose to be a project manager on one of the projects. On another project, you could play a technical role, or a facilitator role.
Circles form and disband spontaneously when their purpose is completed. Rather than keeping track of titles and reporting relationships, as most companies do, Zappos uses software (Green Frog, from the Holacracy company) to keep track of which circles each employee is in, and what each circle has accomplished and decided.
When you can create mechanisms that enable people to work in ways that suit their own personal style and interests, it’s good for the employee, for the organization, and, ultimately, for the customer. Employees gain new tools, knowledge, and confidence by gaining experience with different roles, different kinds of work, and different kinds of projects. They become more creative and effective, and more expansive in their thinking.
Allowing new ways of working doesn’t mean you must upend your current organizational structure, or adopt radically new policies and practices. It simply can mean instilling a culture that is more entrepreneurial, or offering tools that enable new ways for employees to connect and contribute. (Click here for additional ideas on how to unleash employee creativity).
Some of the new, online collaboration work tools such as Slack and Asana can help people connect with other like-minded people throughout their organizations to work on common issues. When your management and staff find someone in another business unit, or another country, who has the same problem as they do, it can reinvigorate their problem-solving energy and ingenuity.
And, ultimately, that’s what it comes down to: the ingenuity of people working together on things they are excited about. When you unleash the creativity of your people, remarkable things can happen.