How to increase staff productivity and wellbeing at work? Let workers choose their own workstyle
February 21, 2020
Our MD of Futureproofing, Annika, completed her Masters in Organisational Psychology last year. For her dissertation research she investigated flexible working, looking specifically at Hoxby’s highly autonomous working environment and its impact on workplace wellbeing and productivity. Here, we share the theory behind her hypothesis, the results and the implications for businesses.
The short story? If you want a more productive workforce, invest in the wellbeing of your workers. And one of the most effective ways of doing this is to give them more autonomy (if done right – read on to see how we achieve this with the Hoxby Model of Work).
The world of work is changing
Maturing technologies, new societal values, rapid globalisation and changing demographics and needs of the workforce have created opportunities – and a requirement – for businesses to work differently.
Given these changes, talent is increasingly drawn towards organisations that offer flexible working and the ability to work remotely, that encourage greater responsibility and measure performance based on outcomes, not time spent. This has coincided with a rapid rise in independent workers – those working in the gig economy, as freelancers or as contractors.
Since Hoxby’s launch in 2015, more than 20,000 people have applied to join our freelance community – compelling evidence of the demand for this new way of working. And estimates suggest that more than half of the working UK, EU and US populations will be operating outside of traditional work models within the next five years. Hardly surprising when we consider the many benefits for both workers and businesses that result from flexible and remote working arrangements.
Benefits of flexible working
Studies have found that independent workers and employees with flexible working arrangements take greater pride in and are more emotionally attached to their work. These flexible arrangements improve work–life balance, job satisfaction, engagement and productivity, while decreasing stress, turnover intentions and exhaustion. Efficiency also increases as people are able to choose optimal working conditions, save time and energy by reducing commuting time, and are compelled to communicate more effectively.
But there are also some challenges, especially for independent workers. They can suffer from a lack of financial security, career development opportunities and support, as well as an increase in loneliness.
However, several studies conclude that when organisations are aware of the potential downfalls, they can successfully avoid them by investing in a good relationship with their workforce.
The impact of autonomy on workplace wellbeing
Studies investigating the impact of these new ways of working have found that it is autonomy that is key to unlocking the benefits. Autonomy is also what helps to mitigate the negative consequences. This means giving workers control over the when, where, how and what of work. At Hoxby we call this workstyle.
Annika’s dissertation looked to answer the question: does the Hoxby way of working lead to higher levels of autonomy, wellbeing and productivity? And does wellbeing mediate* the relationship between autonomy and productivity?
Annika chose to investigate wellbeing and productivity as measures because they are robust, validated and comparable across industries and businesses. In addition, much research has been conducted into the effect of autonomy on work outcomes. There is extensive evidence that high levels of autonomy relate to high levels of wellbeing and productivity.
As expected, we found very high levels of autonomy, wellbeing and productivity at Hoxby (higher than other researchers have found using the same measures across a variety of industries and organisations). All three variables were positively correlated – so high levels of autonomy correlated with both high levels of wellbeing and productivity.
Interestingly, wellbeing was found to fully mediate the relationship between autonomy and productivity. In other words, wellbeing explains the relationship between autonomy and productivity. It is through the increase in wellbeing that autonomy increases productivity. The implication for businesses is that they can increase productivity by increasing the wellbeing of their workforce and creating an autonomous working environment is just one way to do this.
Autonomy done right
Yet before businesses can enjoy the benefits of a fully autonomous working environment, there are two things to consider.
1. Autonomy must be a voluntary choice of working style by the individual involved
While an employee may have the autonomy to work outside of the traditional 9-5 structure to improve their work–life balance they may also feel compelled to work all the time, even at the cost of work–life balance. Therefore, the culture of a workplace must encourage individuals to stick to their preferred style of working, so that they can enjoy true autonomy.
At Hoxby we achieve this in a number of ways. The community operates as a meritocracy where members are judged on the quality of their work, rather than time spent, promoting a culture that eliminates the pressure to be ‘always on’. One of our values is #respecttheworkstyle. This culture is self-policed by all Hoxbies. For example, when booking a video call or requesting information on a deadline, it’s not uncommon for an individual to end their Slack message by saying ‘please let me know a day or time that fits with your #workstyle’. And we are diligent about turning off our notifications when not working. In addition, we use post-project reviews to highlight any issues where #workstyle has been compromised due to client or project requirements, so that we can make adjustments in the future. Lastly, for work where more traditional coverage is required, for example an Account Director who needs to support a client during their office hours, the work will often be delivered by multiple individuals who can cover the required hours together.
2. Autonomy must not be unwittingly restricted by the organisation
Autonomy won’t work if the working style is not representative of the employee’s choice. For example, a fulltime employee having to work remotely as a result of cost-cutting measures that has led to closure of an office location, or an independent worker working in a freelance capacity as a result of their inability to secure a permanent role. At Hoxby we know that everyone is working in their preferred way as they have opted in by joining Hoxby and our application process sets very clear expectations of this.
Hoxby has also been dubbed leaders of the ‘freelance revolution 3.0’ by providing a structure that counters many of the drawbacks reported by independent workers. Members of the community enjoy support from their peers, connection to a purpose, extensive mental health and community engagement initiatives, and improved (although not guaranteed) financial security through the profit-share scheme and access to a wider network of work opportunities, all of which focus on the wellbeing that is so important to both productivity and to our vision of creating a happier, more fulfilled society.
So there you have it. Promote the wellbeing of your workforce by creating a supportive, autonomous, flexible working environment and enjoy productivity and performance benefits as a result.
What’s next for Hoxby?
We’re expanding our internal research to explore the other work resources that academic research suggests would have a positive (or negative) effect on our community, to see the real-life impacts. Last year we launched a longitudinal study across the Hoxby community looking at experienced responsibility, meaningfulness, self identity, work–organisation fit, social support, opportunity for development, personality and many more variables. We’re excited to share our findings in the near future.
If you’d like to know more about creating an autonomous working environment, Hoxby’s learnings from operating in this new world of work, or would like to read the full research, please get in touch with Annika at Annika.Hart@hoxby.com.
*In statistics, the mediating variable explains the mechanism or process that underlies the relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable. For example, suppose buying pizza for a work meeting leads to a boost in morale and therefore to the work being done in half the time.
- Pizza is the independent variable.
- Work speed is the dependent variable.
- The mediator, the middle man without which there would be no connection, is the boost in morale.