Recently the Harvard Business Review published a piece titled “Forget Flexibility. Your Employees Want Autonomy.” It explores how “technology has now enabled a further decoupling of work from location and time, a phenomenon forced to center stage by the mass cultural experiment of the pandemic.” It’s true. We are living in a time of accelerated innovation in the way we work. And autonomy has become “an indispensable component of motivation and a key driver of performance and well-being.” At UME, we’ve prioritized autonomy since day one. A committed collective since our inception, we have found this leads to greater performance and well-being, not just for our team, but for our partners and clients as well.
Before remote and hybrid work became the norm, those who craved agency and autonomy gravitated towards working as independent freelancers. This allowed them to have flexibility over when they worked, where they worked, and also with whom they worked. However, being fully independent can also come with the challenges of unreliable flow of work and a lack of stability, which traditionally is provided by the institution or company. UME began as a way to provide a container that would allow our team to keep all the benefits of autonomy, while also providing a support system with access to a wide range of expertise and an influx of projects coming down the pipeline.
Throughout the last year we have seen our team thrive during times of chaos, and our clients thrive with us. As our Founder and Leadership Director, Jee Chang, recently shared in an interview, “What we have seen over and over again, is that by giving people this latitude, they actually show up more energized, creative and committed. This means that our clients enjoy the benefits of a team that’s on fire. And our collaborators have the space they need for creativity to emerge in a way that is aligned with what lights them up.”
As the landscape of work continues to evolve, we believe that autonomy, as well as creating the necessary conditions for both people and ideas to thrive, will indeed be indispensable to staying relevant as an organization.
Below are five key ingredients we’ve been testing to make this work.
- Self Awareness. An essential part of being a committed collective is recognizing the multi-faceted, complicated, and sometimes even surprising nature of ourselves and others. It means showing up with emotional intelligence, a mindset of continuous learning, and a recognition that how we show up impacts the experience of the collective. This also highlights the importance of vulnerability and being willing to ask for support when we need it. Particularly during the times of remote work, when it is more difficult to pick up on things like body language over Zoom, being willing to reveal ourselves, our insecurities, our apprehensions, changes everything.
- Accountability. Operating as a collective would be impossible without accountability. To UME, it’s all about trusting that we have each other’s backs. Trust is the foundation of relationship building, and it is nourished through integrity and showing up consistently for the collective.
- Respect. Creating a structure that is conducive to both trust and autonomy means cultivating a space where people can bring their whole selves to work. This requires thoughtful communication, open conversations and being respectful of each other's time and boundaries. Respect is integral to how we operate not just within UME, but in how we choose the clients that we partner with and engage with them.
- Adaptability. This means being clear and direct while also receptive to feedback from the collective. It means staying open to a continuous iteration of how we work. We are constantly learning and adapting to new ways of working, which requires a great deal of flexibility. And the benefit is that with flexibility comes a greater ability to embrace challenges, lead with humility and stay relevant.
- Diversity. One of the greatest benefits of this model is that it allows for, and actually thrives by, engaging and collaborating with people of wildly different experiences, skill sets and perspectives. Diversifying the voices of who we work with leads to a richer and more inclusive ecosystem (just like the importance of biodiversity in nature).
If you are working to transform your organization from the inside-out, reach out. The UME team is always here for you.