Many of us have access to freedom in our personal lives, but how often do we feel like our job is constraining us from doing what we want, when we want, and where we want? When it comes to flexibility at work, it’s common to feel like you’re in a constant battle. And thanks to micromanaging bosses and high expectations, productivity and happiness can fall by the wayside.
Right out of college, I entered the workforce as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed graduate. Everyday, I headed downtown to work and sat at my entry-level desk from 8:00 am until about 5:30 pm. At first it was a great fit, but the corporate schedule started to take a toll on my happiness, motivation, and productivity.
Among many other reasons, I didn’t like the constraints on my time and energy. I didn’t like having to ask for approval of vacation days. Heck, I didn’t like only having 10 days per year to actually take a vacation. Now I freelance while working remotely from anywhere in the world, and I couldn’t be happier or more satisfied in my career.
If you’re hoping to increase productivity and happiness in your work life, the solution may lie in how much freedom you have. Let’s explore a few ways you can achieve flexibility in regards to where, when, or how you work (or all three!).
A Declaration Of Independence From Micromanagers
Raise your hand and shout from the rooftops if you have ever been in a micromanaging situation. Maybe one of your bosses perches on top of your desk like a hawk when you’re five minutes late to work or pings you on Slack every hour to see how many tasks you’ve completed.
Micromanaging is the antithesis of autonomy and it exists in every organization. In the 2018 State of the American Workplace report, 60% of employees surveyed said they don’t have the opportunity to do their best work at work. The main reason? Their bosses are busy doing the work for them. This is a common side effect of micromanaging bosses. Instead of giving employees the roadmap and freedom to complete their tasks, they monitor and scrutinize their work and at times, just do it themselves.
Furthermore, one of the top symptoms of micromanaging workplaces is disengagement. When employees are disengaged, they are more likely to be physically or mentally absent from their work. Absenteeism caused by disengagement costs a typical 10,000-person company $600,000 a year in salary for days where no work was performed. Now that’s going to hurt the bottom line.
So if you’re nodding your head in agreement and don’t want to take your frustration out on the office printer, here are a few ways you can turn from a disengaged and micromanaged employee into a productive and joyful one.
Let Freedom Ring
In the same research study at the University of Birmingham, they found that 90% of managers reported “some” or “a lot” of autonomy in the workplace, compared to lower skilled employees who experience low-to-no autonomy over their work schedules. Managers who had greater levels of control over their work tasks and schedule reported feeling happier at work and highly valuing these benefits.
Interestingly, the study found that men and women valued different types of autonomy. More women valued flexibility over the timing and location of their work while more men preferred flexibility over their job tasks, pace of work, and task order.
Freedom and happiness is intrinsically linked to the ability to choose. In a Gensler U.S. workplace survey, the results found that “employees who are given a choice of when and where to work are higher performing, more satisfied, and see their companies as more innovative.” So when you have choice in where, when, or how you work, you may see an increase in your happiness, motivation, and performance at work.
Choose Where You Work
According to the Global Workplace Analytics’ research, 50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that allows partial remote work opportunities and 20-25% of the workforce works remotely at some frequency. Even though only half of workers have access to these opportunities to work remotely, more than 80% of workers said they would like to work remotely at least part time (two or three days per week).
Many employees crave the flexibility to work from home, a coffee shop, an international city, and occasionally, in the office. There are countless studies that prove remote work increases productivity and job satisfaction. So if you’re hoping to gain freedom around where you work, first consider applying to jobs that allow location independence. There are hundreds of companies (like Trello!) that support remote work.
If you like your current company or can’t find one in your industry that allows employees to work remotely, ask your manager if you can work from home one or a few days per week. There are plenty of freedom opportunities waiting to be discovered—you just need to go out and seize them.
Choose When You Work
Whether you work remotely or in an office, there may be flexibility to adapt your schedule to align with your most productive hours. If you’re a morning person, you may want to structure your days to complete your important tasks and meetings first thing, and then sign off in the mid-afternoon. Have a conversation with your manager to see if you can work within a timeframe that is best for you, so you can be highly productive every hour you’re working.
Even if you have to clock into the office at 9:00 am and clock out at 5:00 pm, you can still find some freedom in your work schedule. One effective strategy is to divide the hours of your day into manager vs. maker time. By dedicating certain hours of the day to certain tasks (i.e. responding to emails or coding a new landing page), you’ll set clear boundaries with your manager and co-workers of when you’re available to chat or when you are focused on deep work.
Choose How You Work
If you can’t gain freedom in regards to where or when you work, there’s no need to grab a pitchfork, storm the gates, and demand revolution. Instead, you can ask for flexibility in how you work. This could be in the types of tasks you work on, your deadlines, and even your job description.
When you start a new job, you may think your job description is set in stone, but it’s actually negotiable. Ask the hiring manager or your new boss if there are other responsibilities you can take on that are of interest to you. For example, if you’re a social media manager, but you want to learn more about blog writing, consider asking if you can contribute one post per month to the company blog. This simple ask, and addition to your job description, will give you a leg up in your contributions and experiences.
By having flexibility around where, when, and how you work on a daily basis, you’ll feel more in control of your career trajectory and schedule. When you’re free as a bird, you’ll start to see your productivity and overall happiness soar, too.
Lean In To Your Newfound Liberty
Once you’ve gained freedom in your work life, you still want to have some structure to your schedule and tasks. For example, just because you work remotely, doesn’t mean you can go off the grid for a few days. Too much freedom in work schedules, locations, and tasks can actually lead to uncertainty—and even resentment.
In a research study by the University of Exeter Business School, Alliance Manchester Business School and Curtin Business School, they found that giving employees more freedom and authority can have a negative impact on their day to day performance and perhaps gives the impression that their boss is just seeking to avoid doing their own work. The study found this to be true with workers who have routine, structured tasks. However, employees who had creative tasks reported feeling more empowered and efficient.
With newfound freedom at work, there are a few other pitfalls that may pop up along the way.
- Procrastination: Now that you can work where, when, or how you want, you’ll have a lot of flexibility to plan your schedule and to organize your task list. You may find yourself buddying up with productivity’s enemy and delaying tasks until the last minute. Don’t get caught in the procrastination trap. Use a project management tool, like Trello, to keep your weekly tasks organized and in clear view so you always meet and exceed your deadlines and manager’s expectations.
- Isolation: If you can work remotely, you may start to miss the social chatter around the office water cooler. You may be more productive working in your home office, but you can no longer swivel around in your chair to strike up a conversation about your weekend Netflix binging session with your coworker. To avoid isolation as a remote worker, you’ll need to be more intentional about your social schedule, especially with your teammates. Schedule weekly video calls with a coworker or your entire team to talk about topics unrelated to work. Building these relationships with your remote team, or your teammates who work in the office, will help you feel more connected and in synch.
- Lack of communication: If you gain freedom in where or when you work, you won’t be in the same place at the same time as your team which can lead to communication breakdowns. To avoid this pitfall, it’s very important to use tools that allow you to work asynchronously with you team. If you’ll be taking most mornings off, then communicate this to everyone who needs to know so they clearly understand your availability. To hold onto your flexibility at work, it’s your responsibility to over-communicate with your team in order to avoid any communication snafus.
Despite your fantasies, you can’t tell your boss that you’re not showing up for work or don’t feel like completing your quarterly project. Impulsive acts of independence will put you in the fast lane to being fired. But using some of these strategies to gain more freedom at your job will set you on the path to feeling like you have more control to create a work life you love.
What are some ways you claim freedom at work? Good or bad, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello) or write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.