Daniel Pink: Why a Mobility Plan Should Be a Motivational Plan
Deciding what sort of mobile devices and plans employees are given is a task that often falls to IT bosses — not folks who have a bigger stake in what actually happens with all that cool technology. True, setting policies for mobile work might involve HR, and BYOD is muddying the waters, but getting people connected when they’re out of the office is relatively simple. But can it be much more than that? Are businesses missing an opportunity by thinking about mobility as simply a way to make sure employees don’t miss an email, instead of as a means to improve morale, productivity, and loyalty?
Autonomy Through Mobility
Daniel H. Pink, author of the bestseller Drive and guru of the modern workplace, certainly thinks so. As Pink explained to me an in email interview, giving your employees more mobility and the freedom to work when and where they choose — within the confines of their work requirements of course — is likely to increase feelings of autonomy, and therefore motivation.
To get at the heart of this argument, he says, it’s important to understand something about what drives employees to work harder and smarter. While perks and bonuses play a part, more recent thinking suggests that intangibles have a bigger role in spurring your team to work to their full potential. Work stress and burnout is often more about lack of control than an excess of tasks. That’s why studies show both low-ranking baboons bossed around by other monkeys and low-ranking employees often have higher stress levels (measured physically by hormones that indicate stress) than higher-status individuals. According to Pink, that’s also why gaining more control and more autonomy at work often reduces stress and increases motivation.
“What the research shows is that the classic kind of reward we use in organizations — I call them ‘if/then rewards,’ as in, ‘If you do this, then you get that’ — are quite effective for relatively simple, routine, algorithmic tasks,” Pink says. “However, those same rewards often have little effect (and sometimes backfire) on more complex, creative, and conceptual work. The reason isn’t the money. It’s the control — the contingency, the ‘if/then’ part.”
“People have two responses to control: they comply or they defy. But neither is what you want for the sort of work most people are doing today. Instead, you want engagement. Engagement depends on self-direction. And a crucial aspect of self-direction is some amount of sovereignty over what we do, how we do it, whom we do it with, and, yes, when we do it. Control leads to compliance, but autonomy leads to engagement,” he says.
Productivity Through Autonomy
The bottom line is that giving your employees the tools (and the rights) to have more choice about their location and schedule will make them more engaged and motivated. So think of your mobility plan as a motivation plan. The question, then, is whether motivation represents a surefire route to greater productivity.
A new, rigorously scientific study from a Stanford-based team suggests that working away from the office actually increases productivity. But Pink says this sort of question actually betrays the fact that you’re probably using an outdated definition of productivity.
“The very concept of productivity (that is, units produced divided by time spent) is better suited to algorithmic work than to the work many workers are doing today,” he says. “There’s a vast literature showing that intrinsic motivation is the source of creative breakthroughs.” Instead of wondering what empowering your people to be mobile will do to the number of hours they put in, you should focus on outcomes. And according to Pink, the outcome of more mobility will probably be better work.
Adds Pink, “A consistently autonomous work environment will almost certainly give you better long-term results than a consistently controlling one.”
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