Freedom and Trust: The Secret Happiness Formula Behind a Community-Led Workplace

Raised arms of diverse and multi-ethnic business people holding a light bulb shaped label as a concept of innovation or startup or collaboration or financial investment.Community concept stock illustration

By Sirkka-Liisa Rotinen, managing partner at digital sales consultancy Columbia Road

In an age of discontent, a chronic talent shortage is causing headaches for brands. From quiet quitting to the Great Resignation, worn-out employees are demanding a change in mindset.

Covid, of course, has a large part to play in this volatile climate. While some employees discovered newfound freedom under lockdown, others faced greater pressures than ever. Either way, the result is a growing drive towards renewed workplace flexibility.

Yet this is a conversation that stretches well beyond work habits. The changes taking shape in an employee-led market are a chorus call to revamp the relationships that businesses share with their teams.

Workers in a post-Pandemic era want tangible perks, including mental health and childcare support. But equally important – though harder to capture – are less tangible benefits such as purpose and autonomy.

Taking wellness and fulfillment as a starting point, some companies – including ours –  are exploring these elements using the framework of a community-led approach to running a business. Here’s how it works:

1. Task forces replace management roles.

In a community-led workplace, change is an overriding constant. So instead of having set management roles, staff members who wish to take on additional responsibilities to their main job can rotate between several internal task forces, from occupational health to international communications, diversity, equity and inclusion and more. Employees can choose which task force to apply to based on their interests and expertise and sign up via an open application process.

This novel, circular rhythm means that the brand is in perfect shape to respond quickly to emerging challenges. More importantly, it allows employees of all levels of experience to try new skills and develop their careers at their own pace. As a result, they can balance different responsibilities with the freedom of unparalleled learning.

People rapidly discover how to adapt, forming valuable relationships across the company and building a bird’s eye view of how the business operates.

2. In employees we trust

Research shows us that autonomy is a central component of workplace satisfaction; as employees, we like to feel empowered enough to make our own decisions and control how our work paths develop.

A vital ingredient of a community-led workplace is that all team members are trusted to make choices on their own from day one. They have peer support in this process but it’s a system designed to engender a core sense of ownership and responsibility. The more someone has faith in their skills, the more they will stretch into any given project or task. Handing over the controls enables this transformation.

Of course, it’s a philosophy that brings a higher risk of mistakes. But missteps or even failures are learning moments in themselves. They teach us not to aim for the perfect solution but accept and adapt along the way.

3. An open and transparent culture

For people to make good decisions and take full responsibility for those choices, they must be informed. A community-led company needs to make a conscious and consistent effort to break down walls; and, in many cases, a legacy of managerial secrecy.

This step is about being open and transparent with company information. Unless there is a legal reason not to, internal reports and data – top-line financials, salary ranges or strategic information – must be readily available to all employees.

Not only is this a key facet of empowerment for all community members, it again allows employees to build a holistic view of how an organisation is run, taking into account different perspectives such as budget, client services and more.

4. From support to shared rewards

Everyone is their own boss in a community-driven business but equally, no one is alone. The goal is to foster a safe and secure structure in which everyone, no matter how qualified they are, has someone to turn to for support.

Crucially, however, team members aren’t boxed in by a structure that tells them who to call on for support (such as a line manager they don’t get on with, for example). Instead, the HR task force clearly signposts options and team members can choose how and when to access it.

With an emphasis on shared rather than individual goals, community-led organizations also share rewards – regardless of seniority, tenure or contribution. For example, when awarded, the annual company bonus is split between everyone in the business as an equal payout.

The real value of a community-led workplace is that everyone’s a winner. A focus on autonomy and collective ownership allows employees to belong to and own their role far more intrinsically than they could in an over-engineered hierarchy.

At the same time, flexible teams rooted within a culture of mutual support and innovation will positively impact client satisfaction. Customers and employers alike can participate closely in a reciprocal, open structure that is the very definition of community in action.