Independant Design & Technology studio, working with organizations revitalizing urban communities.

Category Culture

What It Means to Be an Empowered Employee

At AF&F I’ve had the privilege of participating in the idea that we have come to call “Beyond Remote”, a concept of aligning personal freedoms, responsibilities and goals with that of a company's. While Authentic's founders can provide a great deal of insight surrounding architecting and running an organization guided by "Beyond Remote" principles, I wanted to shed some light on what that concept feels like from an employee perspective.

An Alignment of Interests

“Beyond Remote” focuses on moving past the tools and processes that make things like communication and collaboration possible for remote teams and instead tries to look at the deeper underlying issues and motivations that have implications for those surface level topics. Why do I work? Who is the person I want to become? What makes me do good work and have clear communications? The questions that Beyond Remote asks are guided by an understanding of what should happen when you work remotely.

When working remotely it is your attitude and the environment you have chosen that will completely determine your output as an employee. You won’t be able to hide behind the office social structure to self author the type of person you are (“I’m a self starter, innovator who is constantly looking for ways to disrupt key industries”). Your work will become performative in nature, your output and your written communications will make up who you are in the eyes of your coworkers.

It will be a lot harder to make excuses for yourself. In most offices, a victim mentality easily surfaces, where change is difficult and it becomes easy to accept pain points as a necessary component of work, or something that you are helpless to change as an employee. This does not and should not happen to remote workers.

People will be less tolerant of the excuses you make. You will no longer be able to live in a world of cognitive dissonance reinforced by shared physical location and social setting. Your goals will shift from trying to “win” at the arbitrary social/professional goals set at the office, to being an empowered employee whose interests will have to align with that of the company in order to succeed.

When this happens, an employee and employer that are a good fit for each other will be able to align themselves In working towards shared goals. The employee will add value to the organization, and, at the same time, the organization will empower and enable the employee to work towards becoming the person they want to be. This is necessary for a healthy relationship between employee and employer.

A genuine alignment of interests helps create a symbiotic relationship of shared personal/corporate/professional growth and respect.

When personal objectives are directly and clearly connected to the broader goals of the company, they’re suddenly more inspiring, less myopic.

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When employees aren’t happy with the goals of the company, they start lacking the initiative that motivates them to perform. When you don’t feel like you're making progress towards being the person you want to be, or if you start doubting if you even want to be that person, problems arise. People like this make unproductive/unhappy/unfulfilled workers who likely aren’t going to stick around for long.

I've found that philosophy is something that really helps me to deal with these deeper issues. The issues you reach once you remove all the business guru, life hacking, digital nomad noise.

The ones we are trying to align ourselves towards at Authentic and are coincidently things that philosophers have been discussing for a long time. We accept that things are rarely perfect and good things don’t last forever. We avoid painting things in a narrow minded dualistic “good vs bad,” and embrace the problems for all their nuances and complexities.

Most of all, we just really enjoying having open and sincere conversation about this particular topic. In order to work towards this ambitious goal, a certain mindset is required:

Identify things that will keep ourselves balanced, steady, calm, and honest.

Remote work demands a specific mindset of employees. You are pulled out of one of the dominant social structure of the 20th century, the office, and are trusted with the huge task of being responsible for how you work and how that integrates with the rest of your life. This requires a specific type of mindset from employees but one that I think is healthier and more natural than that found in many offices.

The first thing that will happen is that the things that you’re not good at will be painfully obvious to you. Getting up in the morning, making time to work out, logging all your hours. You will have things that you're not good at managing yourself, things that you used to have the social structure and pressure of the office to help take care of. In order to confront these things, I’ve found a few things that help me cope.

First, you will need to actually want to get better at these things. Attitude will make all the difference. You will have to put in the hard work and self-discipline to change the patterns that you’re comfortable with. The only thing we have to measure productivity is output, so appearing to put in effort, or working a bunch of fruitless hours won’t mean a damn. We recognize that these type of changes only happen when you want to change.

In order to support each other, Authentic works really hard to align the company with each individual employee. Making the long and short term goals of both the company and person clear. So that they can both strive to become the persons and organization that they want to be. Authentic doesn’t want you to sacrifice your life for the company in exchange for a paycheck, but rather symbiotically work together for the good of both.

Second, it requires a healthy and sustainable mindset. The bullshit mentality that many offices promote with manufactured career goals that their employees don’t really need make it very difficult to feel like you are being an authentic human surrounded by real people. Instead it ends up penalizing transparency and encourages cognitive dissonance about personal and organizational shortcomings.

Coincidentally you will often find people who are much more calm and level headed tend to be the people actually driving the business forward by doing quality work while being a solid support structure for their peers. It is not a coincidence that this is another place that philosophy can help us think about. What are the ingredients of the type of person who we should aspire to be?

It's insane that so many organizations seem to completely ignore the wealth of wisdom they have in the form of their intellectual and cultural heritage in answering a question that could be so important to their success.

Who are you?

Who is the person you want to become? How do you think you’ll get there? I’ve been lucky to find an organization that asks those questions both of themselves and of the company.

Don’t accept how things are at your current employer as the best or only way of doing things. Questioning dogmatism is where humans have often found the most fascinating and rewarding things, why wouldn’t you try doing that yourself?

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