With millennials now moving rapidly into management positions and the “fourth industrial revolution” just on the threshold, according to the World Economic Forum, traditional business practices and structures are under pressure to change like never before.
But suddenly changing up the way things have always been done sounds like a recipe for disaster to most business leaders. Many fear that adopting a more flexible work environment means that employees could take advantage of unsupervised time. Yet, as a recent Indeed report observes, after good pay, workers want flexibility.
So, while these worries are certainly justified, the truth is that changing up the structure of your workplace could actually lead to a more productive, engaged, and happier company culture.
Of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, which is kind of the point. Different types of non-traditional structures will work better for specific entities for various reasons. Furthermore, a change in structure does not necessarily require a total overhaul of the business; sometimes little changes can have a big impact.
Let’s discuss three types of non-traditional structures and why and how they may work for your company.
Flat work structure
A traditional office operates as a hierarchy; the CEO is at the top of the pyramid, with executives and managers below. Staff is at the bottom. A flat organization instead, as the name implies, flattens the pecking order and places everyone on an equal plane.
At first glance, this kind of internal structure seems like anarchy. After all, if no one is in charge, how can businesses get anything done? Well, this is why this type of structure is not a great fit for every business. It does require a high level of motivation and self-management for every member of the company. So while it may work for a small, highly-dedicated team, it may not be the best option for larger organizations that have many employees.
There is also a middle-of-the-road option known as a flatarchie. Essentially, this is a hybrid of the traditional workplace that incorporates flat teams into the mix. This allows for certain departments to manage themselves and work independently.
Obviously, adopting any sort of flat organization will require cooperation and high levels of motivation. In order to sustain the innovative and creative entrepreneurial mindset, autonomy is the key. This is why it is best for a company to treat everyone in the organization as an equal and value each person’s skills, ideas, and methodology.
This kind of flat structure works best when employees are able to stay connected and engaged. Communication is key here to ensure that everyone is on board with a unified mission since there is no set hierarchy of leaders telling others what to do. Using a task management tool that keeps everyone organized, on-task, and in control of their own responsibilities is going to be very helpful. Systems like Wrike and Jira are great starting options because they support both individual projects, as well as collaborations for self-managing teams.
Gumroad, the sales solution provider for creatives, famously uses the flatarchie approach within its organization to breed innovation and creativity. Its founder, Sahil Lavingia, decided to incorporate a flatter work structure because he recognized that while he possessed many strengths and skills, there were some areas where he lacked experience and know-how. In an interview, Lavingia stated that having this flatter structure worked for the business because it motivated everyone to be on the top of their game. He said:
Things break down when people believe they’re being micromanaged. Suddenly they think, ‘Oh, now I can afford to drop the ball because someone will pick it up.’ For this reason, you want to emphasize to your employees that they are largely on their own in their roles. That’s when they really start feeling and appreciating the trust you’ve invested in them. People have a strong instinct not to disappoint a system that gives them so much ownership. A flat structure surfaces and amplifies this instinct.
Holacratic organizations also incorporate a decentralized management system, meaning that no single person is in charge. Instead, this type of structure has a hierarchy of self-managing teams. Holacracy distributes the decision-making process throughout the company.
This allows teams to work together by focusing on their areas of expertise without interference and distraction. There is still enough structure within the company to allow for larger enterprises to use this method, but it can foster a sense of independence within teams that allows for creativity and collaboration to flourish.
This kind of non-traditional structure works best for small to medium enterprises that have definable segments or departments that can function independently and require specific expertise. For instance, a specialized B2B company that offers specific services to customers via multi-channel sales experiences could benefit greatly from this kind of structure. Each team can focus on the best strategies that work for them so that each channel offers the best UX possible to the end-user.
Since the agile approach supports self-managing teams that set their own goals, work together but independently, and meet regularly to be sure they are on track, this kind of structure works well with holacratic organizations. Programs like Nutcache follow the Agile approach to team collaboration and can help holcaratic teams stay focused and connected, but still independent.
Zappos famously adopted this business model, coining the term “boss-less” organization to allow for distributed decision making. It even offer advice and strategies for other organizations to implement holacracy on their insights section.
Since digital adoption is allowing more businesses to operate almost entirely online, the concept of creating virtual offices and hiring remote employees is becoming more common. This works really well for startups and new businesses because of the low overhead costs. It’s also highly attractive to the millennial workforce because of the flexibility it provides.
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The key to making this flexible, non-traditional work structure function is to incorporate the necessary tools and processes for communication. Tools like Trello work well for project assignment and progression tracking, and even free programs like Google Docs and Skype chat can be utilized for easy communication and file sharing.
Here at E2M Solutions, we have found that virtual team collaboration works quite well. Our teams on opposite sides of the world function in close communication to ensure progress doesn’t stall. In order to keep our virtual teams connected, our employees use online programs like Basecamp and Trello to organize projects, edit content, and submit files all from virtual offices. We also host company events and meetups as often as possible to build comradery even within a remote work environment.
There is no doubt among HR leaders that today’s workplace is changing. Acquiring talent has become a great challenge often because candidates have high standards and demands that do not always match up with what the company is able to offer. While offering an enormous starting salary or long list of perks and benefits may not be an option for your company, one unique competitive advantage that could sway their interest is a “non-traditional” work structure.
Are there any new structures or practices that could work well for your business? By bringing on fresh talent, along with a new perspective, your organization can effectively cultivate the kind of creative environment that breeds true innovation.