How to lay the groundwork for employee autonomy

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about heightened levels of employee autonomy at many companies, producing a variety of positive effects. An article in California Management Review, written by researchers from the Copenhagen Business School, explains how companies and managers can retain these benefits — and why doing so will be necessary in the future.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many employees to work from home to an extent hardly thought possible before the pandemic. This has led to major developments in the area of employee autonomy, which is here to stay, and which companies ought to adapt to. The right level of employee autonomy makes it possible to attract the most talented employees and achieve great results. Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter of the Copenhagen Business School highlight this in their article, “Preparing for a New Era of Work”, published in California Management Review.

Goodbye, nine-to-five

For many years, companies have experimented with allowing employees to work on their own projects to some extent. With the pandemic still ongoing and many employees back in their home countries, it has also become possible for employees to control how and when they work. M

anagers around the world have been forced to rely on employees’ ability to make decisions independently. One survey shows that the level of autonomy employees have in scheduling their work has tripled during the pandemic, and three out of four employees want to keep that flexibility in their working hours. They also expect greater autonomy in how and where they work. As the article points out, this suggests that the classic nine-to-five is on its way out, so businesses and managers would do well to adapt to a new normal where employees have greater autonomy, and where productivity is measured in results, not in working hours.

Specific advice

There are many good reasons for this. During the pandemic, employee autonomy has proven to have multiple positive side effects. Many employees have improved their IT skills, leading to greater efficiency and quality in their work. Employees have also developed new solutions for their jobs — solutions that can be rather unorthodox, but which have also fostered creativity and engagement among employees, leading to improved efficiency.

The article presents three specific aspects to work on in order to encourage greater autonomy in when and how employees work: There must be a clear mandate, internal support for autonomy must be mobilised, and developments and results must be monitored. The article also presents specific examples of what various businesses and institutions have done within these aspects in order to support and encourage employee autonomy.

If you would like to know more about the project, please contact

Henrik Blach, Project Manager, Servitize.DK, tel. +45 43 25 05 10


Carsten Lund Pedersen

Department of Marketing, CBS

Thomas Ritter

Department of Strategy and Innovation, CBS

This suggests that the classic nine-to-five is on its way out, so businesses and managers would do well to adapt to a new normal where employees have greater autonomy.