How Companies Are Using Tech to Give Employees More Autonomy

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As scholars of organizational structure, we see evidence that technology in fact lies at the heart of efforts by companies to organize around employees rather than management. Companies that have successfully re-designed their structure, routines, and practices around the drive, ingenuity, and judgment of their frontline workers have in large part been able to do so because of technology. We believe that these exemplars offer important lessons to all companies seeking to foster greater autonomy and horizontal collaboration.

For Coordination Without Coordinators

Take the case of Buurtzorg, the Netherlands’ largest provider of home health care and the only one that provides nationwide coverage. Buurtzorg employs an army of more than 10,000 nurses. But the company doesn’t have a complex, multi-layered hierarchy to manage its operations — only a small corporate office of some 50 staff members and a group of 25 coaches.

Instead, to coordinate the nurses, the company leans on a customized IT platform called BuurtzorgWeb.

But are Buurtzorg’s nurses constantly monitored, managed, and instructed by technology and algorithms set up by management? No. Instead, they are self-organized into a thousand different self-managed teams responsible for providing home care within a specified geographical area. Teams have no assigned leader, they make decisions by consensus, and they hire and fire their own members.

BuurtzorgWeb empowers these teams by providing templates for managing themselves — for running team meetings and managing challenging team dynamics, for example. It also transparently provides all the data each team needs to understand its own performance, such as team productivity, client and team member satisfaction, and team climate scores. Perhaps most importantly, the platform serves as a central hub that connects all the teams and allows each nurse to post problems and questions they have and share ideas with each other. In that way, the platform supports distributed learning and elevates the ideas of those at the front lines.

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