For flexible and remote working success, we need to build trust
Intellectually we know that high trust relationships are the most successful. Romantic, parental, friendship, and work. The deeper the trust, the more likely we are to go the extra mile, to remain loyal, to become better. In fact the highest performance organisations index highly in the trust category too.
Great Place to Work, an organisation that for the past 30 years has collected research and data through an employee trust index, has studied the relationship between a high-trust culture and the overall success of a business. In addition to the benefits trust gives an employee, these companies benefit from: stock market returns two to three times greater than the market average, significantly reduced turnover rates, increased levels of innovation, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and more.
One of the most widely recognised and successful businesses that recognises the importance of trust from its leadership level down, is Google. Which for over seven years has been at the top of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.
But the word “trust” is overused in business and naturally we are suspicious of any discussion of it. Brands want to build “trust” in order for us to buy from them. Suppliers pitch about “trust” as a value-add item, rather than seeing it as table stakes. It is no wonder that employees remain suspicious of bosses who talk about fostering “trust”, encouraging an open “dialogue” and yet micro-manage projects in return. There is nothing inherently wrong in asking for trust but there is something rotten if actions do not match or exceed words.
Pre Covid-19 only five percent of Britain’s population worked remotely. According to the Office for National Statistics, in April 2020 during the lockdown that increased to 46.6 percent and more than half of the population living in London – 57.2 percent – did some work at home. It is a fair prediction to say that remote and flexible working will be ingrained indefinitely in our working culture and possibly will define the future of work.
There is one absolute certainty here and that is, starting from a position of mistrust will guarantee failure. It is understandable, even natural, for companies to harbour suspicion that workers are slacking off, but reacting like this will only cement the likelihood of a bad outcome. Why? Because of trust.
Imagine a romantic relationship where one Partner does not fully trust the other. They constantly seek reassurance, which in the early days is endearing and understandable but after a while becomes painful and the relationship fails to reach its full potential. It will end or be toxic. Perhaps you’ve been someone in this dynamic or witnessed it, but nothing about it signals trust and without trust, nothing of consequence can truly be built.
The same is true of work relationships. Starting from a position of mistrust guarantees a stunted performance. Now you might extend trust and still get a stunted performance, but you as a company are not the driving force behind the failure, which you will be if you start from a position of mistrust.
So how do you start from a position of trust in a newly formed remote and / or flexible environment? Below are some learnings from us based on failing (and ultimately succeeding!) in this area, as well as observations we’ve made of hundreds of companies. All of these items assume a high level of trust and they’re relatively straightforward to implement:
- Have a few fixed appointments on a weekly basis – no more than three or four. These could be daily stand-ups, planning meetings, and one-to-one’s. These appointments should be fixed, run superbly, and honoured by everyone attending. Beyond this, give people the freedom to do what they need to do.
- Get serious about planning. Smaller companies and startups in particular don’t enjoy this process, seeing it as counterintuitive to the iterative process needed in fast moving companies. But that simply isn’t true. The fastest moving companies all plan rigorously and have processes to support planning. Going through this makes it so much easier to manage people on outcomes as you can see when people are delivering or not.
- Address issues head on, kindly. This is true in a non remote environment too but becomes more important without human contact. If you sense something is wrong or a high performer starts underperforming, address it straight away, listen and try to find out what’s going on. Otherwise tiny issues can be stewed on for days, even weeks, resulting in a loss of performance and exits.
- Get your processes and systems sorted. Companies that will thrive in the future will have joined up processes, a significant level of automation, and humans engaged in high level cerebral activity. This doesn’t mean that you alone are responsible for mapping out all of your processes – make sure your team collaborates and takes joint ownership for this.
- Write down a list of responsibilities, areas of focus, and assign a person who is ultimately accountable for that. This should be a live document that everyone has access to and is circulated during the onboarding process.
Remember that this is a two-way street. Flexibility is very humane and a great thing to offer as a company. In return you expect people to be grown up, communicate their needs professionally and work within the business parameters.